Jeremy Brett's 10 best Sherlock Holmes tales
1. THE SPECKLED BAND--Arthur Conan was on record saying that this was his favorite of the Holmes tales, so it is not surprising that it makes Brett's best tale. A fabulous mystery, a splendid villain, a resourceful heroine, an overwhelming sense of dread, and beaucoup atmosphere to boot. This was in Brett's first season, when he looked alive and full of energy. As good as Edmund Hardwicke was as Holmes, I have always preferred David Burke's version, probably because he had Brett at peak health.
2. THE DANCING MEN--Really, this is Sherlock Holmes plays Cryptoquips, since he's really just trying to figure out a goofy code, but while THE SPECKLED BAND was Brett/Burke's moodiest entry, this was their liveliest. That said, these shows always seemed to survive on the strength of their guest cast. Unlike so much recent historical fiction, these shows actually seemed to be set in turn-of-the century England, with accents, attire, and attitutdes to fit. A particular standout is the local detective who teams up with Holmes in the last 20 minutes of the story. ""Wonderful! Wonderful!"
3. THE BLUE CARBUNCLE--And this is easily the funniest episode, with Holmes and Watson chasing down a goose with a priceless stone in its belly. Despite the total absurdity of the story, the show also maintain an emotional weight (thru the wrongly accused man's grieving wife) and dangerous edge (thru the constant reminder of this stone's dangerous past.
4. THE ILLUSTRIOUS CLIENT--Forget Moriarty, Sherlock never had a more formidable foe in this series than Baron Gruner, a sexual sadist who seduces women, degrades them, then kills them; all while maintaining an air of respectability. The series was losing its focus and budget by this point, the best stories had been used, Brett's health was fading... but when two great actors get to face off, it's a wonderful thing. Also excellent in this episode is the woman playing one of Gruner's horribly scarred former lovers who is just aching for revenge: "his face in the mud, and my foot putting him there, that's my price, Mr. Holmes"
5. THE CARDBOARD BOX--Whoa, by the last series, this show had gotten horribly decrepit. But this final episode was one of the most powerful, boasting the rare improvement on the original story. (Setting the tale at Christmas made the unique package subplot make so much more sense, while also providing atmosphere to the tale. Some 10 years ago, I went to see THE SUM OF ALL FEARS (starring Best Director non-nominee Ben Affleck) and was really impressed by the guy playing the Russian president. I then saw this episode the next day, starring (quite coincidentally) the same actor in the totally different role of the tragic lover who goes a little overboard and deeply regrets it. This remains one of Ciran Hinds's best performances (as does SUM OF ALL FEARS, but no one really remembers that movie any more.)
6. THE COPPER BEECHES--a good mystery made all the better by the elegant Natasha Richardson (Ms. Liam Neeson) in my favorite of her roles as the resourceful heroine. Joss Ackland ("diplomatic immunity!" from LETHAL WEAPON 2) is a terrific baddie.
7. THE CREEPING MAN--if David Burke was part of the show when it was alive and vibrant, Edward Hardwicke was the longsuffering Watson dealing with a lead actor and series that were rapidly losing their initial luster. However, the silver lining to this is that the shows embraced a sense of rot and decay that never would have been available for the show at its peak. Here we have one of the series's creepiest tales, and a vital cautionary tale for men of ego about their fading virility.
8. THE DEVIL'S FOOT--OK, the "crazy people" acting doesn't help the story, but it's a ripping yarn otherwise. The two real standouts are Holmes' decision to quit the needle (when JEremy Brett found out how popular the character was with young people, he felt he could not keep playing the drug thing) and the one time he calls Watson "John".
9. SIX NAPOLEONS--not so mucha great episode as the best single scene of the series when Lestrade compliments Holmes with utter sincerity and Holmes has no idea what to do with this.
10. THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES--the "movie-length" episodes were usually pretty bad, possibly because efforts were made to stretch short tales into long ones. Or maybe because the budgets could not bear the strain. But this is the best (THE MASTER BLACKMAILER is good, too) with a terrific Kristofer Tabori as the resourceful hero Henry Baskerville. Of course, the down side to this most famous of Conan Doyle's stories is that Holmes is missing from half of it! Stil, it's pretty good.
I like the list. Hard to disagree with any of it. In fact, I can't even begin to figure out right now which is my favorite. I can say, Burke is my absolute favorite Watson. Hardwicke was great (and hand chosen by Burke to be his successor), but Burke was just fun to watch, especially with Brett. And he felt like more of a partner to Holmes..Hardwicke's Watson seemed like more of an observer.