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Category:    Home > Reviews > Mystery > Detective > Murder > Crime > Drama > Thriller > Literature > The Sherlock Holmes Vault Collection (1900 - 1937/Film Detective Blu-ray Box Set)

The Sherlock Holmes Vault Collection (1900 - 1937/Film Detective Blu-ray Box Set)

Picture: C+ Sound: C+ Extras: B Films: B-

Before the arrival of spies, superheroes and loud action films, the two most successful and most filmed heroes on screen from the silent era to early sound era of world cinema were Tarzan and Sherlock Holmes. Eventually having a key actor become the definitive player of that role for big Hollywood Studios (Johnny Weissmuller for MGM, Basil Rathbone for 20th, then Universal,) many other actors before and since gave it a good go and some did better than might be remembered.

In the 1930s, two British actors had success in the role in films that are special and free of the many post-Rathbone series films in that they do not have to reference them, compete against them or overcome their shadow. Arthur Wootner made five Holmes films, while Reginald Owen, after a film playing Watson, played Holmes as well. Owen's sole Holmes film and three of Wootner's have been collected in a loaded new box set from the great label Film Detective that confidentially calls itself The Sherlock Holmes Vault Collection. These films are much talked about by fans, but rarely seen. This set should finally help change that.

The Owen and one of the Wootner films were issued on DVD back in at least 2005 (reviewed elsewhere on this site) and WOW did they look bad, but I said this about them:

''Silver Blaze (aka Murder At The Baskervilles, but not a [direct] 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 [rich red-headed members of a club start getting killed off] 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.''

I vaguely remembered if I saw then before, but they did not stick with me much since, though I still remember them feeling more British than even the Rathbone films and since then, far superior to the extremely commercially successful Robert Downey, Jr. films which I am no fan of despite the talent involved.

Seeing more of the Wootner work, I can see why he was the most successful until Rathbone and that he did pull off a better job of playing the character than I could gather from that single film copy. Better than Jeremy Brett too, who is a fine actor, but I never bought him as Holmes.

The three Wootner films here are Sherlock Holmes' Fatal Hour (1931, aka The Sleeping Cardinal, Is Moriarty behind a bizarre gambling scheme?) The Triumph Of Sherlock Holmes (1935, a fan favorite where Holmes tries to retire, but a crazy event stops this from the classic The Valley Of Fear) and Silver Blaze (1937) with Sherlock Holmes and the Missing Rembrandt and The Sign Of Four: Sherlock Holmes Greatest Case (both 1932) are the two films that were not available for this set, but are hopefully not lost forever. Four has some kind of print floating out there somewhere, but we do not know its condition as we post.

Wootner (The Fighting Pimpernel, The Terror, Genevieve) and Owen (Platinum Blonde, Of Human Bondage, Mary Poppins, Hitchcock's Above Suspicion, the 1938 A Christmas Carol) are definitely choices for Holmes that make sense, no matter the results and they were doing something original while still competing with some sometimes amazing actors (John Barrymore, William Gillette) who came before them and then had to come up with early sound interpretations that were not merely them reading lines on a stage. They also offer purely British discourses (and pre-WWII at that) that are priceless, so these are the many reasons to revisit these ambitious films which made the most of their budgets and achieved more than even the makers may have realized at the time.

Now for playback performance. The 1080p 1.33 X 1 black & white digital High Definition image transfer can show the age of the materials used and are not in the best of shape, but this is far superior a set of transfers to the old DVD set from 2005 and anywhere else I have seen any clips of these films. Originally shot on 35mm film, it looks like these are surviving 16mm reduction prints with many issues, but hopefully the films have not been lost on 35mm forever (as discussed above) and the Owen film seems particularly on the faded side. Damage is on all the films and though these are in poor condition beyond the fixing up and expense Film Detective went through to save them, this is still the best way to see these films for now. Fortunately, some shots in each print looks better than my letter grade, giving you an idea of how good these must have looked when first issued theatrically.

The sound on all the films are lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono, which is usually disappointing for a Blu-ray release, but the soundtracks here need some more work and maybe better tracks can be eventually found, so any more restoration and lossless tracks would only be a very thin improvement. They'll do for now, but the combination reminds us of how problematic the copies of old films were on TV until home video and film restoration became the norm and we still have tons of work to do to save our world film heritage, especially for older films like these that are orphan films (with no big studio to save them) or not considered a priority for saving. Like all Holmes fans, ALL Holmes films are a priority to save!

Extras in this nice-looking slipcase packaging include (per the very well-worded press release): ''... a host of newly restored Sherlockian shorts, including Slick Sleuths (1926, a CineColor Mutt & Jeff cartoon, but this copy is down a generation and a black and white copy; hopefully a color copy is out there somewhere), Sherlock Holmes Baffled (1900), A Black Sherlock Holmes (1918), Sure Luck Holmes (1928, a fine Felix The Cat animated short), Cousins of Sherlocko (1913), The Copper Beeches (1912) and ''The Case of the Blind Man's Bluff'' (1954), a Sherlock Holmes bonus TV-episode starring Ronald Howard. Then you get Elementary Cinema: The First Cinematic Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, an original documentary by Ballyhoo Motion Pictures; Sherlock Holmes and the Blue Carbuncle, a radio broadcast recreation from Redfield Arts Audio; and exclusive introductions with filmmaker and film history icon, Samuel M. Sherman. To top it off, each of the four discs includes its own audio commentary from esteemed film experts and enthusiasts, including author Jennifer Churchill; author and film historian Jason A. Ney; writers/producers Phoef Sutton and Mark Jordan Legan; and authors/screenwriters, Peter Atkins and David Breckman; original film posters replicated as postcards, and booklet inserts with original essays from author Don Stradley and author/screenwriter C. Courtney Joyner.''

That's great (!!!) and this is supposed to be a Limited Edition, but there are even more extras tied into this set that are also available, as seen in the image if the set we have included with this review. For even more classic Holmes feature films that have been saved, issued on Blu-ray and belong on the same shelf with this solid set, going back to some key silent classics, try these links for the following Blu-ray releases:

Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce Blu-ray set from MPI


1914 and 1929 (German) Hound Of The Baskervilles adaptations


The 1916 William Gillette classic


and the 1922 John Barrymore classic


- Nicholas Sheffo


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