Monday, November 15, 2010

Wilmer's RETI and LADY

These are the last two episodes in the series starring Douglas Wilmer as Holmes, which makes for 11 episodes in total. It should be noted that neither this series, nor the following year starring Peter Cushing, felt any need to adapt SCAN. See, TV shows based on the Holmes canon are in no way obligated to feature Irene Adler, no matter how much her character has been inflated out of proportion to her story.

In both these cases, Holmes sends Watson to investigate without him, only to sneak around behind his back and investigate the case anyway. I don't know why Watson kept falling for this trick in the canon, especially when Holmes always insulted his detective skills afterward. Is Watson a masochist, or just optimistic that someday Holmes will start treating him better?

RETI begins with a chess game between Josiah Amberley and Dr. Ray Ernest, while Ellen Amberley looks on fondly. Josiah wins, then tells his wife and friend about a book on chess that he has; it's a valuable collectible from 1475, and he offers to show it to them. So they all get up to leave the room, and the scene ends on an ominous music note.

At Baker Street, Watson comes home just as Josiah Amberley is leaving. Holmes tells Watson about Amberley's case; the wife and the friend have apparently run away together, and stolen Amberley's deedbox. Like in the original story, Holmes seems in a cynical mood and is initially convinced by Amberley's "pathetic and futile" act. Holmes claims to be busy on the case of the two Coptic patriarchs, and he asks Watson to go investigate for him as an "understudy."

So Watson travels to Amberley's house, the Haven, and he gets directions from a tall, dark man wearing dark glasses and a hat. Amberley lets Watson in, but he's disappointed that Holmes didn't come down himself. The old man really lays it on thick, moaning about the betrayal, and how he used to play chess with Dr. Ernest, who "might have been my own son!" He says that the night that they disappeared, Amberley had two tickets to the theatre, but his wife claimed to be ill and told him go alone. He shows the unused ticket to Watson, then leads the way to his strongroom, with the safe. Watson notices the smell of fresh paint, and Amberley claims he's been painting out of heartache. The strongroom is so secure that it has iron shutters with a padlock on them. Amberley gave a list of the stolen cash and bonds to the police already, but they haven't found anything yet.

Watson offers heartfelt sympathy to the old man, and he asks for a description of the missing couple. Amberley describes Dr. Ernest as a tall, dark man with a mustache, and he takes out a wedding picture of his wife, which he then angrily tears up. When Watson leaves the house, he notices the same stranger with dark glasses watching him. The man even follows him to the train station, running to get on the train in time.

At Baker Street, Watson tells Holmes how he was followed to London but lost the stranger in the crowd. Watson believes that this man must be Dr. Ray Ernest, but Holmes interrupts to ask about Amberley painting his house. He also inquires about the theatre tickets, and Watson gives him the seat number. Sadly, then Holmes starts berating him for all the stuff he missed during his investigation. Holmes thinks Watson should have charmed the ladies in town and pumped them for "vital information" (rather than the "hard somethings" that Holmes said in the canon). Watson offers to do it now, but Holmes says it's already been done. He just had to telegram the police to get the same facts. Well then, why are you insulting Watson? I never get Holmes's behavior in the canon, expecting Watson to do stuff that he's already got done. Wouldn't that just be wasted effort?

Anyway, Holmes is starting to sound skeptical of Amberley's tale, even if he can't say why. He takes Watson out to a concert for the night. Meanwhile, back at the Haven, the dark glasses guy is sneaking around the outside of the house. He even breaks in a door, but we don't see what he finds. The next morning, Watson sleeps late, apparently until about 11 or so. He orders a late breakfast of kippers from Mrs. Hudson, and reads a note from Holmes. But then Amberley arrives with a weird telegram he received from a country vicar, and Holmes arrives after him. Arguing that Ellen Amberley may have contacted her sister in East Anglia, and that the vicar lives nearby, Holmes says they should follow up the lead. He sends Watson and Amberley to catch an 11:45 train, and when Watson complains of missing breakfast, Holmes suggests that he buy a luncheon basket at the Liverpool station. (In the original story, Watson and Amberley left at around 3 PM rather than in the morning, so there was more chance of them missing any return trains to London.)

Soon Watson and Amberley are on the train together, and Watson is unpacking his basket that even includes a mini bottle of wine and teacups. Too bad the wine doesn't taste good. Making the best of it, Watson nibbles on some food and tries to make small talk about artists who have painted the East Anglia landscape. Amberley is bad tempered, though, still complaining that this journey is a wild goose chase. (Meanwhile, of course, Holmes is now investigating the Haven by himself, and he finally runs into the man with the dark glasses.)

Once Watson and Amberley arrive at the train station, things get worse. Little Purlington is so remote that there are no cabs available, so Watson must hire a carriage and drive it himself. He eventually finds the house, only to learn that the vicar is at choir practice. When they arrive at the church, Watson realizes that it's Holy Week, and he starts to quote a poem about England that used to comfort him while he was in Afghanistan. Amberley is still impatient and churlish. The vicar greets them, and they learn that the telegram was not from him at all. After arguing, he tells them that there is no return train to London tonight, so they are stuck in town.

Holmes arrives unharmed at Baker Street and reads a telegram from Watson about being stuck at a seaside hotel. Holmes writes a reply, and sends it before dinner. (In the original story, Watson actually telephoned Holmes and was able to talk to him.) When Watson and Amberley return to London the next day, they stop to see Lestrade first. (Lestrade replaces the local Inspector MacKinnon from the story.) Amberley complains about the wild goose chase and the lack of progress from the police as well. Then Lestrade gets a telegram from Holmes, from the Haven, asking them to go there.

This is different from the original story because Holmes was only there with Mr. Barker when they arrived, and he only contacted the police later, after Amberley's suicide attempt. Anyway, there's a rainstorm when Lestrade, Watson, and Amberley arrive at the house. Holmes asks Lestrade if he can do a little unofficial test, and the inspector agrees if Holmes will give him the credit for the case, as usual. Then Holmes introduces the dark sunglasses guy as Mr. Barker, who was investigating the case for Dr. Ray Ernest's family. Holmes asks where Amberley hid the bodies and confronts him about the theatre ticket, which was his false alibi. Amberley tries to take the pill, but they stop him and presumably Barker watches over him. Holmes explains the murders to Watson and Lestrade, remarking about the fresh paint as they go to the strongroom.

Thence we have a chilling flashback to the night that Amberley killed his wife and friend. It's the same night as the chess game, and Amberley leads his victims to the strongroom, locking them inside. As they beg to be let out, he turns on the gas, and even stands looking at his watch as he waits for them to die. They start to collapse, and Dr. Ernest takes out a pencil to write a message.

In the present, Holmes shows Watson and Lestrade this message with his magnifying glass. It says "We were--" and they conclude that it means "we were murdered." (However I always thought that this was unlikely, even in the story. Why not simply write "murder" or "murderer" accusingly? That's more direct, and doesn't depend on the reader to fill in the blanks if you can't finish the message.) Anyway, Holmes says Amberley only consulted him out of "pure swank," to say he'd done everything to find his wife and the missing money. Holmes says that Amberley was a jealous miser, and his jealousy became a mania. He tells Lestrade to search the garden for a disused well, which should have the bodies.

At Baker Street, Watson shows Holmes a newspaper article about the case, praising Lestrade for his deduction that the fresh paint covered up the smell of the gas. They laugh, and Holmes says that maybe one day the truth can be told.

LADY begins at a hotel in Lausanne, Switzerland, where the manager (played by Roger Delgado, the first Master on Doctor Who) greets two of his guests. They are Dr. Schlessinger and his wife, two missionaries. Lady Frances Carfax also greets them before a walk around town. While she's out, her maid Marie steals a moment with a hotel waiter named Jules. Marie complains that Lady Frances does nothing but pray lately because of the missionaries, and she wants to quit. Jules says that she shouldn't, though, because they don't have enough money yet to get married. Jules asks to see Lady Frances's jewelry, but Marie warns him that they can't steal any because Lady Frances always checks them every day. He tries a pearl necklace on Marie anyway and suggests that maybe Lady Frances will remember Marie in her will. Meanwhile, Lady Frances is sightseeing alone, but a bearded man in a hat and long coat keeps following her. In a cemetery, she finally sees him, and there is a sinister tone as the camera cuts to a newly dug grave.

At Baker Street, Holmes examines something in a microscope while telling Watson about "drifting and friendless women." Lady Frances has been missing for five weeks, and her old governess Miss Dobney has hired Holmes to find her. He found out from Lady Frances's bank that her last check was £50 made out to her maid Marie Devine. Watson asks how Holmes shall investigate, but Holmes claims that he can't possibly go, because it causes an unhealthy excitement in the criminal classes. He also claims that Watson could use a holiday because he's been feeling under the weather. Holmes deduced from Watson's boots that he's been at the Turkish baths lately. So he sends Watson to Lausanne instead.

At the hotel, Watson first interviews the manager Moser, who says that Lady Frances was very religious and became friends with the missionaries. Moser suggests that Lady Frances became lonely and decided to follow them when they left the hotel. Then Watson interviews Jules, who says that Lady Frances gave Marie the money as a wedding present before leaving without her. Marie has gone home to Montpellier, France, to wait for Jules to save enough money to marry her. Jules also mentions the bearded Englishman, and says that Lady Frances wanted to get away from him.

Watson sends a telegram to Holmes, and says that, after losing Lady Frances's trail in Baden, he is now traveling to Montpellier. Marie is at home, putting on an elegant necklace different from Lady Frances's. Outside, Watson walks to her place and stops to ask directions from a few card-playing Frenchmen. The old man who answers him is actually Holmes in disguise. Then Watson interviews Marie, who insists that she bought this necklace herself and did not steal it. She also looks out the window and points out the bearded Englishman on the street below. Watson hurries down to confront the man and they quickly get into a fight. Holmes waits to finish his glass of wine before he intervenes. When Watson thanks him, Holmes reveals himself with his usual insult. He tells Watson to come home with him to London, and they leave.

On the train, Holmes the jerk criticizes Watson's investigation and then introduces the bearded Englishman as Philip Green. Less belligerent now, Green explains his history, and how Lady Frances's father opposed their marriage, so he left the country for years. When he met up with her again, he tried to persuade her to break her promise to her father and marry him, but then she disappeared.

Soon Watson and Holmes arrive in Baker Street, and Holmes receives a telegram describing Dr. Schlessinger's jagged left ear. Holmes explains that Schlessinger is actually the criminal Holy Peters. Holmes suggests that they go meet Lestrade after dinner, and the inspector promises to find out if Holy Peters is in London. A week later, Peters is still not found, and Green is feeling impatient. Then at last Peters pawns one of Lady Frances's jewels, and Holmes suggests that Green keep watch at the pawnbroker's shop in case Peters returns with more jewels. Holmes tells Green not to interfere, but only to follow Peters home from the shop and then contact Holmes for more instructions.

This time Peters sends his wife to pawn a matching pendant. Green follows her to an undertaker's office, and he overhears her conversation about an order being late. Then Green sees the coffin being delivered to the house. Holmes applies for a warrant from Scotland Yard, and he and Watson go to visit the house, after a short stop at the undertakers. The Schlessingers pretend they aren't the Schlessingers, but Holmes answers that they are Holy Peters and his wife, and that they have kidnapped Lady Frances. Peters denies it and asks them for their warrant. Holmes threatens that Watson is a dangerous ruffian, and they demand to see the coffin. When they open it, there is a shriveled, nearly mummified corpse inside, and Peters claims that it is only his wife's old servant, named Rose Spender. Holmes and Watson are puzzled, but cannot keep searching the house because a policeman has arrived, and they have no warrant. Still, he doesn't arrest them, and he agrees to keep watch on the house.

Holmes sends Watson to inquire about Rose Spender, who came from a Brixton workhouse; she died of old age, and the death certificate is legitimate. Green goes to the Yard to get a warrant, but Lestrade says it won't be ready until 9 o'clock the next morning. The funeral is set for 8 o'clock. Holmes, Watson, and Green wait all night, until Holmes gets his inspiration about the deep coffin. They rush to the house and barge in again, getting the coffin open. This time there are two bodies, and Lady Frances is on top. Watson revives her, while Green worries. An ambulance is sent for, and Watson says that in "a few days' time" Lady Frances will be fully recovered. After Green leaves, Holmes explains to Watson about the coffin being too deep. Lestrade finally arrives, too late. The villains have already escaped while everyone was busy. Yet another unresolved case.

Holmes and Watson leave together, and the last shot is of their hats and coats hung up on their door in Baker Street. Overall this series was quite faithful to the canon throughout, even though Douglas Wilmer didn't strongly resemble Holmes. Nigel Stock made a fine Watson, prone to nostalgia about Afghanistan, but stalwart and intelligent. I'm glad that he stayed on for the next year with Peter Cushing. Peter Madden was an excellent Lestrade, but Mrs. Hudson was more forgettable and infrequent. The only annoying thing is the rather bland opening credits, and the show being in black and white.

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