Mill Creek released a 4-dvd set called `The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes,' which included 4 movies and all 39 episodes of the Sherlock Holmes television series, starring Ron Howard (the son of actor Leslie Howard) and H. Marion Crawford. Produced in 1954 by Sheldon Reynolds, the television episodes borrowed heavily from the Sherlock Holmes series of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, thus making the shows a wonderful tribute to the London-based detective.
The first show, `The Cunningham Heritage,' provides an introduction to Dr. John Watson and Sherlock Holmes. The first 15 minutes of the show is a close approximation to the introduction of the two characters in `A Study in Scarlet,' the novella that introduced Holmes and Watson to the reading public.
Seven episodes from the television show are derived from the short stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. `The Engineer's Thumb' and `The Red Headed League' from `The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes' were made into television episodes called `The Shoeless Engineer' and `The Red Headed League.' `The Musgrave Ritual' and `The Greek Interpreter' of `The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes' are similar to `The Greystone Inscription' and `The French Interpreter' in the television series. In `The Musgrave Ritual,' the story involved a search for items of King Charles II, the king who succeeded the reign of Oliver Cromwell and the Roundheads in 1660. `The Greystone Inscription' used an ancient family ritual to lead to artifacts from the reign of Richard II.
In His Last Bow, `The Adventure of the Devil's Foot' - which Holmes calls the Cornish horror - is similar to the episode `Exhumed Client.' Watson saves Holmes from death both in the case, and on television. Death is also caused by similar circumstances in both versions of the case. In `The Case-book of Sherlock Holmes,' Baron Gruner of `The Illustrious Client' is engaged to Violet de Merville - in a match that is as ill-advised as Jack Murdoch's engagement to Susan Dearing in `The Violent Suitor.'
`The Pennsylvania Shotgun' is derived from Part One of the novella `The Valley of Fear.' One of the four movies included in the DVD package, the `Triumph of Sherlock Holmes,' is also based on `The Valley of Fear.' The movie covered not just Part One of the novella, but also Part Two, the section on the Molly Maguires. The movie added some dialogue with Professor Moriarty that is quoted from `The Final Problem,' the famous short story that concludes `The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes.'
There are other episodes where the viewer can see a Sherlock Holmes case of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle inspiring a television episode. The case of `The Gloria Scott' from The Memoirs provided the inspiration for the television episode of `Blind Man's Bluff.' The influence is not-too thinly-veiled, because the revenge killings are based on incidents from a boat called the Gloria North in the television episode. From `The Return of Sherlock Holmes,' two stories inspired television episodes. `The Priory School' inspired `The Night Train Riddle,' as some of the clues for the missing boy are the same and, in both cases, the son engineered the plan then aborted it after an accomplice acted too recklessly. `The Second Stain' inspired the episode of `Lady Beryl,' but you have to allow for some impact from `The Bruce-Partington Plans' of `His Last Bow,' since it was Oberstein who was killed in the television episode. The first scene of `The Eiffel Tower' episode was also loosely based on the death of Eduardo Lucas in `The Second Stain.'
Anecdotes from the Sherlock Holmes stories were also interwoven into various episodes. `The Naval Treaty' from The Memoirs introduced readers to a boyhood friend of John Watson named Tadpole Phelps. A screen writer for `The Laughing Mummy' not only gave Reginald Taunton a childhood nickname, but Watson as well. Such scenes were not inspirations but reminders that reached out to those who became fans of Sherlock Holmes by reading his cases. One might not notice any coincidence by calling Watson `Blinky,' but one can see the similarities between the names of Sardines Taunton and Tadpole Phelps. Both are fish. They are nicknames that the Portuguese dentist in `Diamond Tooth' would not have liked.
In the novella `The Sign of Four,' Holmes discussed the monograph called `Upon the Distinction between the Ashes of Various Tobaccoes.' Holmes also mentioned his knowledge of tobacco in two other cases, the novella `A Study in Scarlet' and the `Boscombe Valley Mystery' from The Adventures. The screenwriters used this ability for Holmes to help free Edwin Brighton in the `Impromptu Performance' episode.
`A Study in Scarlet' marked the debut of the Baker Street Irregulars, but the band of street Arabs, led by Wiggins, was outlined in detail in `A Sign of Four.' The irregulars appeared in `The Cunningham Heritage' and several other episodes, a scene here and there, usually represented by a lone boy signaling Holmes from the street. Such scenes reminded the Holmes fan from the cases of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle that they were not forgotten.
In `Black Peter' of The Return, Watson mentions that Holmes had five different undercover disguises and one was Captain Basil. Holmes used the sea-faring disguise in the television episode `Diamond Tooth.' The villain of `Diamond Tooth,' the Captain who preferred to have the boa-constrictor do his dirty work, was as devious and cunning as Dr. Grimesby Roylott of Stoke Moran in `The Speckled Band' of The Adventures. Roylett used a swamp adder, the deadliest snake in India, to do his bidding. `The Speckled Band' also involved a mysterious low whistle, a device that was used in another television episode. Holmes and Watson originally went to the home of Sardines to discover the source of that low whistle in `The Laughing Mummy.'
In `The Five Orange Pips' of The Adventures, a person receives a set of five orange seeds as a warning that the KKK is going to kill them. Two television episodes made use of a related device. In `Blind Man's Bluff,' the target receives a chicken claw wrapped in a ribbon, a symbol of death from Trinidad. In `The Winthrop Legend,' a person who receives a coin is about to be murdered. The Winthrop Legend also had a scene of Holmes climbing on the steps, and shaking himself upside-down on a sofa. This is a classic Sherlock Holmes investigation, where the detective gets so agitated and excited that he loses his sense of public decorum. Ronald Howard plays these scenes with aplomb.
In `The Adventure of the Norwood Builder' in The Return, Lestrade bursts into 221B Baker Street to arrest John Hector McFarlane for murdering Jonas Oldacre. The episode `Harry Crocker' begins with a similar scene. Lestrade busted in to arrest Crocker just after Crocker had finished asking Holmes to take on the case to prove his innocence.
`The Resident Patient' of The Memoirs, a man named Blessington was murdered in a case that was meant to look like suicide. In the television episode `The Jolly Hangman,' Billy Hooper was also murdered in a case that the inspector originally ruled a suicide.
An early scene in the `Singing Violin' has Betty screaming after seeing an image of an intruder and hearing a violin. Part of Holmes solving the case is his use of gramophones to simulate the playing of the violin. `The Mazarin Stone' of The Casebook was a case where Sherlock Holmes used a record player to simulate the sound of a man playing music. The final scene of `The Mazarin Stone' recalls an early scene of the episode `Split Ticket.' Holmes swipes a wallet from a pickpocket and plans to return it to the original owner without him finding out on the television episode, much the way Holmes puts the Mazarin stone in Lord Cantlemere's pockets to play a practical joke on him.
In `A Scandal in Bohemia' of The Adventures, Holmes analyzes the writing paper to determine the identity of a caller and potential client. Holmes discusses the analysis of writing paper in the `Baker Street Nursemaids' to determine which of the three foreign agents have kidnapped the French scientist.
In the novella "The Hounds of the Baskervilles," Chapter 5 - Sherlock Holmes discovers that a man who hailed a cab to follow two Holmes clients, Dr. James Mortimer and Henry Baskerville, gave his name as Sherlock Holmes. The `Imposter Mystery' episode is devoted to a person who impersonates Holmes while Holmes and Watson were in Brighton. Holmes & Watson then impersonate Middle Eastern royalty to reel in the imposter. In the end, Holmes disarms the accomplice of the imposter by impersonating the imposter.
Portions of `The Adventure of the Empty House' of The Return - which is the first short story written by Doyle after the death of Holmes at Reichenbach Falls, inspired scenes in three televised episodes. In `Christmas Pudding,' the vengeful John Norton took aim at Holmes the same way that Sebastian Moran did. In `The Vanished Detective,' Holmes was undercover as an old bookseller, reminiscent of the man that Watson meets at 427 Park Lane. In `The Baker Street Nursemaids,' Holmes staked out the lair across the street from 221B Baker Street just as Holmes and Watson did in the `Empty House' while trying to catch Sebastian Moran.
The `Perfect Husband' episode had its influence not in a Sherlock Holmes story, but the classic French tale of Bluebeard. It is amazing how many literary references were used to create the 39 episodes of Sheldon Reynold's Sherlock Holmes series. Most of those references are from the Sherlock Holmes canon. In a way, watching an episode is like a scavenger hunt, because you can always be looking for a scene that you remembered reading in one of the Holmes cases.
Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard, played by Archie Duncan, was a regular on the television show. Holmes and Lestrade have a somewhat adversarial working relationship that plays out comically on the television episodes. Lestrade considers Holmes an amateur, who can nevertheless help with his useful deductions. Holmes believes that his methods of detection should be second nature to Lestrade, since Lestrade is supposed to be a professional. The screenwriters introduced another regular police officer, Wilkins, to balance the authority figure of Lestrade much in the same way that Holmes and Watson balance each other. The credits often refer to the actor who plays Wilkins as `Kenneth Richards,' but sometimes they call him `K Richard Larke.'
In the cases, it was detective Altheney Jones who called Holmes an amateur. Wilkins is reminiscent of the young detective Stanley Hopkins, willing to call on Sherlock Holmes and with enough initiative to adopt forensics for their own investigations. Wilkins even convinced Lestrade in the television episode `Reluctant Carpenter' to use the chemistry lab at 221B Baker Street when Holmes and Watson are out. Holmes spied on the two from the apartment from across the street and commented on the lab work of Lestrade and Wilkins in that episode. Some of these twists were implemented to brush scenes with humor.
Eugene Decker and Martine Alexis are probably the two best guest stars of the television episodes, but there are others actors who you will notice. In the `Shy Ballerina,' both Decker and Alexis star as Russian lovers, while Nathalie Shaeffer stars as the wife of Harry Chilton. Ms. Shaeffer is best-known for her role as Mrs. Thurston Howard III in `Gilligan's Island.'
Watson exclaims, `Charming.. CHARMING!" after meeting Helene, played by Judith Havriland, in `The Vanished Detective.' He could have said the same thing after meeting Dawn Addams of the `Careless Suffragette,' but was probably too busy trying to keep a straight face when he heard she wanted to blow up a lion. Frederic O'Brady, who plays Boris the Anarchist, helped the suffragette make a bomb that goes `pfft.' Harris Towb is another memorable character playing the lucky Irishman Brian O'Casey in `The Split Ticket.'
The picture quality of the DVD series is a distraction. Snow and white spots are common. Scenes skip. A few episodes have incorrect credits - for example, the credits for `Diamond Tooth,' `the Neurotic Detective,' and `the Red Headed League' list actors that appeared in a different episode, not the one we just watched. Did anyone else notice that the sign in `Harry Crocker' was spelled `Harry Croker?' And how did the Split Ticket morph into a horse race for Part II of the sweepstakes after Part I was a lottery?
The packaging is misleading. Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce appear on the cover of the box and also on the face of all three disks representing the 39 episodes of the television series that star Ronald Howard and H. Marion Crawford. Rathbone & Bruce appear on the fourth movie, `The Woman in Green,' a story where the evil Doctor Moriarty tries to kill Sherlock Holmes with a fall, not at the Falls. Read `the Final Problem' in the Memoirs if James Moriarty is an unfamiliar character.
Arthur Wotner plays Sherlock Holmes in the three other movies included on the DVD set. The Murder at the Baskervilles is based on the short story `Silver Blaze' from The Memoirs. `The Sign of Four' is a famous novella of the Sherlock Holmes canon because it is the only episode where we meet Mary Marsters. She is better known as Watson's wife Mary in other cases of Sherlock Holmes. I will say that I was disappointed in the way that Watson was played in the four movie episodes. He was either too much of a toady, or too old, or too competitive. While Holmes is the star of these cases, Dr. Watson also saved Sherlock's life in `The Devils Foot.' This viewer votes H. Marion Crawford as the best Watson in this DVD set - and it is not even close.
The thirty-nine episodes of the 1954 television series were the highlight of the DVD set for this Sherlock Holmes fan. Half of the fun was trying to discover the Sherlock Holmes story that influenced various episodes. In doing so, you tend to forget about the many imperfections of the product. This DVD set is a real treat for the Sherlock Holmes addict who has read all the cases and likes to be reminded of details within them.
Disc One: 1 Cunningham Heritage; 2 Lady Beryl; 3 Pennsylvania Gun;
4 Texas Cowgirl; 5 Belligerent Ghost; 6 Shy Ballerina; 7 Winthrop Legend;
8 Blind Man's Bluff; 9 Harry Crocker; 10 Mother Hubbard;
11 Red Headed League; 12 Shoeless Engineer; 13 Split Ticket.
Disc Two: 14 French Interpreter;15 Singing Violin; 16 Greystone Inscription;
17 Laughing Mummy; 18 Thistle Killer; 19 Vanished Detective;
20 Careless Suffragette; 21 Reluctant Carpenter; 22 Deadly Prophecy;
23 Christmas Pudding; 24 Night Train Riddle; 25 Violent Suitor;
26 Baker Street Nursemaids.
Disc Three: 27 Perfect Husband; 28 Jolly Hangman; 29 Imposter Mystery;
30 Eiffel Tower; 31 Exhumed Client; 32 Impromptu Performance;
33 Baker Street Bachelors; 34 Royal Murder; 35 Haunted Gainsborough;
36 Neurotic Detective; 37 Unlucky Gambler; 38 Diamond Tooth;
39 Tyrant's Daughter.
Disk Four: The Sign of Four; The Triumph of Sherlock Holmes;
The Murder at the Baskervilles; The Woman in Green.