09 November 2014

The Not-So-Noble Bachelor

by Leigh Lundin

For a brief, shining moment in time, PBS Mystery brought us gems of classic mysteries, perfect, definitive portrayals of Miss Marple by Joan Hickson, Hercule Poirot by David Suchet, and Sherlock Holmes by Jeremy Brett.

Usually the bad guys were well-cast, too. In ‘The Greek Interpreter’  from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (season 2, episode 2, 01 Sep 1985), actor George Costigan channels a chilling Peter Lorre as Wilson Kemp, the mad mastermind behind terrible crimes. This version's ending deviates from the original, which I usually frown upon, but this interpretation disposes of the other bad guy, Harold Latimer, with a satisfying demise in a train car.

But it’s seldom wise to stray too far from the Master’s Canon.

A Little Less Cocaine, Please

I hadn’t seen ‘The Eligible Bachelor’ on PBS Mystery from The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes (season 3, episode 2, 10 Feb 1994), when I stumbled upon this ponderous piece, an adaptation of Doyle’s ‘The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor’. Although Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke again star, this one-hour 44-minute made-for-TV-movie doesn’t carry the usual introduction other than the words ‘A Granada film’.

I deduce a little too-much cocaine was involved and not merely Sherlock’s. The director could have lopped off 20% from the running time. Those flash-forwards and flashbacks and flash-sideways dragged the pace into the mud. Here, Sherlock seemed bloated and, if not exactly dissipated and dissolute, disgusted with the whole matter. Still, it’s worth watching if only for Edward Hardwicke’s portrayal.

[Note: I wrote this article some months back and just discovered this episode now blocks North American viewers from watching it, perhaps anticipating my review and doing readers a favor. In lieu thereof, I include this brief clip of a few of its lowlights.]

One commenter, ‘OrchestrationOnline’, writes:
A regrettable adaptation of what was originally a simple story about a nobleman marrying a rich American heiress for her money and getting left at the altar. The producers have abandoned any pretense of faithfulness to the author by the wayside- which missed the original point of this series. When you lose faithfulness, then these stories just become penny-dreadfuls, which is certainly true here.
Odd as it seems, sometimes Sherlock Holmes needs defending.


  1. Admirable observations, Leigh. I was such a Sherlock fan as a child that I still seem to enjoy films about him no matter how inferior some are to others.

  2. Okay, Velma, get with the program.

    After I figured out how to unlock the safe mode and saw the list of other episodes, I was overjoyed. I like the Sherlock series, even the bad ones, and some are dreadful.

  3. Another Joan Hickman fan. She is the only one who suggests Miss Marple really was a brain.

  4. I was getting really frustrated reading this, Leigh, because I have the whole series, and I couldn't remember that episode! Guess they left it out. Probably for the better, as you say.

  5. In the second clip, for a moment, I thought Aunt Bea (Opey, Andy Griffith Show) had found her way into a Sherlock movie creating a delightful twist--the south meets Sherlock. Can you imagine Sherlock conversing with Aunt Bea?

  6. I, too, am a Joan Hickson purist when it comes to Miss Marple. The best and only.

    I hate it when they tart up old plots, whether it's Sherlock Holmes or Miss Marple. Granted, the "Noble Bachelor" wasn't (Gasp!) one of Doyle's best.

    Another factor is that this episode (poorly written, non-canonical, etc.) also came close to the end of Jeremy Brett's life - it was done in 1993, and he died in 1995 from heart failure, which might have had some impact on his performance.

  7. Fran, like you, I enjoy most of the Holmes’ films as long as they don’t make him too awful. Jeremy Brett really won me over.

    Louis, I hope you enjoy the episodes, which are free to watch, but ‘The Eligible Bachelor’ is now locked behind a $3 paywall for North American viewers.

    Eve, I recall after Joan Hickson died, a completely revised British series appeared running here in the US on PBS Mystery. Hickson’s version’s music and graphics evoked the era, but the new version featured a retro-1960’s/70’s look and sound. I watched one or two, but could not abide the replacement.

    Melodie, it’s possible someone else owns the rights to that episode, but although they cast Brett and Hardwicke and used the same 221B set, the ‘feel’ of it is quite different, as if the producer was given the job of filling 104 minutes and the director director had stopped caring.

    Claire, there is a Sherlock Holmes connection to America’s Deep South, Georgia and even Florida. Holmes confronts an offshoot of the Ku Klux Klan in the story The Adventure of the Five Orange Pips. According to one article, Dallas's Sherlock Holmes Society is bizarrely named “The Crew of the Barque Lone Star,” a reference to a ship in the tale.

    Eve, I’m with you regarding ‘improved’ plots and Joan Hickson. As usual, you make a thoughtful point. Holmes does not look well in the Bachelor episode, which we’re led to believe is because he’s in the throes of cocaine delusions. But maybe it was more than that.

  8. Anathema to some purists, but I've enjoyed the novel approach of the contemporary ‘Elementary'. Who knows, it may lead some, unfamiliar with ACD’s work, to seek out the originals. As long as they get there, does it matter the route?

  9. ABA, I happen to agree with you. While I detested Robert Downey Jr's Batman-like performance in the rĂ´le of Holmes (a guy who hadn't read any of the canon before taking on the job), I like the 'parallel universe' of the television series, at least those episodes I've seen. I'm not sure what makes the difference, but enjoy it I do.

  10. I've always thought it odd that Watson was so often portrayed as fat and slow in many old B&W film versions.

    Reading the stories, I saw that Holmes often (imho) refers to him as, "a man of action," and I got the idea he took to Watson thinking he could provide the brawn to back-up Holmes' brain.


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