Wednesday, March 25, 2015

DVD Review: Sherlock Holmes Starring Douglas Wilmer

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes
4-DVD set  (Main Feature: 650 min)
Released by the BFI on March 30, 2015. SRP £39.99 (DVD)
Subtitles, 1.33:1, Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono Black & White

This is a Region 2 DVD only available from the UK and in the PAL format.

I am pretty excited because this is my first review for a release from the BFI. I have long been a fan of their releases especially when it has come to their archive television sets on DVD going way back to The Stone Tape (released on DVD in 2001) and recently picked up The Year of the Sex Olympics because for some reason I have never picked it up.
The last couple of years I have been going BFI release crazy by picking up such gems as Dead of Night, Ghost Stories for Christmas, The Boy from Space, The Changes, Supernatural, Out of This World and ending out the year with one of the greatest archive releases of all-time, Out of the Unknown. This 7 DVD set had set the bar high for archive television and it was a dream release.

When I found out that the BFI were going to release the 1960s Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes series, I have to admit, I was a little worried. Not because I felt they wouldn’t do a stellar job but more because for some inexplicable reason this series was released in the US in 2010 from BBC Home Entertainment. I cannot help to write a review about this release without talking about the previous US release and explaining why one should double dip if they got that release 5 years ago. Trust me, double dipping is very much recommended. First off, what is this series about?
I get the feeling many people think of this series as the “lost” or forgotten Sherlock Holmes series. That is a shame but I get it. The series started out as a one off pilot on another anthology series called Detective in 1965. Douglas Wilmer was approached to play the role of Sherlock Holmes along with Nigel Stock playing Watson. Wilmer made some requests on the production when the show went into a full series such as the type of directors he would work with and the amount of rehearsal time he needed for a series of this kind. It appears that none of this happened for Wilmer. Wilmer clearly doesn’t suffer fools which I greatly admire. The directors were inexperienced and the writing was atrocious. You will hear Wilmer recant on this marvelous DVD set how a script came in at 20 minutes running time. Wilmer would stay up until 2am re-writing the script. Both Wilmer and Stock really cared about this series. So, one would assume that because of all the behind the scenes problems, this is the reason why this series is forgotten and must be horrible, right? Wrong!

There is something truly wonderful about this version of Sherlock Holmes. Many have called Douglas Wilmer’s interpretation of Holmes as one of the best. I am a hardcore fan of Jeremy Brett who I consider definitive but I thought I would take another look at this position. There is something really human about Wilmer’s version of Holmes. He isn’t solely about exaggerated speeches and acting eccentric or odd. There is some of that there but I truly feel like I watch his version of Holmes and it is like watching a real person. His actions and motives make perfect sense. I really believe that Holmes and Watson are really good friends which I sometimes feel like I miss in other incarnations of this duo. There is a great moment in The Six Napoleons where Holmes, Watson and Lestrade interview Dr. Barnicot who is a massive Napoleon enthusiast. After they leave he puts on a suitable Napoleon hat as he stands in the mirror admiring himself. We dissolve the scene to Watson back at the 221B Baker Street mimicking that very notion by putting his own hat to the side as if he was Barnicot.  All three (Holmes, Watson, and Lestrade) start laughing with each other as mischevious little schoolboys. It struck me because it is a very human moment. Maybe this scene is in other versions of the story but here it is authentic. I loved it!
These are not stage plays with a camera recording them. They are great pieces of television with a great deal of thought put into camera angles and pacing for the story. I am actually surprised what Wilmer has said about the directors because I think these look to be very competent productions. Set design is superb. It’s not like going from “Victorian era set A” to “Victorian era set B”. Each location has a wonderful look and feel that is individual. I actually think this is accentuated being in black & white. I will always much prefer television of this era in black & white. These episodes have a great feel of atmosphere and depth. I love the sets in The Man with the Twisted Lip. The opium den set is suitably creepy. It’s smokey and dark; it’s hard to see to the other end of the room which makes the whole thing wonderful and atmospheric.

The same episode features great locations shot outside the studio. Location filming was carried out at genuine East End locations that existed back in the time Sherlock Holmes was written. A lot of those buildings now no longer exist. This series did a lot of location filming around London but also went to places like France in The Disappearance of Lady Carfax and Cornwall for The Devil’s Foot.
There are obviously a lot of great episodes on this set. I find it interesting that much of the “known” Sherlock Holmes stories were not made at this time for this series. Stories like The Sign of Four or The Hound of the Baskervilles were made during the following set of episodes starring Peter Cushing. Some standout episodes for me include the aforementioned The Devils Foot, The Six Napoleons, The Man with the Twisted Lip, The Beryl Coronet, and The Bruce-Partington Plans. Obviously, all the episodes are good but these stand out for the qualities I point out above. Something else I love about these episodes are the guest artist that appear in them.

I love to see Patrick Troughton in anything. Being a life-long Doctor Who fan makes me point this out but Troughton is truly a great character actor. You could see him in Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Finlay’s Casebook, Adam Adamant Lives!, Doomwatch, The Feather Serpent or anything else and he is truly a different character in all of these productions. Easily one of the best character actors to be on television. He appears in The Devil’s Foot. There is also Peter Wyngarde, Jennie Linden, Alethea Charlton (one of my all-time favourites), Michael Robbins, Trevor Martin, James Bree, Anton Rodgers, Olaf Pooley, Allan Cuthbertson, and David Burke (who would eventually play Watson in part of the Brett series). A highlight is Derek Francis as Mycroft in The Bruce-Partington Plans. Throughout all the episodes, I really enjoyed Peter Madden as Lestrade. At first, it’s not how I imagined the character as for some reason Madden’s performance reminded me more of Inspector Japp but he grew on me quite a bit.

One of the areas where this release differs from the R1 set is that this has been re-mastered. As you may have read in my Mr. Bean review (yes I did just reference Mr. Bean in a BFI review) that re-mastering takes on many different sinister tones. The work on these episodes are done by none other than Peter Crocker. When I see his name attached to a project, I simply take notice. He has worked on the Doctor Who releases but other programs too. Is the restoration work as much as on a Doctor Who release? No but it doesn’t need to in my opinion. This is a wonderfully niche title, I appreciate any kind of work done on these.
There is no VIDfire applied to these episodes because it simply shouldn’t be applied. Peter outlines in the booklet that comes with the set how these episodes were prepared for broadcast and how they were prepared for syndication and each done very differently. I won’t spoil the essay. It is short, to the point and interesting.  The worse quality episode is The Speckled Band. The print just doesn’t look sharp and it is pointed out in the booklet why that is. What I was most curious about is the reconstruction for The Bruce-Partington Plans. Only the first reel (of 2) of this episode exists and the rest is a reconstruction with the audio from the episode. I’ve had the audio for the missing reel for a while which is a few generations down and sounds a bit muddy which is expected. The audio on the reconstruction is beautiful and sounds just like the audio for the existing reel of film. Is the magnetic soundtrack from the original 35mm broadcast master that survived? It’s fantastic!

Here are comparison shots between the R1 release from 2010 and the new BFI release. The R2 release pics is the second of each set:


I think what is amazing about this release is that it is full of wonderful extras. Oh, how luxurious would it be that all archive television DVD sets come out to this standard! This release was put together by a team who loves this series and wants other people to love and discover it. I look at extras as secondary to the episodes but when the extras are presented with such enthusiasm, it is hard not feel so strongly about the work that went into this to give us the best possible product. Here are the extras on the set:
Alternative Spanish audio presentation of The Speckled Band. The Speckled Band is not my favourite episode but I appreciate this being included as a novelty and curiosity.

Alternative title sequence for The Illustrious Client. This sequence has an extra name in the opening credits which once more is a nice curiosity that I am happy to see here.
Douglas Wilmer….on Television. This is a nice interview that appears to come from 2012 with Sherlock Holmes himself. This extra warms my heart as Wilmer comes across charming and engaging spelling out exactly what he didn’t like during his time as Holmes but does so with dignity. He does it in a way that makes perfect sense and not out of spite. To be honest, I read interviews with him and I’ve read him as a bit difficult but if that were true (and I don’t know one way or another), you don’t see it presented here. A lovely addition to the set.

Episode reconstructions. Two of the Wilmer Holmes episodes only partially exist in the BBC archive. These have been reconstructed for this set. As I mentioned above, The Bruce-Partington Plans have been reconstructed using the audio that exists from the missing reel. Visually, the missing pieces were reconstructed with passages from the script with screen grabs from the episode in the background. The script segments are overlaid onto the picture. They are married together in a very tasteful way. Leading up to the start of the episode on this set, there are some art cards that describe the reconstruction but it wasn’t as clear to me how it would be presented so I was nicely surprised when I saw them. The reconstruction looks great and I think it is a unique and effective presentation. I will probably be burned alive for this but I don’t think The Abbey Grange is reconstructed as well.
REVISED 26/03/15: Only the second reel of The Abbey Grange exists. We have Douglas Wilmer reading the first part of the story and we join the episode when the story catches up to the existing footage. I don’t think this doesn't works quite as well for me in terms of presentation. I feel horrible for saying this because we have Wilmer on camera for a newly recorded sequence reading Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s work but it gets long and tedious for me. It goes on for a while. I know Wilmer is in his 90s and does an admirable job with the reading but it gets too long. Do I have a better idea? No. Maybe it should have been a more condensed reading? Now, up until a day ago, I thought the audio for the first half of this story existed just the like audio for the second half of The Bruce-Partington Plans. I even mentioned it on this review that I thought it existed but now have revised it because I was mistaken. My apologies to John Kelly and Toby Hadoke for alarming you both in thinking you missed out on something where you both clearly worked a great deal on this release to give us the best there was available! My sincerest apologies to you both.

Commentaries: There are five commentaries on this set. Once again this is a treat because I would have never expected this many commentaries on a release for this series. We get one with Douglas Wilmer on The Devil’s Foot and Charles Augustus Milverton. Amazing! We also have one on The Illustrious Client with Peter Sasdy, The Red Headed League with David Andrews and Trevor Martin, and The Abbey Grange with Peter Cregeen. All moderated by Toby Hadoke and produced by John Kelly. I really enjoyed these. I think Toby has a strong knowledge of the genre and helps the commentators along if they forget a fact while not making them feel silly about it. All the commentaries are very natural conversations that not just about working on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes but also working in the industry of the time. These are treasured conversations because this information and people are disappearing as time goes on. Anything we can do to record this history is important!
Illustrated booklet: As common with all BFI releases, this includes a well-written booklet that showcases essays about the series, the production and Sherlock Holmes himself whether it be the fictional character or Douglas Wilmer or Douglas Wilmer as Sherlock Holmes. This booklet is the perfect accompaniment for the set of episodes.

DVD Breakdown:
Disc 1: The Speckled Band, The Illustrious Client, The Devil’s Foot, The Speckled Band (Spanish Audio Version, The Illustrious Client (Alternative Titles)

Disc 2: The Copper Beeches, The Red-Headed League, The Abbey Grange (Partial Reconstruction)
Disc 3: The Six Napoleons, The Man with the Twisted Lip, The Beryl Coronet, The Bruce-Partington Plans (Partial Reconstruction)

Disc 4: Charles Augustus Milverton, The Retired Colourman, The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax, Douglas Wilmer….on Television.
I think what I like best about the BFI releases is that everything released by them feel like an event with these episodes being treated as special which they are special. There isn’t a product they put out that feels like it is a show bung onto a DVD. There is always some kind of special features and the episodes look great with some kind of work applied to them. I truly appreciate that so much effort went into the release of this series. Although I first saw these episodes from the R1 BBC Home Entertainment release, I feel like I get to really experience the series from different unique perspectives with this release.

If you bought the R1 DVD in 2010, I would suggest picking it up the new BFI release. Obviously the episodes look the best they can now but there is so much more to enjoy than just the episodes. If you are curious about this version of Sherlock Holmes, pick it up. It’s a good price on Amazon and it is truly a fantastic set. This set is highly recommended.
Next week: We take a look at the series Galton & Simpson created for Sid James after he was dumped from Hancock’s Half Hour. It’s not one I am completely familiar with but I can’t wait to give it another shot since I am such a fan of Sid James. The series is called Citizen James and I am looking at the first 2 episodes The Race and The Elixir.

Have a great week!

Do you have feedback, article requests or want to talk about a program but do not want to leave a public comment? Feel free to drop me an e-mail at

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Sunday, March 22, 2015

DVD Review: Mr. Bean: The Whole Bean

Mr. Bean: The Whole Bean 25th Anniversary Collection
Available on DVD (4-Disc) 350 minutes.
Released by Fabulous Films on March 24, 2015. SRP $24.97 (DVD)
Standard Definition 4:3 Stereo

I remember the first time I ever seen Mr. Bean. It was in 1990. Back in the days I was doing tape trading (before the time when programs I wanted to buy where actually available), I received a tape in the mail from a friend with some other programs I wanted but to fill out the tape, he put the first episode of Mr. Bean on it from the UK broadcast. By this point, only the first episode of the series had aired in the UK in January and the next episode wasn’t due until November of that year. It was an odd experience for me to watch it because I was a huge (and I mean HUGE) fan of Rowan Atkinson in the Blackadder series. Seeing Rowan doing physical comedy on this level and not speaking non-stop using intelligent yet cruel quips to disarm someone else (mainly Baldrick) was a bit of a shock to me. It wasn’t until much later that I realized that Rowan made his name by the type of physical comedy that eventually became Mr. Bean.
Fabulous Films has released a 25th anniversary collection of Mr. Bean: The Whole Bean. It’s amazing for me to think it has been 25 years since I have seen this character on television but what fun has it been! I may have mentioned it elsewhere but it’s funny how series I religiously followed and re-watched many times over the years suddenly kind of drift away. Mr. Bean would definitely be one of them. As more episodes would become available, we would watch them and enjoy them over and over.

The one thing I heard said about Mr. Bean is that it is accessible to everyone. There really isn’t a language barrier because there is not that much language spoken. Bean himself is a quiet person and when he does speak, it is in a very low pitch voice saying very few words. I think the first thing that is obvious about Bean is the well-choreographed physical comedy that comes out of every episode. Bean is actually a very complex character that exists on multiple levels. It would be easy to dismiss him as simple. He can literally be put into any situation. He can be nice to people or downright mean. He can be mischievous or silly. The thing about Mr. Bean is that he is not stupid. He may do stupid things and may try to cut corners to get things done in his own unique way but he is not stupid. We never really know what he does for a living but it is clear that he makes money. He doesn’t live in the slums, he is a middle-class citizen who enjoys doing what you and I would enjoy doing. He takes vacations, he goes on outings to the seaside, likes to enjoy a nice dinner somewhere. It’s just that his way of doing things is very different than how we might go about it which is how we come to the episodes.
This set includes all 14 episodes of the Mr. Bean TV series produced by Tiger Aspect from 1990 to 1995. Episode 14 was actually never broadcast. Going through the set is like walking down memory lane. So many memories watching this series and thinking how awesome the series was back in the day. So much of this I haven’t seen in years. So many memories stirred up by great comedy moments.

It’s always good to see some of my favorites that I watch time and time again. I think the episode I watch the most is Merry Christmas Mr. Bean. This used to be a Christmas morning viewing tradition for me for years. I only stopped watching it because I had simply seen it too many times. In my personal opinion this is one of the best Christmas episodes of anything, ever. As I write this, it is on in the background now. There are so many iconic moments like (obviously) the turkey on Bean’s head but also nice, fun moments like Mr. Bean taking over the Salvation Army band and conducting a jazz version of God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman. The faces Bean makes to accentuate the musical highlights of the song is wonderful. Every time I watch it, I can’t help but to think of my Dad’s hysterical reaction to watching that scene. He loved it which will bring me to a point a little later in this review.
There is standout moment in every episode. Such moments like Bean too afraid to jump off a diving board in The Curse of Mr. Bean or Mr. Bean trying to resuscitate a man who had a heart attack in Mr. Bean Rides Again. There’s great moments like Bean filling his own tooth fillings at the dentist’s office, creating a “paint bomb” to repaint his apartment or his Mini being crushed by a tank. Two of my absolute favorite episodes of the series is Mr. Bean in Room 426 and Mind the Baby, Mr. Bean. In Mr. Bean in Room 426, like I said, he really is basically like you and I. Who wouldn’t want to treat themselves to a nice stay at a luxurious hotel? Of course, Bean has never been in a nice hotel so we see his astonishment of discovering what a TV remote control is, he has never tipped anyone for bring his bags to his room and “tips” them with a cough drop. For some reason, he is constantly trying to outdo the guest that is staying next door to him. That eventually results in food poisoning for Mr. Bean. Plus any episode of someone trying to impersonate Danny LaRue is alright by me!

Mind the Baby Mr. Bean is kind of a touching story of Mr. Bean ending up with a lost baby at an amusement park (of course Mr. bean’s fault) and trying to take care of him. Bean’s unorthodox way of doing things usually gets him into trouble. A favorite moment of mine is watching Bean change the baby’s diaper. The wind takes the soiled diaper from a ride it was sitting on and we see it hit person after person as they are on rides, walking around, etc. It is hilarious. It is potty humor at its best! Both of these episodes benefit from being shot on film. The editing is quick and some of the shots are a lot more cinematic such as a crane shots. It’s nice to have stuff performed in front of a live studio audience but to have these look so good because they were shot on film is nice too.
I have always been surprised by the number of known actors who have appeared in the series who have been stars in their own right but seem to have just taken the part because they are “jobbing actors”. These include Richard Briers (The Good Life), Roger Lloyd Pack (Only Fools and Horses), Richard Wilson (One Foot in the Grave), Caroline Quentin (Men Behaving Badly), Christopher Ryan (The Young Ones), and the wonderful Frederick Treves who has been in all sorts of wonderful things. Look him up!

One of the things said about Mr. Bean in one of the extras and above is that he is accessible to everyone. My Dad really did not like British television for whatever reason. Yet, he loved Mr. Bean. My Dad always loved visual gags which there is so much of in the series.  Everyone can enjoy Mr. Bean.
The first major set of Mr. Bean to come out on DVD was from A&E in 2003. It consisted of the 14 episodes and some extras. This release doesn’t deviate from that too much except in a couple of ways. As more and more physical media comes out, it is kind of nice to consolidate packaging. The old set was 3 discs in 3 Amaray cases. This release is a single Amaray case that holds 4 DVDs which makes it nice and compact.  

As far as extras are concerned it adds some that wasn’t on that 2003 set. The biggest and most welcome are the extra scenes that have caused a little bit of controversy over the years. When I first got the A&E set sometime told me I shouldn’t have bothered because the episodes were edited or as he said “shredded to pieces”. The whole thing (at least in the US) was when HBO showed this episodes years ago, they were including versions of the episodes that have the extra scenes on this set in the episodes themselves. So many of us have seen them this way. When the A&E set was released, they were not on the set nor were they in the syndication package for PBS (to my knowledge). The truth was that they were never intended to be in the episodes; they were cut so what people perceived as edited episodes were watching in a sense extended episodes. Those scenes are presented here on DVD for the first time in the US and they are:
Turkey Weight (Merry Christmas Mr. Bean), Armchair Sale (Do-It-Yourself Mr. Bean), Marching (Back to School Mr. Bean) and Playing with Matches (Back to School Mr. Bean). I remember these from watching it on HBO and am happy to see these again. This is a very welcome extra and to me just about worth the set alone. Other extras include:

The Story of Mr. Bean: This is a special narrated by Helen Atkinson-Wood from 1997 when Bean: The Ultimate Disaster Movie was coming out. It is a very detailed and enjoyable look at not only Mr. Bean but focusing on the career of Rowan Atkinson. Lots of great archival clips from his time at University, his live shows, Not the Nine O’Clock News, and of course Blackadder. It’s very good stuff.
The not seen on TV sketches of The Bus Stop and The Library which are very good.

The Best Bits of Mr. Bean which was shown over here on PBS over pledge drive periods to help get people to call in to pledge. The program was a look back at the series with new linking bits of Mr. Bean in his attic on a rainy day reminiscing. This was not on the 2003 set. I think this sort of thing is just a nice extra to have and some days I rather watch this than a bunch of episodes.
There is also a trailer for the animated Mr. Bean which I have never seen. Have you? Should I give the series a try?

It says this is the complete Mr. Bean and while I while I appreciate the sentiment, it is not complete. There are 2 Comic Relief sketches that are not on this set but was on the A&E 2003 set and actually since that set was released, there have been 2 more broadcast, one of them just airing a couple of weeks ago. I am not going to fault this release for not having any of these skits. Comic Relief is its own thing. Sometimes it seems we get stuff from Comic Relief on releases and sometimes we don’t. I think it is tricky to get those rights sorted out plus I don’t know if Fabulous Films even knows about these sketches. Personally to me, it’s not a big deal. Some of the “complete” sets released of this series also included the films. To me, that is a separate thing all together so once again, I am not all that bothered by it.
The one aspect I was not happy with in this release is the quality of the 14 episodes. We are told the episodes are re-mastered. Unfortunately, I am finding a trend that re-mastered means something completely different between myself and the studios that release these series. Mr. Bean was shot on videotape with a couple exceptions mentioned above that were shot on film. This release has taken the video and filmized it so the video now looks like a faux film effect. All the lucid movement of video is gone.

I have a real issue with this. I want to watch these episodes the way they were intended to be seen and how they were broadcast. The problem is that the film effect on these do not make the series look any better. Some movements are a lot more jagged as fields of video are removed to create this effect. Also, even though it doesn’t look like video anymore, you can see it is from a video source. Stuff shot on video vs. stuff shot on film are lit and paced differently. To me it just looks like something is wrong with the conversions of the episodes.
I did a little bit of research and what I think may have happened is that these episodes is how Fabulous Films received them. I doubt they did anything to the episodes. It looks like the last time this series was released in the UK was in 2010. They were called re-mastered on that set and I have a feeling it was done for that release. I think these may be those episodes. This may not bother everyone and I understand that. If you just want to enjoy an incredibly funny and charming series, this release is at a good price and pick it up. Amazon currently has it for about $19 for 4 discs. Unfortunately for myself, apart from the inclusion of those missing scenes, when I watch the episodes, I will have to stick to my 2003 release. I am disappointed by that.

If you don’t care about the filmizing of the episodes and just love good comedy, for the value this set is highly recommended. If you are a purist (which I will be the first to admit it can be a disease) I would recommend sticking with a previous release. That being said, those lost scenes are very nice to have.
DVD Breakdown:

Disc 1: Mr. Bean, The Return of Mr. Bean, The Curse of Mr. Bean, Mr. Bean Goes to Town, Mr. Bean Rides Again
Disc 2: The Trouble with Mr. Bean, Merry Christmas Mr. Bean, Mr. Bean in Room 426, Mind the Baby Mr. Bean, Do-It-Yourself Mr. Bean

Disc 3: Back to School Mr. Bean, Tee Off, Mr. Bean, Goodnight Mr. Bean, Hair By Mr. Bean of London
Disc 4: Extras: Missing Scenes, The Story of Mr. Bean, Sketches, Animated Series Trailer, The Best Bits of Mr. Bean

Next Review: I will shortly be posting my first review for a release by the BFI (British Film Institute) and what a way to start! I will be reviewing the upcoming 1960s BBC Sherlock Holmes series starring Douglas Wilmer. This is a Region 2 (UK) release that is not available in the US because a release of these episodes did see a US release 5 years ago. This review will feature screen grabs between the two releases to see the difference in quality.
Have a great week!

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