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The Complete Sherlock Holmes Collection


Basil Rathbone in the best home-video resolution possible

Rod Lott March 23rd, 2011

Yes, it was about a year ago that I told you to buy MPI Home Video's "The Complete Sherlock Holmes Collection" on DVD.

sherlockholmesbluray

This is the one time I hope you didn't take my advice, because now the glorious package is on Blu-ray. You essentially get the same thing: 14 films spread across five discs, only in the best possible resolution home-video technology has to offer.

OK, now you can take my advice: Buy this one instead. You've been good for Lent, no? You deserve this.

Assuming you're a Holmes fan, that is, and if you aren't, perhaps you've just never allowed yourself the pleasure of this early Hollywood franchise — so long-running that it jumped from one studio to another during its 1939-1946 run. Basil Rathbone played the role so often in that timeframe that many of us readily associate the character with his mannerisms, whereas Robert Downey Jr.'s portrayal took a lot of heat, even if it went back to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's original texts.

These films fly the Doyle flag high and proud, even if only one — the first, "The Hound of the Baskervilles" — is a true, direct adaptation. That's not to say the others are inferior, at least not markedly. Each and every installment — or episode, if you prefer, as the movies run at roughly an hour apiece — delivers old-school mystery fun.

Rathbone's refined, intelligentsia take on Holmes is the constant, as is Nigel Bruce's bumbling, oft-humiliated sidekick, Dr. Watson. The subject matter changes, depending on the ebb and flow of the franchise. You have rah-rah propaganda ("Sherlock Holmes in Washington"), haunted-house hysteria ("The House of Fear"), Agatha Christie-style whodunits ("Pursuit to Algiers" and "Terror by Night"), femme fatales ("The Spider Woman"), supernatural mystery ("The Scarlet Claw") and even literal larger-than-life villains in the Universal Monsters mold ("The Pearl of Death"). It's tough to pick a favorite when all feel so comfortable, so repeatable, like revisiting old friends.

Note that although this presentation is indeed your top-of-the-line Blu-ray, the pictures aren't always crystal-clear. They have, however, been cleaned-up and restored by UCLA, which makes all the difference. To see that difference, slide in the fifth disc and look at what terrible shape the theatrical trailers are in.

That similar lack of quality can be found on several public-domain releases of four of these titles ("Dressed to Kill," "The Woman in Green," "Terror by Night" and "Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon"), but not MPI's preserved versions here. The company has added back the title card to the end, when applicable, that encouraged moviegoers to do their patriotic duty and pick up war bonds on their way out of the theater (see my handy iPhone-snapped screenshot).

Commentaries can be found on nearly half of the movies, with "Dressed to Kill" being notable for its moderated talk with actress Patricia Morrison and the late Richard Valley of Scarlet Street magazine, who mentions he was writing a book on the series, which I assume, sadly, never came to pass. —Rod Lott

 
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