9. Charles Augustus Milverton
A tale of blackmail with a particularly unappealing little blackmailer, snide, disgustingly confident, unfeeling, and prissy. That is C. A. Milverton (Barry Jones).
He blackmails the wife of a government official, Lady Farningham (Stephanie Bidmead – I think Bidmead is a wonderful name), over letters she has written to a lover. The letters were stolen from that lover by one of his servants at Milverton’s urging and tempting with money. Actually Milverton has paid pennies, but enough to be a motivation for someone from the servant class, and he is demanding 7000 pounds of Lady Farningham, which she cannot possibly pay. She begs him to take 2000 pounds, which she can manage without any questions from her husband, but he refuses – nothing but the value he himself has placed on the letters will do. She does not pay, and tragedy is the result.
His next victim, Lady Eva Brackwell (Penelope Horner), is put in the same position of being told to pay more than she can successfully hide in the household money plus her allowance, but instead of arguing with Milverton, she goes to Holmes. Holmes hates blackmailers, whom he likens to murderers. He takes on the task of representing Lady Brackwell, thinking that Milverton can be reasoned with, but Milverton is too smart for that. He knows well that he holds all the cards and that nothing can be done (legally). I was all for shooting him, but Holmes’s solution is to rob him. So he and Watson dress for the theater as a disguise and then sneak onto Milverton’s grounds, break in to his office, and open the safe. At this point they are almost caught by the under-gardener (Edward Brooks), but they get away with the Brackwell letters.
While this is going on, other events are taking place, and the next day Lestrade (Peter Madden) comes to Holmes for his thoughts about the mysterious robbery by two men dressed for the theater.
This episode also introduces (without fanfare) Billy (Jimmy Ashton), who I believe is some young relative of Mrs. Hudson, running errands and escorting visitors.
This is an excellent version of the story, with a standout performance by Barry Jones, excellent British character actor, remembered for “Seven Days to Noon”, “Brigadoon”, “Demetrius and the Gladiators”, “The Glass Slipper”, and “The 39 Steps”: 1959 version.
“Charles Augustus Milverton” script by Clifford Witting, directed by Philip Dudley.
10. The Retired Colourman
Well, this is the first episode on Disc 2, Side B of this 2 DVD set, and you can understand my surprise at a menu containing only two episodes, not the four I expected. It seems there are two descriptions of this set: one inaccurate which says the set contains the original 13 episodes, and one accurate that says regrettably no source material exists for “The Abbey Grange” and “The Bruce-Partington Plans”. These two stories, which can still be seen (and reviewed) in the Jeremy Brett collection of the ’80s and ’90s, must be considered lost.
A colourman is a mixer and preparer of colors in various mediums for artists to buy and use. The retired man of the title owned his own business, Brickfall and Amberley, making and selling colors, and Holmes at one point says he has seen these products with the man’s name on them – Amberley Colours. Josiah Amberley (Maurice Denham) has a younger wife and she has a male friend. Not a recipe for a happy retirement. Josiah has become convinced that his wife Ellen (Lesley Saweard) and her friend Dr. Ray Ernest (William Wilde) are plotting against him, either to kill him and inherit everything, or simply to steal the wealth hidden in the house and disappear, which seems the likelier notion since the wife, the doctor, and the hidden goods and money have all disappeared.
Holmes tells Watson that Amberley is expected at 221B very soon and cheerfully adds that “He was sent on to me by Scotland Yard, just as medical men occasionally send their incurables to a quack.” Josiah is not an easy client; he is disagreeable and distrusting, and has a strong aura of negativity. Nevertheless Holmes solves the case.
This is the only episode in the set that I didn’t like very much. The story is good, but is too short for a 1-hour program, which results in interminable fill-in shots of transport (mainly Watson driving Amberley through empty countryside), and of Holmes wandering about Amberley’s home, The Haven, both inside and out, after having used Watson to get Amberley out of the way. And Holmes does encounter a strange man, Barker (Peter Henchie), spying on the house and grounds.
I did like the ending though – very dramatic.
Script by Jan Read, directed by Michael Hayes. Also introduces a new Mrs. Hudson after many episodes without the character. She is played by Enid Lindsey.
11. The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax
Lady Frances Carfax (Sheila Shand Gibbs) is vacationing alone, as is her wont, and is in Lausanne where the hotel has selected a maid for her, Marie (Karin MacCarthy). Marie has a boyfriend, also one of the staff, Jules (Neil Stacy), who has a keen interest in Lady Frances’s jewelry. Marie, against her better judgement, shows him some of the pieces. Also figuring as possible suspects, even before Lady Frances disappears, are a strange man who follows her on her walks, and Dr. and Mrs. Schlessinger (Ronald Radd and Diana King), who have a questionable reputation for obtaining large donations for their charity from wealthy single women.
Back in London, Holmes is waxing importantly, “You know, Watson, one of the most dangerous things in the world is the drifting and friendless woman. She may be perfectly harmless in herself, but all too often she is a temptation to crime in others. She is a stray chicken in a world of foxes, and when she is gobbled up, she is hardly missed. I very much believe that some evil has befallen the Lady Frances Carfax.”
Watson observes that she is the only surviving daughter of the Earl of Rufton, and that when he died only last year, he left her a considerable fortune.
And Holmes adds that unfortunately since that time she has been in the habit of wandering around Europe alone and carrying a considerable part of the family jewelry with her, so is she alive or dead?
Watson is startled that “Dead” is a choice, but Holmes says that Miss Dobney, Lady Frances’s old governess, now retired and quite recently in contact with Holmes, has been the recipient of a weekly letter for years, but at present has not heard from the Lady for five weeks. And, in corroboration, her bankers have interviewed some of the staff at her last known stop, the Hotel Nacional in Lausanne, and a young man named Jules said that she met an Englishman out walking one day and came back to the hotel in tears. “I think she was frightened of that man.” At any rate she departed the next day.
Later the Honorable Philip Green (Joss Ackland) gets in touch with Holmes and tells his story of why he is so concerned for Lady Frances’s safety. Years ago when young, he loved her, but forbidden by her father to see her, he did some foolish things and had to leave England. He succeeded in becoming wealthy and came back to England for Frances, only to discover that she had left for Switzerland the day before. Now he is asking Holmes to find her, since he has been unable to do so.
Holmes tells Watson that he, Watson, must go to Lausanne, since “I cannot possibly leave the country at the moment. Besides Scotland Yard always feels lonely without me, and it causes a certain unhealthy excitement among the criminal classes.”
Eventually everyone ends up back in England, and Holmes solves the case, but not before berating Watson in a quite unfriendly manner over his failure in Europe. I did not like this at all, and it lowered my rating of Douglas Wilmer as Holmes. I was thinking of a first place tie for Rathbone and Wilmer, but now I think:
Number 1 = Basil Rathbone
Number 2 = Dougles Wilmer
Number 3 = Spot the Dog
I will never stop loving “A Canine Sherlock”, one of the very best short subjects I have ever seen. Spot is incredible! I urge you to seek this out; you too will love it.
“Lady Frances” script by Vincent Tilsley, directed by Shaun Sutton.