The Sign of Four

Director: Douglas Hickox
Script: Charles Edward Pogue
Cast: Ian Richardson, Donald Churchill, Denholm Elliot, Glynis Barber, Brian Blessed, Eleanor Bron, Martin Shaw
Running time: 100 minutes
Year: 1983
Certificate: 15

Made as part of a short series of made for TV Sherlock Holmes films featuring Ian Richardson as the inimitable super sleuth, The Sign of Four is a very watchable adaptation that captures the essence of the original story nicely and utilises some excellent period details and sets to underline this. Originally there were supposed to be six of the Sherlock films, but in the end, they only made two; this and The Hound of the Baskervilles.

A young woman approaches Holmes for help to find out what happened to her missing father in India, after receiving a tip-off that he might still be alive. When a major, connected to the missing man, via a hidden stash of gem stones, has a heart attack, (after apparently being assaulted by a one-legged man), Sherlock takes on the case with the help of his trusted companion, Dr John Watson (David Healy).

For those who don’t know the story of ‘The Sign of Four’ I shall avoid spoiling it for you any further, suffice to say it makes for a good yarn, well told. Any story that features the second largest diamond in the world, a scheming peg-legged man, hidden treasure, a dangerous dwarf and a locked room mystery can’t fail to be entirely without interest.

Ian Richardson plays Holmes as a somewhat patronising, smug, fiddle-playing intellectual, but he manages to convince as the legendary character, which is all that really matters. The rest of the cast work well together, although I wasn’t blown away by Healy’s performance as Dr Watson, although he was adequate.

As I mentioned before there’s loads of cool period details, hence the production team should be commended. Unfortunately, not all of the sumptuous design can be seen as well as it should since the picture quality of the film was a bit grainy in places.

After the initial set-up, the film moves along at a fair old clip, and fans of Sherlock Holmes won’t be disappointed as all the character’s tropes are present and correct, except perhaps his heavy use of drugs! Sherlock even says: ‘The games afoot’ at one point…

Second Sight are distributing The Sign of Four on DVD and Blu-ray. Bonus feature: An audio commentary by renowned Sherlock Holmes expert David Stuart Davies, who’s also an author and playwright in his own right.

 

The Hound of the Baskervilles

Director: Douglas Hickox

Script: Charles Edward Pogue

Cast: Ian Richardson, Donald Churchill, Denholm Elliot, Glynis Barber, Brian Blessed, Eleanor Bron, Martin Shaw

Running time: 100 minutes

Year: 1983

Certificate: 15

The other Sherlock Holmes made for TV film featuring Ian Richardson as the main character, The Hound of the Baskervilles is perhaps the stronger of the two, but only marginally.

This time round Holmes and Watson (Churchill) head south west to Devon to investigate why the Baskerville males are still in danger after generations of living under a curse. A rather young-looking Martin Shaw plays Sir Henry Baskerville who has an eye on Stapleton’s sister, Beryl, played by the gorgeous Glynis Barber.

In fact, there’s a great cast in this one with Denholm Elliot playing Dr Mortimer, and Brian Blessed playing a grizzled drunk, Lyons, who makes for a good red herring, even when warning Sir Henry. Oh, and Eric Sykes also turns up as a cabbie.

The initial prologue, which sets up the legend is staged well, although I wasn’t so sure about the cartoon dog! Fortunately, the final dog isn’t too rubbish though, and is probably better than the Hammer version.

Ian Richardson seems to be enjoying himself a bit more here, especially the bits where he disguises himself as an old gypsy to pull the wool over Watson’s world-weary eyes.

Once again there’s excellent production value here, with some good use of locations, especially Knightshayes Court in Devon. However, on the negative side the villain’s death scene is perhaps a little over played and over-long!

There’s some sign of print damage here and there on this release, but over-all Second Sight are to be commended for bringing this pair of Sherlock Holmes films back into the light.

Second Sight are distributing The Hound of the Baskervilles on DVD and Blu-ray. Bonus feature: An audio commentary by renowned Sherlock Holmes expert David Stuart Davies.

The Sign of Four & The Hound of the Baskervilles (Second Sight collection)
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About The Author

Justin Richards is a journalist by day and a scriptwriter by night. His work has appeared in the darker recesses of the internet and in various niche publications including ITNOW, The Darkside, Is it Uncut?, Impact and Deranged. When he’s not sitting hunched over a sticky, crumb-laden keyboard he’s paying good money to have people in pyjamas try and kick him repeatedly in the face.

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