THE SHERLOCK HOLMES
I’ve always been a big fan of the movies starring Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes and Nigel Bruce as Dr. Watson, even if the films weren’t always particularly faithful to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. After the first two Victorian era Sherlock Holmes films were produced, 20th Century Fox sold off the rights to Universal, who modernized the characters into a WWII setting and created a series of programmers featuring Rathbone and Bruce. During my childhood, the Rathbone/Bruce Sherlock Holmes films always seemed to play on television and I was always tuning in to watch them. As I grew older and got into Laserdisc and then DVD, I had hoped to acquire the Rathbone/Bruce films on disc, but had always been disappointed by the worn, poor quality 16mm prints used to master these films to video (except for the two Fox films). Now thanks to the UCLA Film and Television Archive, the series has been digitally restored to its 35mm glory- down to the Universal logos. MPI Home Video has issued the first four films on DVD for $69.98 as THE SHERLOCK HOLMES COLLECTION: VOLUME ONE, with the individual films that comprise the collection also being made available for $19.98 each.
SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE VOICE OF TERROR is loosely adapted from Conan Doyle’s His Last Bow and finds the services of Holmes and Watson being engaged by the British Inner Council to deal Nazi saboteurs, as well as the propaganda radio broadcasts that announce these acts of terror just as they occur. In SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE SECRET WEAPON faces off against his greatest adversary Professor Moriarity (Lionel Atwill), who is working with the Nazis to kidnap a Swiss scientist, whose latest development will significantly increase the accuracy of high altitude bombing raids. SHERLOCK HOLMES IN WASHINGTON finds Holmes and Watson sent to Washington D.C. to track down some missing microfilm, after the courier transporting the top-secret information disappears. SHERLOCK HOLMES FACES DEATH gets the series back to familiar territory, with its adaptation of The Musgrave Ritual, a story that finds Holmes and Watson investigating a murder in an English manor, which is being used as a convalescent home for shell-shocked officers. The supporting players in these first four Holmes offerings include Henry Daniell, George Zucco, Reginald Denny, Evelyn Ankers, Hillary Brooke, Montagu Love and Ian Wolfe.
With only some minor variations in quality SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE VOICE OF TERROR, SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE SECRET WEAPON, SHERLOCK HOLMES IN WASHINGTON and SHERLOCK HOLMES FACES DEATH all look terrific on DVD. MPI Home Video offers each of the four films in a truly fine black and white transfers that frame each in the proper 1.37:1 theatrical aspect ratio. The image quality of these DVD is absolutely stunning in comparison to the atrocious video incarnations that fans have had to suffer throughout the years. Everything appears wonderfully crisp and very nicely defined. Blacks are deep and velvety, while the whites are solid and stable. Contrast is great, as is the grayscale, which produced a great variety of shades that adds considerably to the depth of the image. As for the restored film elements, only the most minor of flaws remain- an occasional blemish or minor scratch is usually about the worst of it. A grain structure is noticeable in various places throughout the presentations, but it is never excessive and helps to create a very film like appearance for the movies. Digital compression artifacts are never a cause for concern on any of the DVDs.
All four films that comprise THE SHERLOCK HOLMES COLLECTION: VOLUME ONE come with fine sounding Dolby Digital monaural soundtracks. Most traces of background hiss and surface noise have been cleaned up during the restoration and mastering efforts for these films, leaving clean and crisp sounding tracks. Of course, fidelity limitations remain, but even the Universal stock music manages to sound rather pleasant with a bit of amplification applied. Speaking of the stock music, I had to chuckle at some of the more familiar cues, which I could swear were used in everything from Universal horror movies to the Abbott and Costello films. Dialogue is always completely understandable and Rathbone’s voice maintains its distinctive sense of character. No other language tracks are included, although English subtitles are provided.
Music underscores the basic interactive menus, which allow one access to the standard scene selection and set up features. Supplemental materials are provided for the four-disc collection, but not on the individual releases of SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE VOICE OF TERROR, SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE SECRET WEAPON, SHERLOCK HOLMES IN WASHINGTON and SHERLOCK HOLMES FACES DEATH, which were provided for this review, instead of the box set. Supplements should include an audio commentary with author David Stuart Davies, a photo gallery and original movie poster art.
After suffering through horrible incarnations of these films for years, THE SHERLOCK HOLMES COLLECTION: VOLUME ONE should come as quite a revelation to fans of the series. SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE VOICE OF TERROR, SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE SECRET WEAPON, SHERLOCK HOLMES IN WASHINGTON and SHERLOCK HOLMES FACES DEATH all look terrific on DVD- thus making them a must have for any Holmes or Rathbone fan. Very highly recommended.
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