Fulvue Drive-In.com
Current Reviews
In Stores Soon
In Stores Now
DVD Reviews, SACD Reviews Essays Interviews Contact Us Meet the Staff
An Explanation of Our Rating System Search  
Category:    Home > Reviews > Mystery > Radio Drama > Detective > Literature > Essential Sherlock Holmes (Delta DVD Box Set from 2005)

The Essential Sherlock Holmes (Delta DVD Box Set)

Picture / Sound / Extras / Films/TV Shows:

Silver Blaze (1937) C-/C-/D/C+

A Study In Scarlet (1933) C-/C-/D/C+

The Secret Weapon (1942) D/D/C-/B-

The Woman In Green (1945) D/C-/B/B-

Terror By Night (1946) D/D/C-/C+

Dressed To Kill (1946) D/D/C-/C+

Original TV show (1954-55) C+/C-/B-/C+

The Real Sherlock Holmes (2004) C+/C+/B-/B-

A new round of Sherlock Holmes programs on DVD [this review was first posted in 2005] continues with Delta's 8-DVD set The Essential Sherlock Holmes. We have recently covered all 14 of the Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce Homes films as recently restored to 35mm film, then issued by MPI, which are all as impressive as those films are going to look until HDTV versions arrive [see the Blu-ray review elsewhere on this site!]. However, even though this box features awful old prints of four of those Universal Pictures-produced films (The Secret Weapon, The Woman In Green, Terror By Night, Dressed To Kill) it also offers two rarely seen Holmes films, six episodes of an early 1950s Holmes TV series, a pretty good documentary look at Holmes and nine episodes of the little-heard but long-running radio show that Rathbone & Bruce starred on for the longest time.

Two different actors play Homes and Watson in the other B-movie films that preceded the Rathbone/Bruce series. Silver Blaze (aka Murder At The Baskervilles, but not a film of The Hounds Of The Baskervilles book) has Arthur Wootner as Holmes in the final of five films he did as the character, while A Study In Scarlet has one time Dr. Watson Reginald Owen as Holmes. Wootner is more successful than Owen, who seems awkward in the role. Both make for interesting comparisons to Rathbone and what might have been. The problem is that they are not as clear or direct as Rathbone, whose theatricality, voice, statue and snap succeed where they failed. Some of each film feels a bit more British by comparison to the Hollywood product, but they just do not make it.

Those two DVDs have no extras and the mysteries are not bad for B-movie material, but they also feel like they are playing second fiddle to Doyle's original work, which is bad, as if to say film was a secondary art form to the printed page instead of one unto itself. Hollywood would not make that mistake. As for the four Rathbone DVDs, each one comes from different points in Universal's series, but the great thing about these DVDs is that they feature the best part of this set, the radio dramas.

The show was very successful, running with the co-stars from 1939 - 1946, then Tom Conway took over from Rathbone as Holmes for one last season. The final Real Sherlock Holmes DVD includes one of those installments. The Rathbone shows are from sponsors Bromo Quinine (discontinued as they found out injecting bromide could kill people!) and Petri Wine, plus some made with Armed Forces Radio in mind. The Conway installment is sponsored by Kreml hair care products, with all but one Armed Forces-only copy without the fun advertisements the great days of radio offered. The pretense of each of the shows in this series is that the host visits Watson after the launch announcement that the show has begun and who is the sponsor.

The TV series ran only 39 shows (most of which WGBH in Boston, one of the greatest of all PBS affiliates, is saving and restoring). Until then, these six shows will do to show what is remarkably still the only regular U.S. series ever produced on Holmes. Despite their last-minute TV funny endings, they are decent and the producers even pushed the format occasionally in certain shots. Ronald Howard played Holmes and H. Marion Crawford played Watson, not badly cast and competitive with other pairings before and after the series run and it was a sincere attempt to do the character despite the restrictions of early TV.

All the mysteries here, even those of the Rathbone/Bruce films, tend to be in the mode of the shorter stories creator and original author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle did with such snap and cleverness. The Liam Dunn-narrated documentary on Doyle titled The Real Sherlock Holmes is another in the very amusing series of such programs Delta is making on various interesting real-life subjects that happen to be brought to the big motion picture screen. Troy, for instance (with Brad Pitt's unreal dying scene), was also a hoot, as reviewed elsewhere on this site, and like that program, there are some interesting things to learn from this nearly hour-long program. Shot recently on professional analog PAL video, it looks good for that and there are some location shots that are obscure and alone worth watching the program for.

All the footage is 1.33 X 1 full screen throughout and it occurred to me that hardly any of the Holmes features are even widescreen in the long history of the character on film. The films and documentary are offered in PCM 2.0 sound, with the documentary being stereo and the six features films in mono. The six TV shows are in lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono, as are the seven radio dramas. I like to hear the old radio in PCM preferably (many hundreds have been nicely restored since this first posted!), but many are out on DVD in Dolby and all over the web as MP3s. I think they loose their impact as the recordings, off of old acetates, has enough audio obstacles without more compression. In the case of the Rathbone DVDs, the shows are so good, they make the shot film prints seem like bonus reference material, and then if you had these on CD only, you could only fit two complete programs per disc anyhow.

As to whether this is an 'essential' collection, the answer is essential enough as there is plenty of material here you will find nowhere else. Obviously, even an 8-DVD set only scratches the surface of the Holmes legacy in broadcast and film media, something that can be even said of MPI's 14 Rathbone DVDs (and later, still amazing Blu-rays!!!). The missed opportunity here was to have audio commentary tracks like those MPIs often do. Delta could have easily found someone to talk about Holmes, especially in the early British films. The Essential Sherlock Holmes is a decent set for fans and those who want to see sides of Holmes they have not seen or heard before. Those who are interested will not be disappointed.

- Nicholas Sheffo


 Copyright © MMIII through MMX fulvuedrive-in.com