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Departs From the Canon.,
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This review is from: The Sign Of Four [DVD]  (DVD)
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.