I have a real affection for these Sherlock Holmes films. I'm a fan of Sherlock Holmes in general, but I think this pairing of Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce is my favorite screen combination. Yes, I realize that such offerings may horrify the average Holmes scholar, but I can't help my tastes. What they lose in deviation from the original source, they more than make up for in style.
The first thing to be mentioned is how clear the picture and sound are on these restorations. Films of this age can be hit or miss when released on DVD, but these prints are in remarkably good shape.
I'll now quickly offer an opinion on each of the four movies. Note that these are the first four films in the series. When Universal bought the rights to Holmes, they decided to update the great detective. They not only brought him to the then-current time, they also decided that he should face what was the greatest threat of the day. So, for the first three movies, Holmes is aiding the Allies during WWII, a setting that he seems (at least to me) to fit into comfortably.
SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE VOICE OF TERROR is the first "spy catcher" that Holmes is involved in. It works. However, it attempts to be a triumph of style over substance and that's fine until one starts looking at the plot too closely. Still, it's a fiendishly stylish production with the fine lighting and careful choreography that would be a hallmark of the series.
SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE SECRET WEAPON is based upon Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Adventure of the Dancing Men" and the code-breaking aspect of the original fits very comfortably into the WWII setting. This was one of my favorites as a child and I am happy to see that its just as much fun now.
SHERLOCK HOLMES IN WASHINGTON features Holmes and Watson being driven around back-projected images of Washington, DC stock footage. Notable more for Watson's attempts at going native than for actual plot. It's fun if nothing else.
SHERLOCK HOLMES FACES DEATH is the first one which places Holmes and Watson back into their familiar roles of detectives rather than spy-catchers. I enjoyed the first three movies, but it's nice to get back to basics. The story and its resolution are rather clever.
The front of the DVD case proclaims that it is "Loaded with DVD extras", which is stretching the definition of "loaded" quite a bit. Photo galleries don't really confer "must-own" status, and the only additional DVD extra is a commentary track which is only available on one of the four movies. "Loaded"? That's a bit strong.
That said, the commentary track for SHERLOCK HOLMES FACES DEATH is really excellent. Given by David Stuart Davies (according to the cover, a renowned British author), this offers a lot of trivial insight and critical observation. Realizing perhaps that listeners would not be viewing this commentary in isolation, Davies also makes comments particular to other films in this same box set. He offers a lot of comparisons between the original stories/characters and how they ended up being presented on film. He goes into a lot of detail concerning the history of this film series, as well as pointing out the actors who had appeared in others of this series. I found this a hugely enjoyable and informative commentary. (Beware that the commentary track does contain spoilers, so make sure you watch the films first.)
I'm very happy that these films have finally been cleaned up and released on DVD. I'm also thrilled to see that I can enjoy them as an adult as much as I did as a child. I'm definitely confident enough to order the next two box sets.