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The Sign Of Four [DVD] [1983]
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
HALL OF FAMEon 15 September 2008
"Another monograph?" says Dr. John Watson (David Healy), as he walks into the smoke-filled parlor at 221B Baker Street where he shares quarters with Mr. Sherlock Holmes (Ian Richardson). "Yes," says Holmes, adjusting a long row of burning cigars. "This is on the distinction between the ashes of the various tobaccos. So far, I have enumerated 93 forms of cigar, cigarette and pipe tobacco." This monograph, long thought lost, is now assumed to have been suppressed by the major tobacco companies in Britain and the United States.

With The Sign of Four we will encounter one of Holmes' most dangerous and resourceful villains in a story which features a one-legged man; a prison treasure map; a box of diamonds, emeralds and pearls; an Andaman native named Tonga with an appetite for raw meat; the second largest known diamond in the world, named The Great Mogul; the Baker Street Irregulars and enough bestial murder, greed and revenge to curdle the blood of the most innocent of young Victorian ladies.

The Sign of Four is the tale of the one-legged Jonathan Small and three other prisoners held in the British military prison on the Andaman Islands. They know where a fortune in jewels is buried there. Small's trust in Major John Sholto, the commander of the prison, is sadly misplaced. They help Sholto and Captain David Morstan locate the jewels on the promise that the fortune will be shared when they are released. However, Sholto takes the jewels back to London. When later Morstan arrives for his share, Sholto kills him. Sholto on his deathbed six years later tells his two sons of the treasure and insists that to wipe away Sholto's guilt. Captain Morstan's daughter must have Morstan's share. When one of the sons anonymously sends The Grand Mogul to Miss Mary Morstan (Cherie Lunghi), a trail of death and horror begins to work its way towards her in the person of the now-released Jonathan Small. With the animal-like Tonga by his side, with thick fog swirling through London's gas-lit streets, Small intends to have his vengeance...and all of the jewels. Only Sherlock Holmes, with Watson by his side, stands between Small and the frightened but brave and lovely Mary Morstan.

Executive producer Sy Weintraub arrived in Britain with the idea of making a series of made-for-TV feature length stories with Ian Richardson as Holmes. He managed only two, and it's our loss. This and the first film, The Hound of the Baskervilles, are given first-rate, exciting productions and good, tight scripts. A real pleasure in The Sign of Four is Holmes against a collection of side show freaks, including Holmes on a turning, ornate carousel trying to elude a poison-dart-puffing Tonga. Richardson is a fine and subtle actor who gives just a bit more warmth to Holmes than, say, Brett or Rathbone gave. I would be hard-pressed to say which I like best. Fortunately, it's possible to like all three.

"What a very attractive young woman," John Watson had said to Holmes as Miss Marston left their quarters after she met the two and pleaded for their help. He finds her so attractive that, in the fullness of time, she eventually will become Mrs. John Watson.

"Is she?" Holmes replied. "I didn't observe." We'll have to wait for Sherlock Holmes to encounter Miss Irene Adler for the next step in Holmes' personal development.

For fans of Sherlock Holmes, the two Richardson movies are well worth owning.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 12 November 2003
Ian Richardson's outing as Sherlock Holmes, this time, is better than his version of Hound of the Baskervilles. In my opinion this adaptation sticks quite close to the book. The casting is very good except for that of Watson who is played like a buffoon.
If I have to level one criticism of Ian Richardson's portrayal of Holmes it is that he displays far too much emotion (mainly humour). His Holmes is not quite the cold logician of the books.
To sum up, an above average adaptation of one of the better Holmes stories.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1983's The Sign of Four was the second and last of former Tarzan producer Sy Weintraub's attempts to start a Sherlock Holmes TV movie franchise with Ian Richardson as the world's greatest consulting detective before Granada killed the project when only two films were in the can by making the Jeremy Brett series after he'd paid a small fortune to the Conan Doyle estate for the rights. Saddled with two suddenly hard to sell properties, Weintraub ended up making his money for the two films in an out of court settlement and they made their debut on home video in most territories. Yet despite its troubled heritage, it's a perfectly respectable outing that neither excels nor underwhelms.

Richardson's very satisfying Holmes may not quite be definitive - ironically he would make a more perfect Holmes as Dr Joseph Bell, the character's real life inspiration, in Murder Rooms - The Mysteries of the Real Sherlock Holmes - The Patient's Eyes, The Photographer's Chair, The Kingdom of Bones & The White Knight Stratagem - Starring Ian Richardson + In the Footsteps of Sherlock Holmes - Patrick Macnee [DVD] - but he lacks Brett's voracious scenery chewing and brings a playfulness to the part without getting in the way of the determination that drives him when a good mystery presents itself. David Healy makes a capable Watson, hiding his accent well but making it a bit of a stretch that he could ever land Cherie Lunghi's Mary Morstan while the evil brother Bartholomew is played by Clive Merrison, who would play the great man himself opposite Michael Williams' Watson in every single one of Doyle's stories on BBC Radio Four while Softly Softly's Terence Rigby, who played Watson to Tom Baker's Sherlock in the BBC's version of The Hound of the Baskervilles the previous year, is the plod on the case (Inspector Layton rather than Lestrade). On the debit side, John Pendrick's Tonga lacks menace and brings back unfortunate memories of Time Bandits every time he's required to be vicious while the Holmes purists will object to the filmmakers adding a fairground chase on a merry-go-round and through a ghost train (they even cheekily includes a couple of bits of stock footage from Billy Wilder's The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes), but on the whole it's an enjoyable traditional adaptation that relies more on the story than gimmicks.

An unexceptional but decent enough transfer on the extras=free UK disc.
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on 10 May 2011
In this adaptation there have been great changes from the book but still it is a classic movie with lovely music and great performances by Ian Richardson, David Healy, Joe melia and Terrence Rigby. It's a pitty therre have been these changes, because in my opinion Ian Richardson is the definete Sherlock Holmes.
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One of my reasons for buying this particular Sherlock Holmes video was the presence of the lovely Cherie Lunghi. The film was good too!
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on 2 March 2015
A good Holmes yarn-much told!Ian Richardson show he is the cream of Holmes in this visual feast.
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on 12 January 2015
EXCELLENT VERSION
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on 30 December 2014
I love Sherlock
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 16 June 2012
Ian Richardson as Holmes takes a little getting used to if you're carrying around the images of Jeremy Brett or Basil Rathbone. Richardson has the requisite look but his voice is a little high and piping, and he moves more slowly than either of the other notables.

The story is recognizable. It's Conan-Doyle's alright. There is Jonathan Small and his curious little companion. There's the Agra treasure stolen by Major Sholto. There's the puzzled Mary Morstan receiving a gem in the post. There are the Baker Street Irregulars, the dumb Scotland Yard detective, the locked room mystery, Toby the hound, and a chase down what is identifiably the Thames. Holmes deconstructs the character of Watson's poor brother, based solely on an examination of his watch. But instead of Holmes and Watson stumbling onto the murder of young Sholto and unraveling it on the spot, the murder is enacted for us, which robs the mystery of its mystery.

There are also all sorts of interpolations. The most jarring takes place at a shabby outdoor fair. Holmes, alone, chases Small and the dwarf on a merry-go-round and then through a ghost ride and a crazy mirror house out of "The Lady From Shanghai" but thoroughly pedestrian. The police launch not only catches up with Mordecai Smith's "Aurora" but Holmes takes off his jacket, leaps aboard the fleeing launch, and he and Small tumble into the river, turning Sherlock Holmes into a kind of small-time action figure.

The direction lacks imagination. Holmes is always in his cape and deerstalker hat and whenever the dwarf blows a poison dart, the act is accompanied by shrieking violins stolen from "Psycho." The acting is professional enough. Mary Morstan is winsome. But it strikes me that Watson displays too overtly his attraction to her. Of course she IS now the owner of "the second largest diamond in the world" but still -- Watson, reeking of cologne, practically salivates over her. Naked greed, that's what I call it. It's how this whole sorry affair got started.
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