One hundred crawling minutes. "Screenplay by T.R. Bowen." I felt fear, gentlemen.
This movie is terrible, but in a fairly original way. On the upside, it has the good sense to cram its brain-meltingly tedious putridity into the first half, so at least the second half manages to be an improvement. The Master Blackmailer
made the mistake of going downhill. However in this case, the poor deranged viewers might have in the end almost come to like the thing.
However that first half is unspeakable. Let me consult my notes.
- [10 min] - A dream sequence? Holmes is having a nightmare. Spare me. When's the story going to start?
- [18 min] - I bet this is going to be depressing.
- [22 min] - I don't want to watch this.
- [24 min] - Our protagonist clearly has some kind of bad financial situation together with woman trouble, both waiting to come to light... and he's gambling at cards. What a knob.
- [27 min] - The nightmare again? Can't they give Holmes anything to do?
- [35 min] - I DO NOT CARE ABOUT THESE PEOPLE.
- [47 min] - I don't think the writer likes the characters. It's as if he's doing it for the money, reluctantly writing an adaptation of a story where he doesn't like the cast. There hasn't been the slightest reason to care about a single person or character so far, with even Holmes being mentally unstable.
I was screaming. There is nothing to like or even watch in the entire first half. You could start at the 40 minute mark and you wouldn't even know you'd missed anything. We start with a portrayal of London as Dante's Inferno, with lunatics in Bedlam, fire, fog and the cries of the mad. From that we jump to the lives of the wildly overprivileged as they talk about visiting their castle. There's an American girl whose father owns all the gold in the world and whose fiancee is the Lord Buddha of Everything. Her responsibilities include talking to his great-aunts. It's easy to see the comparison Bowen's making between the highest and lowest levels of society, but unfortunately neither is offering anything of interest to an audience.
Meanwhile Holmes is cracking up. The first thing that happens in this story is that Mrs Hudson calls in Dr Watson because she's frightened about his mental condition. This is at the 30 minute mark. There follows a conversation about Freud and whether dreams can foretell the future, after which Holmes collapses in a heap of dysfunctional self-pity and can't be bothered to receive the Lord Buddha of Everything when he comes to consult about a case. Watson has to deal with it instead.
Despite all this an investigation eventually began, to my relief. As you'd expect from a T.R. Bowen script, Holmes gets precious little in the way of logical inference or, y'know, detecting, but at least the story is at least seeming to go somewhere. Something has happened and we want to know why. Eventually it turns out that a major character is evil. This has nothing to do with Conan Doyle's The Noble Bachelor and indeed turns what remains of its plot into a distracting coincidence in its own adaptation. Both bride and groom independently had a secret which meant they should never have married. Gee, what are the odds? Remember, kids... people from the upper classes are mad and evil. You also shouldn't complain if a TV movie has the ugliest, clunkiest plot construction you'll ever see.
Fortunately all this means you can start hating certain characters instead of merely being bored by them. The depravity just keeps building. In the end, enough horror and despair have been accumulated that our evil bastards have turned into outright monsters and it's a joy to see them meet their just desserts. I laughed at the irony of the fate of Garden Fork Killer. Hmm. Might that be a homage to Basil Rathbone's The Scarlet Claw?
Meanwhile Holmes eventually kicks himself into action, but even then it's a portrayal as extreme of the Great Detective as I ever expect to see. It's unique. I'll give it that. In the end it even turns out that his nightmares were indeed precognitive, which somehow works in context despite getting no justification and frankly being pretty stupid. On top of that it's unnerving to see Jeremy Brett going through all this, given the man's own well-documented problems. He looks like death warmed up and clearly isn't up to the running and fighting that the script demands. His fight scene at the climax is shot almost entirely in the dark.
Unusually for a Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes episode, we have specific dates. The Importance of Being Earnest is quoted as Oscar Wilde's latest play and it's been seven years since the 1890 Lunacy Act. Alas the original story is also specific, with a 41-year-old character having been born in 1846, but at least the disparity is a round number of years. Oh, and the title role is being played by Simon Williams, in case you've ever had a yen to see the evil ancestor of Group Captain Gilmore from Remembrance of the Daleks.
Ironically given that this is a feature-length adaptation, Conan Doyle's original story shows Holmes at his quickest, solving the case even before he's begun his opening interview with the client. His subsequent questions merely confirm his theories. There you'll find no mad Holmes, no evil aristocrats and no prophetic dreams. Oh, and this series has written out Lestrade again.
In a masochistic way, I respect this adaptation. It takes no prisoners in its plunge into evil. It's bleak, it's wholehearted and in the end it all comes together almost admirably. You see the uninteresting and vaguely repellent characters of the first half get ever-darker until your dislike of them hardens into horror. It's brave, I'll give it that. I could even believe that it plays completely differently on a rewatch, when one knows where T.R. Bowen's going with all this, but on first viewing I found the entire first half almost unwatchable.