Tuesday, March 9, 2010


British television has produced numerous series, serials, telefilms and specials dramatizing the adventures of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's legendary consulting detective. One of these was a well-regarded and remembered series produced in the mid-Sixties by the BBC and starring English film icon Peter Cushing (STAR WARS, ASYLUM, CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, et al) as the great SHERLOCK HOLMES (1965).

The BBC was notorious in the past for disposing of old tapes and films, thus only five episodes of this particular incarnation still survive. Thanks to A&E Video and the popularity of the recent Robert Downey Jr. film, American fans of the Great Detective can now enjoy these Holmes adventures on DVD.

The five episodes of the Cushing series that survive are all based on Doyle stories, and include "A Study In Scarlet," "The Sign of Four," "The Blue Carbuncle," "The Bascombe Valley Mystery," and a two-part adaptation of "The Hound of The Baskervilles." Interestingly, Cushing had portrayed Holmes in the Hammer Films feature based on the same classic story six years earlier. The TV version is pretty good - as are all these episodes - especially considering the low budget, short running times, and limited TV production values of the era, but I prefer Cushing's more eccentric portrayal of Holmes in the movie over his more subdued, studied performance for the BBC.

Veteran British character actor Nigel Stock assays the role of Doctor John Watson and does so admirably, conveying intelligence and an understandable admiration of - and pride in - his famous friend. The rest of the supporting players are equally up to the task, and I recognized a number of familiar faces from other 60s and 70s UK programs, like Ed Bishop (UFO) and Nick Tate (SPACE:1999).

A&E's DVD set contains the five episodes on three discs, packed into a compact, standard-sized Amray case. The episodes are presented with decent full-frame transfers. Picture quality is acceptable, considering the age and nature of the source material. like a number of BBC programs of the era, the shows were shot on both videotape (interiors) and 16mm film (exteriors), and then transfered to film again, causing a certain amount of degradation. Image quality is generally a bit soft, and there's some color "smearing" during the video sequences, but, really, we're lucky to have these programs at all. The only extra is a TV documentary, SHERLOCK HOLMES: THE GREAT DETECTIVE, which gives a fairly basic but interesting overview of the character and his history.

If you're a Sherlock Holmes fan, picking up this set should be a no-brainer. If you're new to the character - maybe just discovering him through the Robert Downey film - then you may want to hold off and check out some of the other great Holmes dramatizations first. The 1959 THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES with Cushing, for example.

Definitely recommended for Sherlockians and fans of the great Mister Cushing.

BUY: The Sherlock Holmes Collection