4 out of 5
reviewer: Charity Bishop
Originally created for the BBC by Granada, this disk contains several of the popular series adaptations of the stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Although not an original fan of Jeremy Brett's version of the infamous Baker Street detective, this series won me over entirely. There's very little content (individual issues have been addressed in the episode summaries) and the stories are surprisingly true to the original text. Lovers of good mysteries in general will appreciate these noteworthy attempts at recreating Holmes as much as the die-hard fans.
A Scandal in Bohemia
Sherlock Holmes was only ever once outsmarted by a woman. His philosophies concerning the female gender were generally distant and unimpressed. He was "wary" of their intellect, and regarded them as dangerous. But in the case of Irene Adler, Holmes made an exception. Her story is told in A Scandal in Bohemia, one of the earliest and finest of the Sherlock Holmes stories produced by Granada. This initial episode introduces us to the eccentric, playful Holmes so well known by his thousands of literary fans, and also provides us the opportunity to watch one of the more tantalizing canon stories unfold.
After a brief absence from Baker Street, Dr. Watson (David Burke) returns fearful of his findings. Sherlock Holmes (Jeremy Brett) is a constantly changing individual, sometimes in the height of his exuberance, at others wallowing in melancholy. On this occasion he's in high spirits, having just received a mysterious letter from an unknown client. The German-inspired note requests his presence at home at the hour of eight that very evening, and promises the price will be well worth his while. Insisting Watson remain to greet the newcomer, Holmes astounds their masked visitor by acknowledging him as the crown king of Bohemia. The problem is singular but unimaginative: the monarch had a former indiscretion in his youth with a woman by the name of Irene Adler. A woman of great beauty and repute, she has the singing voice of an angel and the personality of a queen.
The king requires Holmes to obtain a photograph Irene has of them together, taken in one of his rare cameo shoots. Irene has threatened to reveal it the day of his formal engagement to a foreign princess, thereby threatening the match and extracting her revenge. But Irene is clever. His Majesty has sent agents on four separate occasions to break in and search the house. He's waylaid her luggage, offered to pay her a high price... but there's never any sign of the photograph. Holmes has three days in which to obtain this important document. But this is one case where the hunter may become the hunted. Irene is no simpleton, however generous and sweet she turns out to be. These complexities---in an almost direct-from-page-to-screen adaptation---make this sixty-minute episode one of the more fascinating in the series.
I'm not very fond of Jeremy Brett, having only seen some the later episodes in which he's much too lethargic to play Holmes. But having observed A Scandal in Bohemia, I realized for the first time why he was cast as the eccentric occupant of the flat above Baker Street. Brett truly shines from beginning to end, opening with his humorous thoughts on a "seven percent solution" of cocaine (Watson believes he's been indulging, which proves to be false), to the final shot of him playing his violin. The disguises he adopts are particularly fantastic, and Brett manages to alter his voice, expressions, walk, even his smile to suit whatever role he's playing... that of a surly redheaded Irish groom, or the well-meaning clergyman. The silent battle of wits that engages between him and Irene is splendid.
David Burke is exceptional as Watson. He's excitable but not absurd. One can easily accept him as a physician and writer. Supporting actors are also proficient in their roles. The costuming and set design are beautiful, carrying a romantic but slightly threatening air. Overall the production is well worth viewing and lacks any problematic areas except for a few mild abuses of deity. Nothing scandalous is ever hinted at in the flashbacks of romance between the King and Irene. Her reasons for keeping the photograph are completely above board and only prove her intelligence. Holmes loses a little face but never seems resentful of it, instead marveling at so keen a woman. Having always loved the original story, I was happy to see it kept almost exactly to Doyle's tale, right down to the dialogue. The cinematography in early scenes is also quite stunning... a darkened Baker Street lit by candlelight.
The Dancing Men
A series of little stick figures in various positions are found on an outside bench on the Cubitt estate. Mr. Hilton Cubitt is most curious about their presence, as well as the sinister influence they have over his wife Elsie. A young American woman he chanced to meet while in London for the local festival, their marriage has been happy for some months... until the appearance of a letter postmarked from the States. Having told her husband on the morning of their wedding day she was completely innocent of any past discrepancies in her life, but would never tell him what she left behind in America, Elsie burned the letter without reading it. Ever since she's been melancholy... and now dancing figures have sent her into inexplicable hysterics.
The case is brought to the attention of Sherlock Holmes (Jeremy Brett) at Baker Street, who has made a conclusive study of cryptograms. The little figures are unlike anything he has ever seen and baffle even the logics of Dr. Watson (David Burke). Hilton believes his wife is running from something, but also protests her innocence. As Holmes attempts to piece together the fragile pieces of information he'd provided with, the landowner is forced to contend with his wife's unwillingness to divulge information. More dancing men are found scratched onto door frames and painted onto outside walls. The servants are aware of something amiss but can offer no explanations. The dog-cart is kept busy transporting the stable boy to the station with yet more copied cryptograms for Sherlock Holmes.
But even when the great consulting detective cracks the code, he may be too late to prevent disaster. The Dancing Men provides one of the best climaxes in the series of short stories revolving around Watson's assistance to the great detective. Holmes uses the villain's own means to ensnare him, proving once and for all eventually the sins of the world will catch up to you. Doyle was often fond of using foreign criminals in which to engage British audiences, and this story does not differ from the norm. Elsie is a lovely young woman with a dark secret. Her husband is slightly jealous but convinced of her innocence in any "past deeds." The third party, the originator of the mysterious dancing men, is a surprisingly dimensional character. Both ruthless but also compassionate. His confession is surprisingly moving.
The early films are much better than the later episodes where Jeremy Brett is concerned. Here is yet another fine portrayal of Holmes. His abruptness of manner, the way he wholeheartedly throws himself into the task at hand, and his moody expression whenever deep in thought are the very picture generated through reading the canon. This episode is also detailed and contains no major content issues. There is one profanity and a single mild abuse of deity. Some violence is shown in flashbacks as we witness the actual crime; a man tries to force a woman out of a window. Several shots are fired, one figure is killed. We hear of a suicide attempt in retrospect. Not one of my favorite stories but still one worth viewing... just to see if you can decode the dancing men!
The Naval Treaty
A man screaming with hysteria is brought into the house on a dark and provincial night. Eight weeks later, Sherlock Holmes is musing in Baker Street over a puzzling letter from someone seeking his assistance, but declining to acknowledge the reason for the need for his services. The name is known to his friend and college Dr. Watson as an old schoolmate, a nervous fellow called Phelps. He is currently employed at the Foreign Office but has been lain up in his country estate from an illness brought on by severe shock and concern. When our intrepid duo appear on the morning train, Phelps is none too happy to reveal the source of his pain... the theft of a priceless document from the department.
The agreement, which concerns security-sensitive information concerning "the position of Great Britain towards the Triple Alliance, and fore-shadowed the policy which this country would pursue in the event of the French fleet gaining a complete ascendancy over that of Italy in the Mediterranean," was given into Phelps' care by his uncle in order to copy the document. He was given explicit instructions and followed them to the letter, returning to his office and remaining after the other clerks had gone home. Dutifully he copied the article late into the night and rang for coffee. When it failed to come, concerned and irritated, he left the office momentarily to go down and see what was the matter. When he returned, the priceless legal document was gone without a single person in sight.
Holmes has been called up to retrieve it at any cost and with great deliberation. Phelps' reputation lies on the line, as well as the political stance of England. Were the document to be made known, their alliances would swiftly become enemies. But more than eight weeks have passed since the initial crime, the local police hold very little hope of its recovery, and the trail is cold. Indulging one of the "darkest and most complex" mysteries of his lengthy career, Holmes brings us to a shocking conclusion with a dramatic flair. The nature of the mystery is itself a puzzle, one of the few cases which dealt primarily in international intelligence rather than murder. There are certainly suspicious characters enough, from the sharp-tongued police inspector who must be put in his place by the consulting detective, to Phelps' kindly fiancé and her older brother, to the cleaning lady on duty that night.
Brett's detective seems more tense than usual but also manages some truly Holmes moments of sardonic humor. The story incorporates several verbal attacks which prove interesting to the feel of the overall piece. The acting of supporting characters is sometimes week, but the flashbacks are intriguing. My single complaint lies in the climax, when we observe two men struggling in slow motion and primarily from strange camera angles. It was truly strange and failed to fit the flow of the rest of the production. There are no content issues to be concerned of other than a half dozen exclamations of "My God!" when the document is discovered missing, and a knife that cuts someone on the hand.
The Solitary Cyclist
Down a lonely road pedals a beautiful young woman. At a bend in the lane, another bicycler falls in behind her, keeping a lengthy distance. He follows for several miles and then vanishes into the shrubbery at the side of the path. The young woman glances back, puzzled and disturbed. She then takes her problem to Baker Street, where she determines to tell her story despite Holmes' protests of being overworked and exhausted. Miss Violet Hunters has been recently employed as a musical teacher at the home of Mr. Caruthers in the English countryside. Her father had recently died, leaving them with no money at all, and she was forced to take employment. Several months after his death, news came from India concerning their only living relative, who had also recently succumbed to illness. Two close friends of his were sorrowful in informing her he died a pauper, but each desired to give her some financial aid.
The manor house is rambling and old but the company is pleasant enough. Caruthers is a well-meaning gentleman with a charming daughter and obviously good intentions. However, his friend and former companion, a man by the name of Woodly, is much less pleasant. He has made overtures to Violet of a questionable nature and attempted to force her into accepting his proposal of marriage. After he was thrown out of the house, she has not seen him again... but fears he may still be in the neighborhood. None of this was of overt concern until she met the solitary cyclist, a mysterious figure in a black beard who follows her for several miles past an old run-down manor house. Whenever she attempts to corner or follow him, he outpaces her. He's always watchful but never forward and has made no attempts to molest her in any way.... but still it remains troubling.
Holmes is intrigued by this sinister occurrence and encourages her to be wary in her travels, promising to come down as soon as possible. In his stead he sends Watson, who comes up with nothing conclusive. Holmes' own investigations in the neighborhood lead to a brawl in the local tavern, and a shocking series of events revealing the lowest possible form of conniving. One of the more intriguing of Doyle's stories merely because it has such a strong leading female in the position of damsel in distress, The Solitary Cyclist is for the most part good entertainment. The story plays out well on the screen and we're given the opportunity to view incidents as they happen rather than in flashbacks. The conclusion is surprisingly good and the tale has an unforeseeably happy ending.
Some mild profanity intrudes, as well as a scuffle in a bar in which one man winds up knocked senseless and the other comes home with a shiner. (Observers clap and cheer over the loser's well-deserved fate.) A man is found knocked unconscious, with some blood coating the side of his face. Two people struggle on several occasions, when a man makes romantic overtures to a woman. He once passes his hand above her breast without touching it, and tries to kiss her. Violet shows a lot of cleavage in several scenes. A clergyman is involved in underhanded dealings. There's no murder, very little actual violence, and some rather fun scenes between Violet and Holmes. But one thing perturbed me, and that was how blunt and cruel Brett's lethargic detective seemed at times. He's rather mean to Watson after his return from the country, and doesn't hesitate in engaging in fist cuffs with a local ruffian he knows to be a scoundrel.
One of the few Holmes adventures which features a likable heroine in the lead, The Solitary Cyclist is an intriguing story with a surprising twist in the final few minutes. Holmes solves the crime, as always, but berates himself for not being more immediately attentive. This final episode also closes on a humorous note fans of the book series will find amusing.
The Crooked Man
From behind a locked door a maid bearing a tea tray hears a man and woman shouting. Banging to be let in, she finds the door locked. Before she can go for help, the servants hear a blood-curdling scream and then complete silence. The houseman is rapidly sent out around the corner of the house to climb in the window and investigate. He finds the verandah door standing wide open, curtains fluttering in the wind, his mistress laying prone on the divan in a dead faint, and her husband sprawled out with his head on the grate, blood dripping down a face forever immortalized in absolute terror. Because the murdered man in question was a military officer, the regiment desires to clear up the case as soon as possible with discretion.
Sherlock Holmes is invited to look into the details and form an accurate presentation of what happened. Unwilling to muddle about with all their desires for secrecy, he demands the complete truth from the murdered man's first lieutenant and close family friend. The couple were Colonel and Nancy Barclay formerly of India. They married young, though Nancy had many suitors, and came to England only in recent years, where he took command of a local regiment and his wife participated heavily in charity work among the London slums. Perceived by many to be a happily-married couple, there were instances of displeasure between them. Barclay was an extremely jealous man and often treated his wife ill. On the night in question, she'd come home in a dreadful mood and they'd quarreled before the houseman's findings. Unless Holmes can prove otherwise, once she recovers from her illness, brought on by shock and horror, she'll go to the gallows for killing her husband.
His search leads him into a sinister labyrinth of the past involving former acquaintances and events in India, as well as a crippled man with a four-footed carnivorous companion. Though not as personally intriguing to me as many of the other short stories and their adaptations, The Crooked Man is not without its peculiar twists and turns. Using flashbacks it illustrates previous happenings, painting a vivid romance, a tragedy, and eventual betrayal and justification for the end. Most of the characters uphold a strong moral constitution, and Holmes is articulate in his findings while the military police stumble off on the wrong track. Fiona Shaw, currently of Harry Potter fame, is shown in her youth as Nancy's best friend and a strong central link in explaining the chain of events. Though a bit snappish in the first few scenes, Brett manages to once again make an eccentric, likable detective.
As with other episodes, the worst flaw lies in some mild violence and exclamatory uses of God's name. These failings are hardly worth nothing, although the film also contains strong thematic elements, allusions to almost a scriptural parallel, and a belief in God's justice. There's some passionate kissing between young couples, and allusions to verbal violence. A man and woman struggle together briefly; another speaks of having every bone in his body broken as he was mutilated by natives. Bloody bodies line the countryside in a flashback to the India wars. One of the more unique episodes and sometimes slow-moving, it's also a powerful glimpse into the old adage that your sins will return to visit you.
The Speckled Band
With trembling fingers a woman lights a lamp as she hears an unearthly, terrible whistling sound from beyond her bedroom wall. Visibly shaking with fear, Helen Stoner releases the match as it burns down to her fingertips. She then boards the early train to London the following morning with the intention of seeking the assistance of the infamous Baker Street detective. Holmes wakes Watson at the appearance of their early visitor and together they entreat her to tell them her story. Helen has lived alone with her stepfather for some time, since the death of her sister two years before. Dr. Roylott met and married her mother in India when she was quite young, and eventually brought them to England.
After her mother's unfortunate death in a train accident, the girls were left to themselves in the great old house in disrepair. At first they were happy enough, but became increasingly less so as their stepfather proved to be more harsh. His actions are oftentimes inexplicable, such as allowing a band of local gypsies to encamp on his property for months at a time, and keeping such exotic pets as a leopard and baboon to wander the grounds at night. Her sister had become engaged and was set to be married. Only a fortnight before this blessed occurrence, she mysteriously spoke of a strange whistle in the night. That very evening Helen was aroused from sleep by her sister's frantic screams. She ran out into the corridor, only to support her sister as she collapsed to the floor and, warning her to be wary of "the speckled band," died.
Since then Helen has puzzled over her sister's warning, wondering if it might not be some form of delirium. But due to changes made to the structure of the house, her room has been rendered unusable and temporarily her things have been moved into her sister's former chamber. Frightened with old memories, she was awakened in the middle of the night by the same eerie whistle. Holmes is intrigued, particularly when Dr. Roylott pays him a call shortly after the young woman's departure, and warns "the meddler and busybody" to stay away from his family affairs. Arranging a visit to Stock Moran, the family estate, in the man's absence that afternoon, the great detective draws shocking conclusions and engages Watson in a chilling night watch in which their very lives may be endangered.
Needless to say, this is one of my favorite short stories and I was exceedingly pleased with how well they adapted it to the screen. The writers have kept it true to the page, and the actors are in their element working on some of the more humorous aspects of the story, as well as its gothic feel of horror. You have the English setting, blended with distinctly foreign inconveniences such as exotic animals and pesky gypsies, as well as a damsel in distress. The brief interaction between Holmes and Roylott in particular stands out as a classic moment, as the doctor accuses him of being a busybody. The teasing smile which twitches across Brett's face is nothing less than catching.
With considerably little to be wary of in the way of family viewing, The Speckled Band offers only a few mild insults, an exchange of bows between Roylott and the local blacksmith, and an instance where he grabs his stepdaughter's wrist cruelly. She bears the marks the following morning, where Holmes perceptively notes them. A figure wanders around in hysteria before dying in her sister's arms. Holmes takes after something in the dark with a stick. We hear a petrified cry of horror and see a dead face set in a hideous expression. Not recommended for younger or particularly sensitive viewers, but older ones will find this one of the most intriguing of the cases documented by Dr. Watson.
The Blue Carbuncle
Since the origin of priceless jewels, there have been murders, robberies, and swindlers attempting to obtain the perfect gem. One such rarity is the blue carbuncle, valued for its particular color and size. With a turbulent, bloody history, the diamond is now in the possession of the Countess of Morcar. Newly returned from a trip abroad, she opens the gem's case and discovers it missing. The servants are interrogated, the police informed of the robbery, and a young plumber arrested. Protesting his innocence is of little effect, for he was the only stranger in the house that day and the other servants remarked of his curious nature. Surprisingly, the case is not brought to the flat above Baker Street, where Holmes is languishing in boredom.
In fact, he's been engaged on a much different and unrelated case: the finding of a goose by the local constable. The honorable gentleman was returning home the night preceding when he came upon a peculiar sight: an old, apparently drunk gentleman toting a goose. Having the bad chance to run into a gang of street ruffians, he dropped the prize in his attempts to protect himself, as well as his battered hat. In the scuffle, a window was broken and the constable ran in to break it up. His intentions to help the old man were taken amiss and the lad shot off down the street, leaving the goose and his bowler in the street. Wishing to return the man's possessions to him, the constable has asked for Holmes' Christmas cheer in assisting him.
With little else to occupy his time, Holmes takes a minor interest in the case. The goose, he says, should be taken home and eaten before it spoils; the owner will be compensated for its loss. He will keep the hat and make an investigation into the wearer. Finding nothing extraordinary about the case, Holmes and Watson are dumbfounded when the constable returns not an hour later. You'd have never guessed, sir, what was in the bird's innards. A priceless blue carbuncle, the very one the Countess has offered a thousand pound reward for. Suddenly the case is much more intriguing as Holmes seeks out how it came to be there, and the man responsible for so carelessly losing it.
The Blue Carbuncle is one of the few instances where Holmes allows compassion to overrule justice, and shows a criminal mercy in the spirit of Christmas. It also involves other highly empathic and likable characters, such as the old sot who carelessly lost his goose in the street, and the tradesman responsible for marketing the birds. Holmes is notorious for thinking on his feet and never fails to turn any situation to his advantage, even when it comes to prodding the truth out of a most unwilling and unknowing accomplice. It's ironic in this case the criminal should be more likable than the countess herself, who is a blunt, crabby old woman who fits in well with the line of former owners of the "cursed" stone. The plot seems to drag slightly in the opening scenes but picks up once Holmes is on the case.
Violent acts reveal the carbuncle's tragic history under the opening credits, where we see men stabbed, shot, and attacked for the price of the jewel. The maid and one of the housemen are shown kissing briefly, but dispatch when their mistress returns home. A man forces a gem down a goose's throat. The Christmas spirit runs heavily through the story from beginning to end, and leaves one with a warm feeling rather like a hearty glass of eggnog on a cold winter's night.
The Copper Beeches
In the absence of cases of interest, Sherlock Holmes proves quarrelsome. This time he has chosen to attack the "sentimentally" his friend attaches to the singular narratives of his adventures published in the Strand. Ruffling Watson's feathers over his mistreatment of his writing pursuits, Holmes is only put to rights again with the appearance of Violet Hunter, a beautiful, redheaded young woman from the north of London. Having recently completed her education and seeking a position as a governess through a job-agency, Violet has come upon a most particular offer and wishes to consult his advice in whether or not the position should be accepted. It's with an older couple in the country, and caring only for their young son.
The pay is exceedingly good, but several impediments stand in her way. The first, and a much lesser offensive, involves her agreeing to give in to the "whims" of her mistress. They would involve wearing certain gowns on certain days, sitting where they should like her to sit, and behaving in a manner they deem appropriate. In the light of the excellent wages, Violet is willing to forgo minor freedom. But of more mysterious concern is the requirement that she cut all of her luxurious red hair off "rather short." Having initially refused, Violet received a letter the following afternoon begging her to take the position and offering a substantial increase in payment, but insisting her hair be cut off. Since she's agreed, Holmes cannot see why his advice could be sought but promises to be of assistance if she's in need of him at a later date.
Reaching the Copper Beeches, Violet discovers the high wages and loss of her hair may not be worth the curious position she's asked to take. Her employer, Rucastle, keeps a large, rather vicious dog who roams the grounds at night. One entire wing of the house is locked up. The child she's asked to care for kills birds for pleasure and does other evil little deeds. But the most curious object of all is found in her room. A long curl of similar-colored hair to her own keepsake. Frightened, she asks Holmes' assistance in solving the mystery and he unearths a devious plot, sinister intentions, and a shocking revelation concerning the Rucastles and their lavish country estate. While the casting is all-around brilliant, viewers will take great pleasure in viewing an extremely young Natasha Richardson in her first film role. Her Violet is both exceedingly lovely to look at, and also expressive with her emotions.
The climax of this story is also one of the finer ones, involving a daring rescue, a break-in, and a showdown with the vicious family pet. The servants in the house are not all as they seem. The Rucastles are both likable and frightening, particularly when her employer catches her wandering where she shouldn't be. There's really no content concerns aside from brief mild language and a scene where a dog attacks and mauls a man. The hound is stopped and the victim will recover, but is shown bloodied after the tousle. Beyond the likable mystery as it unfolds, the story offers more excitement than usual and an intriguing premise. Holmes' attempts to make up to Watson at the end by praising his latest account of their adventures is also touching.
The Greek Interpreter
As a non-English-speaking traveler disembarks the train, a shadow melts forward to meet him, escorting him off the platform. Once out of sight of passerby, the young man is clubbed over the head and dragged into the coach. Demurely lighting a cigarette, the mastermind smiles and follows. Nothing is published of the incident by local accounts and Holmes is completely unaware of its existence, instead attempting to sort through his case files. Watson has never heard him speak at length of his family and certainly had no prior knowledge that Sherlock has an older, larger, and more keener brother by the name of Mycroft, who works for the treasury department but is not ambitious and thus has never attempted to use his incredible mental powers for anything aside from armchair detective cases.
Whenever Mycroft comes across a problem singular enough to be of interest, but too demanding on his lack of enthusiasm for physical exertion, he passes it on to his younger brother. This is just such an occasion, as they've been asked to visit his local club (where members are not allowed to converse with one another, but endure complete silence and anonymity) to hear the peculiar tale of Mr. Melas. A known interpreter of the Greek language, Melas has recently had the most extraordinary and troubling adventure. He was sought out and asked to interpret for an unknown individual, then bundled into a cab with the blinds drawn, and driven for more than two hours over uncharted roads. On reaching a sinister house, he was then told to interrogate and attempt to persuade a young man with sticking-plaster over half his face to sign some papers.
Without success, Melas did as he was told and after being paid a handsome price, was sent away again -- another two hours, and dumped into a London alleyway with the warning to tell no one of this affair, should he wish to remain healthy. Unable to live with the knowledge that someone from his homeland was being badly ill-treated and kept against his will, Melas sought his dear friend Mycroft for advice. Unwilling to leave the case entirely to Holmes' good nature, the armchair detective teams up in order to discern the history behind this curious affair, as well as the whereabouts of the foreign captive. It will lead them to a hair-raising hunt through London, and the fast-churning wheels of a train departing for the coast. But it's rare to see Mycroft and Sherlock on the same trail, and audiences will find them fascinating.
What our usual sleuth posses in large quantities, Mycroft surpasses. Their initial meeting is compiled of eager banter, both attempting to point out to the other the working condition, martial situation, and nature of a random passerby on the street below. Watson is astonished, as are we, as Mycroft exerts himself. I also found the climax likable... the speeding railway, the clicking of the tracks, the swaying of the train, and the cool resolve with which the infamous brothers tackle a singular and deadly opponent. The story also ends somewhat differently than those before it; a decisive choice on the part of filmmakers that works to continue the mood. There is some violence... a man is perceived dead when he is caught between moving trains; guns are wielded against good and evil alike; a room is filled with poisonous gas.
Complex and enthralling, The Greek Interpreter proves one sleuth remains dangerous for the criminal classes; when two are involved, there's no question good will triumph in the end.
The Norwood Builder
Little knowing a fire and murder have been committed in the country, Holmes is complaining of the lack of interesting cases in London. The criminals have all been caught, he bitterly remarks; there is nothing left to him save missing kittens. While Watson protests his morbid nature, the great detective is offered a singular opportunity to solve a most peculiar crime. A thunderous sound on the stairs, as well as the vocal protests of their housekeeper Mrs. Hudson, bring a young man into the room, winded from his climb and with fear flushing his pale features. The fellow is the unhappy John Hector McFarlane, recent accused of a terrible crime. He's a lawyer by trade, not long in the business pursuit, and begs Holmes hear out his story fully. He fears the police will demand his arrest and all will be lost, for he has no part in the crime!
Eager for the details, Holmes encourages him to be seated and tell his strange story. McFarlane had been sought out by Mr. Oldacre, a well-known builder in Norwood with a large estate he wished to settle on a recipient through his will. The lawyer was much shocked to discover it was to him which this great sum of money was to be left. Oldacre explained that in his youth, he'd known Mrs. McFarlane and even sought to marry her, but she'd chosen another more worthy man. Now desiring to do something for her son, who has been left impoverished through his own father's passing, he wishes to leave the entirety of his estate to the lawyer. Entreating McFarlane to have the papers drawn up and pay him a call in the country, the older man departed. The deeds were signed and all made proper before McFarlane left the house in good spirits... and never laid eyes on the old man again.
That night the garden shed was set afire, a blood-stained walking stick belonging to the lawyer was found among Oldacre's belongings, and the Norwood builder disappeared entirely. Combing through the wreckage, the police were able to discover the remains of a body. Believing he'd been murdered and then burned, they naturally hold the lawyer, the last to see him alive, as the primary suspect. He's rapidly bundled off to Scotland Yard by the interminable Inspector Lestrade, and Holmes sets off for Norwood, determined to find some clue as to his innocence. But the case is complex and evidence against his client seems insurmountable. This may be one instance where the great detective has been hired to free a guilty man... or perhaps there's something more sinister at work in the old house.
Most of the cases of the infamous Baker Street detective are of a singular nature, but this is one of Doyle's most brilliant stories. The Norwood Builder carries you along and then throws the truth on you like a bucket of icy water... which also, by the way, plays a significant role in the solution. Involving arson, supposed murder, forgery, and a number of red herrings, the viewer is left astonished at the conclusion. The acting here is particularly good, and the pacing is excellent. It moves rapidly but never overshadows itself with a lack of clues. If you're keen, you may be able to pick up the evidence Holmes himself gathers and foresee the ending. But only if you're quick of mind and have some prior suspicion of how the story turns out. There's virtually no violence or profanity, and only mild thematic elements. It's a splendid adaptation of an excellent mystery, and my personal favorite of the canon episodes.