Sherlock Holmes [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Severin Films
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (23rd May 2024).
The Film

In 1964, the BBC premiered an adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes story "The Adventure of the Speckled Band" on their anthology series Detective (1964-1969) that served as the pilot for a 1965 series of Sherlock Holmes adaptations starring Cushing's The Vampire Lovers co-star Douglas Wilmer as Holmes and Nigel Stock (The Great Escape) as Watson. Wilmer was dissatisfied with the scripts for the first series and declined to return for another. Three years later, a second series premiered in color with Cushing reprising the role of Holmes he had previously essayed in Hammer's The Hound of the Baskervilles, with the studio's rights expiring on that story allowing for another adaptation to be part of his run. While all but two of the Wilmer series episodes survive, the Cushing series suffered not only during its run from budgetary cuts – due to the aformentioned two-part Baskerville adaptation running over budget – and the resulting scaling back of location work but also in subsequent years with limited repeats allowed and the expense of videotape; as such, assessment of the Cushing series must be made on the six surviving episodes out of sixteen including the first two episodes which might have better established whether the series was meant to be a continuation of the Wilmer one or a reboot.

Although it was the serialized novel in which author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle introduced Holmes and Watson to the world, the Cushing series' third episode is "A Study in Scarlet" (50:26), the adaptation of which does away with all of the opening chapters establishing Watson and Holmes' first meeting and the former's impressions of the latter and starts off with the mystery, as the consulting detective is called in to investigate the mysterious death of an American (A Clockwork Orange's Craig Hunter) by self-administered poison which would seem like a suicide if not for the word "RACHE" (German for revenge) written in unidentified blood on the wall near his corpse. Competitive Scotland Yard detectives Lestrade (X: The Unknown's William Lucas) and Gregson (Violent Playground's George A. Cooper) jump to conclusions and make premature arrests while Holmes identifies the killer based on overlooked clues to identify the killer long before he ascertains the motive. The adaptation streamlines the structure of the novel by necessity, but also solves the problem of Holmes and Watson not appearing in the second half of the novel which functioned as a long flashback leading up the events of the murder (here dramatized as the opening) which may frustrate Holmes fan-atics but less so for the casual viewers for which the Holmes-Watson interaction is the draw of the stories and films.

The high point of the Cushing series, or at least what remains of it to be seen, is the two-part adaptation of "The Hound of the Baskervilles" (51:52 and 51:39) which cannot come close to the Technicolor visual splendor of the Hammer adaptation but in its streamlining of the plot and creative liberties does better than the subsequent Granada Jeremy Brett series in dealing with the necessity of Holmes being literally out of the picture for a chunk of the plot as Watson travels with young Sir Henry Baskerville (Look Back in Anger's Gary Raymond) down to his Dartmoor estate inherited from his uncle whose suspicious death may be foul play or the fulfillment of the curse that has hung over the family since the days of Sir Hugo Baskerville (Patton's Gerald Flood) whose sadistic revelries came to and end when he had his throat torn out be a gigantic hound whose spectral howl still haunts the moors. While the flashback vignette is depicted in a simultaneously expressionistic and cost-effective manner as a montage of sepia still images, the plot overly-familiar from other adaptations and popular culture simply plods along until Cushing comes along to verbally rush it to the end.

Much more interesting, actually, is "The Boscombe Valley Mystery" (50:54) in which the murder of a cruel farmer Bill McCarthy (From Russia with Love's Peter Madden) seemingly by his bullied son James (The Devil's Playground's Nick Tate) seems not so open-and-shut to Holmes and the young man's love interest Alice (Loving Feeling's Heather Kyd) and may have something to do with the elder man's years in Australia with Alice's paranoid, dying father (actor Tate's father John Tate). In addition to some sinister rural atmosphere and the dying man's baffling cries of "rats" the episode also hints at colonial guilt that surfaces more overtly in "The Sign of Four" (52:28), the condensing of a shorter novel in which Watson becomes romantically-interested in a young woman (Dr. Terror's House of Horrors' Ann Bell) whose father's disappearance several years ago is related to an obscure episode in his military service in India and a locked room mystery involving the twin sons (Zulu's Paul Daneman) of a colleague.

The second Holmes novel became the penultimate adaptation; and yet, the episode diverges from the novel by not marrying Watson off. If the series was to continue, the actress' availability should not have been a concern since Watson's wife is mostly mentioned but not seen in later stories. The final surviving episode "The Blue Carbuncle" (50:42) actually was the last episode, and the Christmas-set episode goes for a broadly comic tone that is unusual for the series but proves Cushing and Stock adaptable to the shift as they attempt to determine how the stolen jewel of a wealthy harridan (Jungle Street Girls' Edna Dorι) wound up inside of a Christmas goose. Typical of the time, the film's mix of 16mm location work and videotaped interiors betrays the set-bound nature of some Victorian interiors and a foggy London alleys – along with some flare and highlight-trailing – but also lends a certain "cozy" feel both in the contrast between locations and interiors as well as for this era of British television drama production. Given what we know about the production and Cushing's opinions of the series, it is difficult to tell just where Holmes' irritation with human nature ends and Cushing's irritation with budget cuts, reduced shooting schedules, and keeping in various flubs begins Nevertheless, the series is an essential for Holmes and Cushing fans alike (especially those who found the first three films in the set less interesting than his genre work).


Released separately from the Wilmer series on DVD in the U.K. by BBC and the U.S. by A&E, the Cushing series of Sherlock Holmes comes to Blu-ray - originally as part of the Cushing Curiosities box set - as 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.24:1 pillarboxed fullscreen upscales of the original tape protection masters (presumably the 16mm materials are long gone and we are lucky to have what we do of the series on tape). The original 25fps running time has been slowed down to 24fps with pitch correction which may annoy purists but is not very noticeable in terms of motion of Cushing's vocal performance. Only A Study in Scarlet bears distracting tape damage in at least three instances while the rest of the episodes have the usual shot-on-video defects with highlights and standard-definition resolving of filmed location materials.


Sherlock Holmes has some dropouts during the tape damage moments in "A Study in Scarlet" but nothing distracts from the roughness of the sound recording and mixing and the occasional line flubs.


Each of the surviving episodes is accompanied by an audio commentary. "A Study in Scarlet", "The Hound Of The Baskervilles: Part 1", and "The Sign of Four" each feature an audio commentary by Kim Newman, author of "Anno Dracula" and David Stuart Davies, author of "Starring Sherlock Holmes: A Century of the Master Detective on Screen". "The Hound Of The Baskervilles: Part 2" features an audio commentary by Barry Forshaw, author of "Brit Noir" and David Stuart Davies, author of "Starring Sherlock Holmes: A Century of the Master Detective on Screen" while "The Boscombe Valley Mystery" and "The Blue Carbuncle" each feature an audio commentary by Kim Newman, author of "Anno Dracula" and Barry Forshaw, author of "Brit Noir". Subjects covered include how Hammer's rights to "The Hound of the Baskervilles" and the Broadway musical "Baker Street"'s rights to some of the stories prevented some stories from being adapted during the Wilmer season, the changes made to the adaptations including "A Study in Scarlet" which introduced Holmes and Watson as young bachelors, the series' stated intention to get away from the portrayal of Watson as a buffoon – and how some of Stock's performances in different episodes contradicts this – Cushing's earlier impossible-to-see work on television including romantic leads like Darcy in "Pride and Prejudice" and how television changed when he came back to it in the sixties, and the effect of the shrinking budgets and schedules on the scripts. Most interesting are their discussions of folk horror elements as well as the genre themes of colonial sins come home to roost in some of the stories.

The disc also includes an illustrated Peter Cushing 1974 audio interview with David Stuart Davies, author of "Starring Sherlock Holmes: A Century of the Master Detective on Screen" (18:09) in which he recalls his love of the Rathbone Holmes films – he was in Hollywood at the time but had no connections at that studio – apart from the anachronisms as the different series entries moved towards a more modern timeline, his close reading and research for playing the role, the differences between his Hammer and BBC characterizations, the necessity of changes in the adaptations, and his dissatisfaction with the production and the shrinking shooting schedules.

Although twelve of the Cushing episodes are still lost, the disc does include some recovered lost segments (8:21) from tapes of the Flemish network VRT that have been "color recovered" from black and white telerecordings (made possible by the backwards compatibility of color broadcasting systems) from the episodes "Black Peter", "The Dancing Men", "The Musgrave Ritual", "The Naval Treaty", "The Second Stain", and "The Solitary Cyclist" with original English audio and burnt-in Dutch subtitles. The selection is also accompanied by an optional audio commentary by Jonathan Rigby, author of "English Gothic", and horror historian Kevin Lyons noting the presence of "The Boscombe Valley Mystery's John Tate in "Black Peter", that the original broadcast of "The Dancing Men" was an incomplete edit that included a technician being straying into camera and being shouted out – an incident that made the papers and caused BBC to issue an apology to Cushing – which ended up in the later re-broadcast as well, the inclusion of Peter Bowles (To the Manor Born) and Dennis Price (The Haunted House of Horror) in "The Naval Treaty", Daniel Massey (Vault of Horror) in "The Second Stain" as well as Charles Tingwell and David Butler, and that the latter also appeared in Crucible of Horror which was directed by episode director Viktors Ritelis.


Peter Cushing's return to the (small) screen as Sherlock Holmes was not the experience he had hoped for, but Severin's package is an invaluable release for Cushing and Holmes fans.


Rewind DVDCompare is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and the Amazon Europe S.a.r.l. Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to,,,,, and . As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.