You know how some time ago, I watched a bunch of Canadian-made Holmes movies starring Matt Frewer and Kenneth Walsh? I was missing one movie then, and now I've found it, but on VHS instead of DVD. Still, it was a good enough copy to watch.
I also rewatched my Seven-Per-Cent Solution DVD, but it's really poor quality, having been transferred from an old VHS tape. If only the owners would reissue it!
Anyway, the Frewer & Walsh adaptation of The Sign of Four begins in 1856 in India; we see a simplified version of the robbery and murder of a prince/rajah. Jonathan Small and his three friends hide the Agra treasure and sign the map, but they get captured for the murder. In the present day in Baker Street, Holmes is wearing a stupid tam o' shanter cap. Between this and the crazy tasseled cap in their HOUN adaptation, their costume designer is really ridiculous. Holmes is also acting arrogant and insufferable, and he continues to be a terrible violin player. Instead of cocaine, Holmes and Watson argue about whether Holmes's tobacco ash monograph is boring or not. Holmes starts complaining about Watson's romanticized stories and wishes for a new case. There's no pocketwatch deduction before Mary Morstan arrives. She has brownish hair, and amusingly she already wrote out the facts of the case to save time, in case Holmes charges by the hour. She shows some independence and personality as the case goes on.
Because Watson is so much older than Mary Morstan, they didn't try to push the romance too much, though Holmes does say that Watson's judgement is clouded by emotion. Somewhat illogically, he changes the "most winning woman I ever knew" to the "most admirable woman I ever knew." Miss Morstan says that she never sold the pearls despite her poverty as a governess, because she didn't know who the pearls were from and didn't want to be associated with scandal if they were disreputable. Watson finds this admirable, while Holmes mistrusts her and later argues that she is a gold-digger trying to romance Thaddeus Sholto.
The actor playing Thaddeus Sholto is really good, even though he doesn't physically resemble the character from the book. He shows just the right amount of hypochondria, chivalry to Miss Morstan, and love of all things Indian. He and Mary Morstan turn out to be kindred spirits in not wanting any of the "blood money" from the Agra treasure, and they eventually decide to set up an Indian charity together.
But back to the mystery. In this movie, Major Sholto actually died just 8 weeks ago, rather than six years ago, and he's the one who sent the pearls, rather than his son Thaddeus. Also, the major's deathbed confession was changed so that he doesn't admit to seeing Captain Morstan die, or hiding his body, though everyone concludes that Sholto must have been involved in the disappearance, otherwise he wouldn't feel so guilty and want half the treasure to go to Miss Morstan. Also, the creosote is put to more use than just a scent for Toby to follow. Holmes deduces that Jonathan Small contacted Bartholomew Sholto secretly and threatened him so that he would hand over the treasure once they found it in the house. Bartholomew intended to keep the treasure, though, and he was in the laboratory making a cure for poison darts using the creosote. He didn't succeed before he was murdered.
Jonathan Small doesn't have a wooden leg this time; he merely limps, and explains it as his leg getting crushed when he escaped prison with Tonga. Tonga the Andaman Islander looks Asian this time and has tribal scarring on his face. Wiggins is still played by that actor who's way too old for the part, while the other Irregulars actually look like boys.
Athelney Jones is not replaced by Lestrade, like he often is, but the movie adds a "Professor Morgan" character who has to use Bartholomew's notes and creosote to make the poison antidote. Holmes will later use the antidote when some policemen and Watson get darted by Tonga. There is one brief scene making reference to cocaine, but Watson manages to talk Holmes out of it, and he leaves to see Professor Morgan at Scotland Yard.
To eliminate the boat chase scene, the movie plays up Inspector Jones's rivalry with Holmes; he jumps the gun and insists on capturing Small and Tonga before they launch their steamship, so a mob of police rush in for a confrontation on the docks. Holmes, Watson, and Wiggins join in after making a diversion. Jonathan Small tries to take hostage the son of Mordecai Smith (the owner of the steam launcher Aurora) to make the police back off, while Tonga begins blowing darts. He's got more than one pipe, though, and when he drops one, Holmes picks it up and manages to dart Tonga before he can do more harm.
Upon capture, Jonathan Small's confession is much shorter, without any flashbacks at all, and he says that the other three members of the Agra treasure pact died of malaria in prison. Inspector Jones opens the treasure chest right away and discovers it empty. With nothing to live for, and not wanting to go to prison again, Small picks up a dart and stabs himself. They're all out of antidote too.
Afterward, Holmes visits Watson in hospital, and Mary Morstan comes to thank them for solving the case and freeing Thaddeus from jail. They tell her that the treasure is gone, and she surprisingly cries and excuses herself. Watson is disappointed in her, but later she and Thaddeus come to Baker Street. Miss Morstan explains that she had only wanted the treasure back so that she could return it to India and restore the reputation of her dead father. (Though I'm not sure I follow that logic, since nobody knew Captain Morstan was involved with the treasure in the first place.) Anyway, she and Thaddeus leave to set up their charity in India; they used money from selling the pearls and Pondicherry Lodge. Watson is pleased to be right about Miss Morstan's noble character, and Holmes admits his mistake, but soon falls asleep, having stayed awake for days on the case.
Here's another review of the movie by Charles Prepolac. I'm glad to have seen the complete series of Matt Frewer films, but they were very uneven in quality.