Saturday, February 13, 2010

Brett's Holmes

Tonight I happened to catch an airing of "The Master Blackmailer" episode starring Jeremy Brett. I haven't seen it in ages and it was somewhat better than I remembered. Robert Hardy indeed makes a perfect Charles Augustus Milverton. I wasn't as annoyed by Aggie's romance with "Ralph Escott" this time, but I was still upset that there was no followup after she recognized him as Sherlock Holmes. Sure we saw Holmes apparently close to tears about it at the end, but we didn't see her viewpoint afterward. I found all the extra characters in the episode pointless, especially that Bertrand guy who wanted to buy a statue of Athena but we never found out why.

It really bothered me how much the writers changed the CHAS story. This and subsequent shows like "The Last Vampyre" and "The Eligible Bachelor" were the beginning of my disappointment with the Granada TV version of Holmes. As much as I was a fan in the beginning, I began to feel that maybe they should just stop trying to film more series, since Brett's health was so bad. Leave the other stories alone instead of mangling them beyond recognition.

For example, in "Master Blackmailer" Holmes and Watson are looking into Milverton even before Lady Eva comes to them. Indeed, Holmes gets engaged even before Lady Eva arrives. And why is Aggie able to recognize Holmes by his voice, yet Milverton keeps running into Holmes a few times and never recognizes him as his plumber? It's ridiculous. Then there was a totally pointless dance party thrown in. Why on earth did the murderess have to spot Milverton at the party? She knew his name already from Watson, and she knew his appearance (and his house) already because as she said, she came to him years ago and begged him not to send her letters to her husband. So all that crap was useless filler. Don't butcher the damn story!

But then again, the Brett series wasn't that canonically faithful even in the beginning episodes where they didn't change the story names. In their version of the "Speckled Band," Helen Stoner does not tell the full facts about Roylott, and Watson instead hunts down the story about Roylott beating his butler to death from a colleague in India. In their version of "The Crooked Man" Watson makes Holmes take the case and even investigates with Holmes, whereas in the original story, Holmes did most of the investigation himself and just told the story to Watson one late night at his practice; then Watson only joined Holmes for Henry Wood's confession. For their "Musgrave Ritual," Watson is present and takes Holmes to visit Reginald Musgrave, whereas the story was supposed to be before Holmes met Watson, and Holmes never met the butler Brunton or the missing maid Rachel Howells.

Sure I understand that they made these changes to avoid having to tell long stories in flashback, and to give Watson something active to do, but some of the choices they make are annoying. If there must be filler material, why not add filler conversation between Holmes and Watson? Their banter and domestic life is perfectly lovely and captivating.

Due to the 2009 movie, lately I keep coming across reviewers on various websites who practically worship Jeremy Brett and who keep saying he was the definitive Holmes, always portraying him accurately. No, he damn well didn't. He was good, yes, but to pretend that his version alone is correct is too much. No Holmes out there will ever be perfect nor ever be liked by everyone. We all see our own unique Holmes in our heads when we read the stories, and no one can please us 100%. I remember a decade ago when I first joined the Hounds of the Internet mailing list and there were tons of Sherlockians there who mocked Jeremy Brett's portrayal as "an abomination," a psychology-driven distortion of the canon. They hated him being called "definitive," and they called him an over the top clown.

They kept referring back to Basil Rathbone of all people! He of the Nazi-fighting movies and the imbecile sidekick! A few Sherlockians might refer to more obscure Holmes actors like Arthur Wontner or Douglas Wilmer, but mostly it was Rathbone who was defended as the ideal. These are the strange restrictions imposed by closed minds. It's stupid and unfair for Brett fans to turn around and do the same to fans of Downey's Holmes. He's not your cup of tea, fine. Don't tell me that he can't be mine, or that the movie has no right to exist. Okay, enough ranting.

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