Sherlock Holmes finds a horse

blaze3Sherlock Holmes does some detective work as he tries to find a horse named “Silver Blaze”.  This story was published in 1892 and is one of the more popular Sherlock Holmes tales, though probably  only topped by The Speckled Band and The Hound of the Somebodies.  The story has been adapted many times, such as on the Elementary TV show and is part of The Return of Sherlock Holmes series featuring Jeremy Brett.  Silver Blaze has disappeared and his owner invites Sherlock Holmes to find him.

blaze5Colonel Ross desperately wants to find his horse, so it’s available to run in the Wessex Cup.  Also, trainer John Straker was murdered in connection with the disappearance, so there are two crimes to solve, not just one.  Holmes consults Ross and talks to Inspector Gregory, who is the police officer on the case, so the preliminary parts of this story involve Holmes gathering information and talking to these people.  He learns about the race security and inspects the stable, which is all told by Conan Doyle in intricate detail.  Having gathered the same data, Inspector Gregory makes an assumption that a stranger in the area must have had some involvement in the crime, so he arrests him.

Sherlblaze2ock Holmes does not make the same inductive conclusion as the police, so he never comes to the same silly conclusion about Fitzroy Simpson.  Gregory nevertheless assumes he’s running a thorough investigation. Simpson was heavily into betting on the horses.  Witnesses place him at the scene of the crime.  His clothes were wet from walking on the moor, where John Straker was found dead.  And he carried a large walking stick, perfect for clubbing someone to death.  Sounds like a murderer to me, right?  Holmes spends some time refuting this theory, and points out that the stable dog did not bark when Silver Blaze was taken.  This is notable because he DID bark when Simpson visited earlier in the day.  Therefore, the dog must have known the person who came into the stable.

Gregory: Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?

Holmes: To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.

Gregory: The dog did nothing in the night-time.

Holmes: That was the curious incident.

After concluding Simpson had nothing to do with the crime, Holmes inspects John Straker’s possessions and investigates his family.  Holmes looks over several objects in Straker’s possession at the time of his death.  He theorizes that Straker was going to wound Silver Blaze with a surgical knife and he proves that theory, first by inferring the use of his other possessions like a candle and by inspecting some of Straker’s sheep, which were all marked in practice of wounding Silver Blaze.  Therefore, Straker must have taken Silver Blaze and was killed, but then Holmes sets off to find what happened to the horse after that.  He does this by using the footprints on the moor, which is no great leap for Sherlock Holmes.

blaze4The Granada adaption was written by John Hawkesworth for Jeremy Brett and company.  It works.  It has a certain amount of dramatic flair, which you can see in the atmospheric elements set outside and in the stable.  Brett once again has short hair as in “The Devil’s Foot”, but he puts on a good performance, as usual.  

The supporting cast is given a lot to do in this episode.  Watson is not just along for the ride in this one, no–he actually contributes to the inspection of the evidence, and he gives a few words about the surgical knife, being an authority on the subject, and strangely identifies the knife as a “cataract knife”.  Colonel Ross is played by the Peter Barkworth, who was 60 at the time of filming, although appears much older.  He gives Holmes an introduction to the grounds and the stable.  Barkworth was a British TV regular, although he did movies somewhat rarely, such as in 1970 for Patton. Coincidentally, he played a British Colonel.  Downton Abbey’s Jonathan Coy plays Simpson.  He does alright, although his delivery is a little dry.  Malcolm Storry of Doc Martin, does a little better as Inspector Gregory.

blaze7There is a long-shot of Holmes and Watson as they follow the horse tracks across the grand landscape of Knowlmere Manor, which is a real place in Lancashire, England.  Watson uses his binoculars and gazes over the landscape.  They meet Silas Brown at the neighboring stables, and Jeremy Brett has some more good dialogue as he interacts with Russell Hunter, who plays Brown.  As he leaves, script writer John Hawkesworth twists Conan Doyle’s words slightly to be funny:

Holmes: A more perfect compound of the bully, coward and sneak than Master Silas Brown I have seldom met with.

Watson:  He has the horse then?

Holmes: Of course!

The episode is almost lifted directly from Conan Doyle, which fits the drama well.  It’s not altered very much, except for bits of dialogue here and there, as I’ve demonstrated above.  Holmes still quotes the famous line about the dog and he still uncovers Silver Blaze at the very end.  The only significant difference is the inclusion of an epilogue, to tie things up.  It’s no great change.

In all, “Silver Blaze” is a good story.  It has everything you could want from the thinking-man’s detective, who actually does some inferring, deducing, and analyzing.  Can’t go wrong there.  Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce only put this adventure to radio, but I prefer the Jeremy Brett version, which is pretty much Conan Doyle’s story put to film.  This is the perfect example of the creativity of Sherlock Holmes, which he uses to infer what happened to Straker and the horse, then prove it.  It’s an analytical acumen the police of the story lack, and it makes Holmes unique.



Jeremy Bret 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