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Category:    Home > Reviews > Documentary > Mystery > Many Faces Of Sherlock Holmes (Documentary)

The Many Faces of Sherlock Holmes  (Documentary)


Picture: C-     Sound: C-     Extras: B     Main Program: B-



A long-unseen, but exceptional TV special from 1985 has finally been made available on DVD.  The Many Faces of Sherlock Holmes was originally issued at the time to capitalize on the Steven Spielberg-produced/Barry Levinson-directed Young Sherlock Holmes, expecting it to be a huge hit.  It only did moderately well, but this Christopher Lee-hosted work is a key documentary program on the legendary detective.


To give you an idea of what you get early on, here is some of the rarely spoken of early history of the character on stage and screen that this DVD has, including clips and stills.  Charles Brookfield was the first Holmes, even if it was in a stage Musical called Under The Clock, but William Gillette’s serious stage version gave him a 36-year run as the character.  Actor H. A. Saintsbury did play for 20 years in England, which included a very young Charlie Chaplin at one point, and even did a film version.  Thomas Edison did the first-ever film of Holmes in 1900, which was silent, of course, called Sherlock Holmes Baffled.  There would be over 100 such silents form six countries until talkies came in.   A 1914 A Study In Scarlet had Francis Ford as Holmes, who happened to be John Ford’s brother.  Gillette did his play on film in 1916.  Ellie Norwood played Holmes in 47 films over a three-year period.  John Barrymore did Samuel Goldwyn’s film version of the Gillette play in 1922, directed by Albert Parker.  Roland Young was Watson.  Clive Brook was the first sound Holmes in Paramount’s 1932 film The Return of Sherlock Holmes.  Raymond Massey did The Speckled Band in England (with clip included).  Arthur Wontner was the biggest British Holmes on screen until Basil Rathbone.  That’s just the beginning of the dense amount in interesting information.  Alan Napier for instance, who played Alfred The Butler from the 1960s TV version of Batman, even played him years before landing the hit superhero show.  There is even a sound film clip of Doyle himself on camera discussing the character and its origins, as recently portrayed in the British TV film Dr. Bell & Mr. Doyle, also from BFS and reviewed elsewhere on this site.


There is too much to go into, nor should we do so, as not to spoil the disc for you.  There are many extras, but first, we should point out that the program is dated performance-wise.  The transfer has digititis in its analog videotaped, full screen presentation and transfer, but this is a minor problem here and could only be upgraded so much.  The film clips are much more an issue, being old and often muddy, yet hardly any of these Holmes films have been issued on DVD or even LaserDisc and VHS in the 18 years since this program first appeared.  Young Sherlock Holmes lack of commercial success probably did not help, but nothing since has been a hit featuring Holmes since, except the Jeremy Brett series.  DVD may be the hope yet for these films to be issued correctly.  The sound is Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono with the variance you would expect from a program so old and with such varying picture quality, but it is also tolerable.  Lee’s parts are the most well-recorded of all the sound.


There is a fine DVD-ROM section with the text of six Holmes stories by Doyle with five options on how to punch it up on your PC.  BFS had already done a budget triple-feature of the Rathbone/Holmes films, and includes a so-so copy of The Secret Weapon (1942, the fourth Rathbone and second Universal-International installment in the series) for your consideration.  There is a Doyle biography, list of his selected works, Holmes quotes, and even trivia on Holmes.  That makes this a surprisingly loaded DVD, up to the greatness of the program, whose only flaw is that it runs under an hour.


Even with the arrival of MPI Home Video’s archival prints of the Rathbone/Holmes films on DVD, both this and Dr. Bell & Mr. Doyle are must-have DVDs for all Holmes and detective fiction fans.  There have been some awful Holmes DVDs, including a boxed set with radio dramas and horrible quality, but the demand for Holmes has been brewing for a very long time and we can all now enjoy the character over the shallow stereotype.  The Many Faces of Sherlock Holmes is also an excellent reference source.  Now can we just get all of this unreleased non-Rathbone/Holmes TV and motion picture material restored and issued on DVD?



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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