Sunday, 18 August 2013


A farmer by the name of McCarthy is brutally slain.  Problem is, he wasn’t very well liked, and the list of suspects is lengthy… It’s up to Sherlock Holmes to get to the bottom of the matter…

The Boscombe Valley Mystery, published in 1891, isn’t one of the more popularly referenced Sherlock Holmes adventures, though it has been adapted on several occasions.  In 1922, it became part of a series of Holmes adventures starring Ellie Norwood as the great detective.  Prior to Arthur Wotner and Basil Rathbone, Norwood was arguably the screen’s premier interpreter of Holmes; sadly, many of his films are now believed to be lost – including this one.  The story would get a reprieve until 1968, when it was adapted for this installment of the BBC’s Sherlock Holmes series.  It would not be adapted again until Granada included it in its series The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes, which would emerge as the final series to feature an ailing Jeremy Brett in his signature role as Holmes.

This adaptation remains the more satisfying of the two extant versions, largely because Cushing in his prime is so much more enthralling in the role of Doyle’s master detective.  While Brett’s performance is rightly championed in many circles, his later performances tend to mix the melodramatic with the lethargic, a reflection, no doubt, of his disintegrating mental and physical condition.  Cushing, by contrast, is at the top of his game here.  He knows when to work in one of his signature flourishes – cue that extended index finger! – and when to rely on quiet understatement.  He also has great chemistry with Nigel Stock’s Dr. Watson.  Stock is seldom mentioned among the screen’s most notable portrayers of Watson, and this is a pity – he manages to combine the blustery humor of Nigel Bruce and the intellectual efficiency of Andre Morell, and his performance matches Cushing’s every step of the way.  

The supporting roles are ably portrayed as well, with the cadaverous Peter Madden making a good impression in his small role as the ill-fated (and quite disagreeable) McCarthy; Hammer fans will remember him as the sympathetic innkeeper in Kiss of the Vampire (1962) or as the pompous police inspector volleying insults with Cushing’s Baron Frankenstein in Frankenstein Created Woman (1966).  Hammer alum Victor Brooks (Brides of Dracula) and Michael Godfrey (Rasputin – The Mad Monk) also put in appearances.

The episode was directed by Latvia-born Viktors Ritelis, whose most significant genre credit remains the suspenseful Michael Gough vehicle Crucible of Horror (1969), also known as The Corpse.  Ritelis employs some of the flashy editing techniques also evident in that film and he manages to pace the episode smoothly.  The murder scene includes some surprisingly bloody insert shots, which surely caused a little bit of concern at the BBC at the time.

For Cushing fans, The Boscombe Valley Mystery – like the other entries in the series – is an undiluted pleasure.  Holmes remains one of his most indelible characterizations, and it’s easy to see why – he manages to walk the tightrope between the florid and the understated, and he remains one of the most authentic interpreters of the character on screen.

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