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This is a DVD double bill with two episodes from the almost lost (only six of sixteen episodes survive) 1968 BBC Sherlock Holmes series with Peter Cushing as Holmes and Nigel Stock as Watson. A Study in Scarlet is first and was directed Henri Safran. This was the first of the Sherlock Holmes stories written by Conan Doyle but doesn't seem to have been filmed much and usually tends to be rather condensed when it has been. This version is an admirable attempt to be faithful to the source material and while they don't include everything from the novel (Holmes & Watson, for example, already know each other and share rooms here, we don't see them meet for the first time) there are many little faithful moments and scenes that highlight just how seriously Cushing took the character and indicate that he studied the novel closely and did his research. In his autobiography, Cushing said that when he played Baron Frankenstein he would constantly ask his GP about the correct way to remove a head (or something) so that he could do a scene as accurately as possible and he brings that fastidious quality to his portrayal of Holmes here. Cushing's period clothes and the way he examines a body are straight from the pages of the novel and it was the actor himself who insisted on these authentic touches. After a few teasingly cryptic early scenes, the story in this episode picks up with Holmes rather bored and Watson still bemused by his uncanny ability to deduce untold clues from the most ordinary of inanimate objects. But a strange case awaits and the pair are soon thrust into action again.
Scotland Yard detectives Lestrade and Gregson (played by William Lucus and George Cooper respectively) are baffled by a murder and call Holmes and Watson out to the crime scene to take a look. An American man named Enoch J Drebber is dead but there is no evidence of how he was murdered. No blood or evidence of a robbery or assault. It's like the classic closed door mystery. Above the victim's body someone has written the word "Rache". Holmes of course is soon rife with observations as he sniffs out clues that the detectives - who are mere deducting mortals compared to him - have failed to spot. Holmes is soon claiming to know the murderer's height, shoe size and brand of cigar and when a woman's ring is recovered from the crime scene he puts an advert in the local newspaper to see if anyone turns up to claim it. This is merely the start of a most knotty case for our pipe smoking hero. I enjoyed this one quite a bit, primarily I suppose because Cushing is much more to the fore than he was in Baskervilles (which I'd watched first). He's great fun here and really makes the most of the deducting scenes, the police bemused by his quick brain. He of course also does that very Sherlockian thing of making them aware he knows much more than they do but also making them aware that he is probably holding back the full extent of his theory for now until he has tested it for himself. Although Cushing must have been in his sixties by now his energy and boundless curiosity gives him the aura of a much younger man.
Some of the American backstory is discarded (I suppose these episodes were only about 45 minutes long and A Study in Scarlet a one of the few Holmes novels) but this is a solid and likeable adaptation that should interest and please fans of the book. William Lucus and George Cooper are good as the rival police inspectors and I also enjoyed Cushing's leadership of the Baker Street Irregulars, the young street scamps that work for Holmes on occasion. By the way, look fast here for Joe Gladwin, who would go on to play Nora Batty's long suffering husband Wally in Last of the Summer Wine. Quibbles? There is an absolutely risible man dressed as woman scene that time hasn't been kind to but that aside A Study in Scarlet is good fun on the whole and one that Cushing fans will enjoy. The Boscombe Valley Mystery was directed by Viktors Ritelis and is another enjoyable caper with some especially nice scenes set in woodland and the countryside. I must say though that this series is somewhat macabre at times. You wonder if this was played up a little because of the presence of Cushing, viewers perhaps expecting a few chills and a bit of blood given the Hammer connection. Anyway, Holmes and Watson are asked to travel to Boscombe Valley (it's supposed to be in Herefordshire but I don't think any such place really exists) where despised expatriate landowner Bill McCarthy (Peter Madden) has been brutally murdered.
The chief suspect is his son James McCarthy (Nick Tate) because Patience Moran (Caroline Ellis), the young teenage daughter of the local lodge keeper, was larking about in the woods dancing around in a daze and saw McCarthy with his late father in the woods too around the time of his death. Case closed. Or is it? Holmes begins his investigation and soon begins to suspect that - as ever - there is much more to this case than meets the eye. This is not as stylish as the Jeremy Brett Granada version but it does have a lot going for it and Peter Cushing (despite his personal dissatisfaction with this series and his performance) completely owns the role of Holmes here stalking woodland with his Deerstalker and magnifying glass! I started to notice the chemistry between Cushing and Nigel Stock as Watson much more in this one and found some of their scenes quite amusing. I love the moment where Holmes literally shoves Watson out of the way at one point when he suddenly notices a clue and just doesn't want anyone around him at all cramping his style! Cushing brings some real eccentricity to the part here that I really liked. A bit where he squats in the woods after some expert deduction and just sort of rocks on his heels with his hands under his chin.
Stock (thankfully) doesn't play Watson as a complete buffoon and I like him in this series but he's not Edward Hardwicke. He doesn't quite have that thoughtful three dimensional quality of Watson from the Brett series (where David Burke was excellent too if I recall as the first Watson) but he is funny in this one. This is a dark little mystery with lashings of blackmail and revenge but it was nice all the same to see these characters in a country setting and the location work is enjoyable in a Home Counties Hammer House of Horror sort of way. Familiar faces seem to be rather thin on the ground for me in this series but you do get Australian actor Nick Tate - best known to British viewers as Eagle pilot Alan Carter in the live action Gerry Anderson series Space 1999. He's solid enough here and his real life father John Tate is also in this too as John Turner, the parent of his true love and someone who isn't a huge fan of the McCarthys. There are a few changes here from the story but it's fairly faithful. The main difference in the translation from page to screen as far as I can see is that Lestrade has been removed and replaced by Michael Godfrey as a local policeman named Inspector Lanner. I liked the Cushing version of The Boscombe Valley Mystery quite a lot and it does make one wish the remaining episodes in this series hadn't been lost.
Trivia that'll almost certainly never be of any use to you: Caroline Ellis enjoyed brief fame in the United States a few years later as one of the stars of The Bugaloos, possibly the most psychedelic and hippy trippy children's television series ever broadcast, but let's not get into The Bugaloos now. This series is rather dated and modest in scope but has a charmingly cosy atmosphere once one has settled in and any fans of Peter Cushing will certainly enjoy this. Look out for either the BBC Sherlock Holmes Collection or the Peter Cushing Sherlock Holmes Collection as they'll give you this and more and are usually very reasonably priced. At the time of writing you can buy the BBC's 1968 A Study In Scarlet/The Boscombe Valley Mystery double bill for a few pounds.