Return of the Greatest Sherlock: Devil’s Feet and Philosophy

sherlock41Jeremy Brett’s run in The Return of Sherlock Holmes is underrated, and there are so many good episodes, like The Devil’s Foot, filmed in 1988.  In this episode, there are a lot of changes from the canon, but this time Jeremy Brett was not an opponent to them, he was their instigator.  

As reported by several of the cast, Brett was exuberant and lively during filming, but many have remarked on his mood swings, so this may have been one of them.  In any case, the outcome was a creative story.  Personally, I think Brett took a jovial and light approach to the beginning of the story, and adds touches of his own to many of the scenes.  For example, his costume is very comedic, as he wraps his scarf around his bowler hat, making him look like a teapot.  He gets more serious later on.

Further, Sherlock Holmes is depressed again, as in The Musgrave Ritual, and needs a holiday.  There, he gets wrapped up in a local crime, and undergoes a philosophical change all at the same time.  The crime isn’t even anything.  It’s something Holmes could solve easily, I have no doubt about that, but the real interest is in some of the imagery and detail put into the plot.

sherlock40Holmes investigates some strange murders, finding several dead people contorted and frozen in fear, possibly drugged.  Paget illustrated some of the grisly murders by this drug in the original story.  The investigation into this mysterious drug mirrors Holmes’ own drug use.  To be honest, I’ve seen cocaine used in MANY “modern” Sherlock Holmes story, but I can hardly remember it being such a large part of the original stories.  I don’t think it’s unusual to connect Holmes’ drug use with this story, but I think Brett’s personal view of drugs seeped into the script and he presented Holmes as a man able to overcome cocaine.  He later said that he pushed for Holmes to bury his cocaine addiction for the young people watching the show.  He also knew better than some of this modern adaptations not to accentuate the drug habit to great lengths.

sherlock37There is more of Brett’s beliefs in the episode, in the imagery used in one of the scenes.  As Holmes dangerously experiments with a deadly drug, he experiences some weird hallucinations.  Some of those visions could be philosophical expressions or a metaphoric painting of the man himself.  There are a mass of pictures flashing back to the struggle with Moriarty, which is one of the more obvious things you might think would stick with Holmes, but he clutches his eyes at one point and blood seeps from his hands.  This might be a reference to a pain or failure of some kind, or his struggle with investigating, in living up to his reputation, as Sherlock Holmes was himself considered a visionary detective.  There’s still more images of Holmes “struggling”, as he is seen wandering the countryside, and he can’t find his way.  It’s one of the only times in the series where things become more allegorical and symbolic in nature.

Ken Hannam directs this episode with some lively creative flavor.  I have no doubt that he contributed to the things I’ve already mentioned, and helped Jeremy Brett put this episode in good standing.  This episode and The Musgrave Ritual from earlier are a lot alike, each with good characters, music, and a good plot too.  The villain was played by Denis Quilley, a theatrical man, and member of the Royal Shakespeare Company.  He was also in Lauren Bacall’s version of Murder on the Orient Express (1974), which I’ve reviewed previously.  I didn’t know that!  Maybe Bacall and Quilley had some theatrical connection.

sherlock38It’s a sad state when I hear that this story and Silver Blaze strapped the coffers of the Granada production of Sherlock Holmes.  That’s just terrible, isn’t it?  One of the best adaptations ever done of Sherlock Holmes and it’s hard up for money.  I’d be throwing cash at Brett and company.  

In all, this is a good episode.  You can tell it’s on location and there are some creative effects, so that’s probably what killed the budget.  Jeremy Brett delivers a good performance, even with a stupid haircut.  What’s up with that?  He must have had a fit slicking his hair back all the time.  I’d be annoyed too.  Cut it off, I’d tell them.  I almost forgot to mention Edward Hardwicke, because he’s in this one too, being understated and a good friend to Holmes, as usual.  

A little philosophy and good nature sneaks in there thanks to Jeremy Brett, and I think that’s a good thing.  He shows how Sherlock Holmes struggles with drugs like in many other adaptations, but Brett also shows Holmes overcoming those obstacles.



Link to the Sherlock Holmes episode guide

The Return of Sherlock Holmes Episodes
The Empty House – July 9 1986
The Abbey Grange – Aug 6 1986
The Musgrave Ritual – July 30 1986
The Second Stain – July 23 1986
The Man with the Twisted Lip
The Priory School – July 16 1986
The Six Napoleons – Aug 20 1986
The Sign of Four – Dec 29 1987
The Devil’s Foot – Apr 6 1988
Wisteria Lodge – Apr 20 1988
The Bruce Partington Plans – Apr 27 88
The Hound of the Baskervilles – Aug 31 1988
Silver Blaze – Apr 13 1988