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The Sherlock Holmes Vault Collection (The Film Detective) Blu-ray Review

    Ian Jane

  • The Sherlock Holmes Vault Collection (The Film Detective) Blu-ray Review

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    Released by: The Film Detective
    Released on: December 21st, 2021.
    Director: Leslie S. Hiscott, Edwin L. Marin, Thomas Bentley
    Cast: Arthur Wontner, Ian Fleming, Minnie Rayner, Reginald Owen, Anna May Wong, June Clyde, Leslie Perrins Jane Carr, Charles Mortimer, Lyn Harding, John Turnbull, Minnie Rayner
    Year: 1931, 1933, 1935, 1937
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    The Sherlock Holmes Vault Collection – Movie Review:

    The Film Detective gathers together four early filmed adaptations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous literary creation with their Blu-ray boxed set release of The Sherlock Holmes Vault Collection. Here’s what is contained inside…

    Disc One - Sherlock Holmes' Fatal Hour:

    First up is director Leslie S. Hiscott's 1931 film, Sherlock Holmes' Fatal Hour, based on Doyle's stories The Empty House and The Final Problem. Also known as The Sleeping Cardinal, this is the first of five films to star Arthur Wontner as Sherlock Holmes who is called in by Scotland Yard to assist in the investigation of a strange murder. A guard at a bank in charge of its vault was killed, but no money has been stolen. Holmes almost instantly assumes that Moriarty must be behind all of this, and that there's more to the crime than a simple robbery (particularly since no money has been stolen!).

    While this is going on, Dr. Watson (Ian Fleming) reconnects with his old friend Kathleen Adair (Jane Welsh) who wants his help with her brother, Ronald (Leslie Perrins), who works at the Foreign Office and who she suspects of playing rigged bridge games wherein he swindles friends out of their money. It turns out that Kathleen's suspicions are correct and that Moriarty is blackmailing Ronald into aiding him with a complex counterfeiting operation.

    This film opens with a really impressive sequence shot in silhouette showing off the bank robbery, it’s pretty neat to see. From there, the pacing turns out to be fairly uneven for the next half hour, but it picks up again in the second half of the film once the game is afoot. The production values aren’t going to knock anyone out of their seats but the camerawork is decent and there are a few interesting touches employed here in an attempt to keep Moriarty’s identity a secret (though most viewers won’t have much trouble figuring that out, even if they haven’t read the source material).

    Wontner is good as Holmes, he plays the part effectively and he looks right for it. He’s got just enough arrogance to him to pull it off and he and Fleming have a pretty decent chemistry in this picture together. The supporting cast are fine as well.

    Disc Two - A Study In Scarlet:

    The second film, directed by Edwin L. Marin and based on Doyle's story of the same name, gets moving when Holmes (played by Reginald Owen) finds a corpse on a train and deduces that the victim was murdered. The man's widow requests that Holmes work the case, and he connects the killing to The Scarlet Ring, a criminal organization led by a lawyer named Thaddeus Merrydew (Alan Dinehart) based out of London and heavily involved in blackmail schemes. When members of The Scarlet Ring start dying under increasingly strange circumstances, their estates are divvied up between the surviving members.

    After her father is murdered, Eileen Forrester (June Clyde) joins The Scarlet Ring much to the dismay of her fiancé (John Warburton), who brings Holmes and Dr. Watson (Warburton Gamble) on board to help where Scotland Yard cannot.

    This one plays fast and loose with the source material and proves to be a moderately entertaining picture but not quite as good as the first picture in the set. Owen is okay as Holmes but he doesn’t have nearly the screen presence that Wontner was able to bring to the part, and Gamble’s take on Watson isn’t as interesting as Fleming’s. It does feature the inimitable Anna May Wong in a supporting role, however, so bonus points for that, even if she only gets about ten minutes of screen time.

    The story moves at a reasonable pace and it has moments of solid excitement and suspense, but it winds up as one of the less interesting films in the Holmes cannon of this period.

    Disc Three - The Triumph Of Sherlock Holmes:

    Leslie S. Hiscott directed 1935's The Triumph Of Sherlock Holmes. This time around, Holmes (played by Wontner again) is ready to give up sleuthing and decided to retire. When his arch-rival, Professor Moriarty (Lyn Harding), gets word of this, he decides to bring Holmes out of retirement and soon enough Holmes and Watson (Fleming again) are back at it, trying to solve the murder of a man who belonged to a secret society known as The Scowlers.

    Bogged down by a few too many flashacks, The Triumph Of Sherlockl Holmes still has enough going for it to make it wortwhile. Based on Doyle's story The Valley Of Fear, it entertains whenever Wontner is on screen with either Harding or Fleming. There are some interesting deduction scenes that hold our attention and some amusing verbal sparring between Holmes and Moriarty, and if the direction is more than a little stagey, the storytelling is, overall, quite strong here.

    Disc Four - Silver Blaze:

    The final entry in the set is Thomas Bentley’s 1938 film, Silver Blaze, also known as Murder At The Baskervilles. Once again starring Wontner and Fleming as Holmes and Watson, the story follows Holmes as he heads out to the country to visit his friend, Sir Henry Baskerville (Lawrence Grossmith). Before long, a race horse named Silver Blaze gets stolen, at which point Holmes and Watson go into Holmes and Watson mode to try and track down the culprit.

    In the meantime, the horse's groomer has turned up dead, seemingly the victim of a kick to the head from the horse left in his care. Maybe not so surprisingly, it's eventually unveiled that none other than Moriarty (Harding again) is involved in all of this, leading Holmes to once again square off against his most dangerous foe.

    Wontner’s last go round in the role, Silver Blaze isn’t really based on The Hound Of The Baskervilles as you might imagine it to be, and Doyle’s original Silver Blaze story didn’t involve Baskerville or Moriarty, so it isn’t really an adaptation of that either. This one takes a lot of liberties but like the film before it, whenever Holmes and Watson are together or whenever Moriarty is doing is sinister thing, the movie is pretty solid. There are a few too many slow stretches with dialogue scenes that don’t really wind up amounting to much save for padding out the running time, but overall it makes for a pretty fun watch.

    The Sherlock Holmes Vault Collection – Blu-ray Review:

    Each of the four films in the set is presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition and framed at 1.33.1 fullframe, each on its own 50GB disc. Sherlock Holmes’ Fatal Hour takes up 23.6GBs of space, The Triumph Of Sherlock Holmes takes up 24GBs of space, Silver Blaze uses 20GBs of space and A Study In Scarlet uses 20.7GBs of pace. Video quality varies between the four films a bit, with Triumph appearing to have less noticeable print damage than the others but looking a bit softer in appearance. A Study In Scarlet is a little washed out looking, with the other two movies showing stronger detail. Contract can waver a bit here and there and sometimes the black levels look really good while in other scenes they can look closer to dark grey. None of these features is in perfect shape, but then, they’re all fast approaching their respective centennials they’re more than watchable and sometimes quiet impressive.

    Each of the four movies in the set gets an English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono option with subtitles provided in both English and Spanish subtitles. Audio is on par with the video, in that it’s obvious that these have been taken from less than pristine sources. Range is limited, as you’d expect, but the dialogue is clear and the tracks are balanced. It would have been nice to have lossless options here but overall, these are fine for the most part, just expect some hiss and the occasional pop now and then.

    Extras are spread out across the four discs in the set as follows:

    Disc One – Sherlock Holmes’ Fatal Hour:

    Extras on disc one include a commentary track with Jennifer Churchill who, despite frequent doses of dead air, gives a pretty solid overview of the film’s history by talking up the different lives and careers of the various participants involved in its making. She also goes over the source material and production history of the picture. When she’s talking, she’s quite interesting to listen to.

    The Adventures of Sam Sherman: Part One featurette is an eight minute featurette where the infamous exploitation impresario shares his own personal history with some of the films in this set, noting that he first encountered them in his younger days when they were shown on TV in and around New York City before then disappearing for decades.

    Also included on the disc is a Recreated Sherlock Holmes Radio Broadcast that spends forty minutes telling us the story of Sherlock Holmes And The Blue Carbuncle. It’s quite well done and the cast score high marks for bringing this Christmas-themed Holmes story to life without the aid of any actual visuals.

    Two versions of A Black Sherlock Holmes, the uncut version (which is riddled with severe print damage) and a cut version that chops out as much of the print damage as possible while still providing a coherent story. This short was made by the Ebony Film Corporation in 1918 and runs just over fourteen minutes in its cut form, and just over thirteen minutes in its uncut form (which might sound crazy but it has to do with how the restoration has been done here). Even in the better looking cut form this movie is still in horrible shape, but it’s great to see it included here for posterity’s sake, given its age and obscurity.

    Last but not least, Baffled, a thirty-eight second silent short from 1900, is a comedic quickie wherein Holmes has to deal with a disappearing bandit in his dining room.

    Included inside the keepcase for the first movie is a booklet containing an essay by Don Stradley as well as a postcard reproduction of the film’s original poster artwork.

    Disc Two – The Triumph Of Sherlock Holmes:

    The commentary track on disc two comes courtesy of Jason A. Ney that goes over a lot of the details regarding Wotner’s work on the series of this era, how the films were received by the public and the press upon their initial release, the enduring legacy of Holmes in film and other media outlets, details on the director’s career and lots of information about the cast members as well. It’s a good, tightly-paced track that offers up a lot of welcome information.

    The six minute The Adventures of Sam Sherman: Part Two featurette continues where the first one left off, letting Sherman wax nostalgic about seeing this picture for the first time as he offers up his opinions on why this is the best of the Holmes films made during this period.

    A nineteen minute silent film titled The Copper Beeches from 1912 is also included here, a two-part adaptation of Doyle’s source material directed by an uncredited Adrien Caillard and starring Georges Tréville as the world's greatest detective. The presentation quality is really strong here, clearly some nice elements were available for the transfer.

    The Case Of The Blind Man's Bluff is a TV episode from 1954 that runs just over twenty-six minutes. HEre, Ronald Howard and Howard Marion-Crawford play Holmes and Watson respectively as they work together to solve the mystery of a sailor who is murdered shortly after leaving a pub. It’s an entertaining enough episode taken from the vintage TV show that lasted only one season and which was actually the first American Holmes-based TV series (though it was filmed in France).

    Jason A. Ney also contributes an essay included on the insert booklet inside the keepcase for this release, which also contains another nice postcard replicating the film’s poster art.

    Disc Three – Silver Blaze:

    Phoef Sutton and Jordan Legan offer up the commentary track for Silver Blaze that proves to be a solid crash course in the history of this particular film. Again, lots of info here about Wotner’s contributions to the character’s legacy, details of the various interesting cast members that pop up in the picture, notes on the source material and how it translates to the screen for this particular adaptation and quite a bit more.

    The Adventures of Sam Sherman: Part Three lets Sherman speak for seven minutes about his experiences seeing this film for the first time, his initial thoughts on the picture and the impression that it made on him back then and some of the weirder genre elements that it contains.

    The Film Detective has also dug up some humorous Holmes-esque shorts here, starting with the eight minute Sure Luck Holmes, a fun vintage Felix The Cat where he, of course, gets into trouble, this time involving some strange goings on that tie into what is essentially a shadow play. The ten minute Cousins of Sherlocko is a silent film from 1913 directed by Alice Guy. It’s a very over the top and ridiculously exaggerated piece about two wannabe detectives who take it upon themselves to put a stop to a pickpocket by dressing up as women. It’s just as silly as it sounds but it’s also pretty funny.

    Don Stradley pens an essay contained in the insert booklet hidden away inside the keepcase for this release. Another postcard reproducing the film’s poster art is also contained therein.

    Disc Four – A Study In Scarlet:

    The last commentary in the set comes from Peter Atkins and David Breckman that suffers from a weird mixing issue where the film’s audio track plays behind them, rendering a lot of the talk difficult to listen to. They do cover the film’s history, details on the cast and their thoughts on the picture, there’s a lot of discussion here and it’s clear that they know their stuff, making it a shame that the audio quality on the talk isn’t where it should be.

    Aside from that, the disc also includes a twenty-six minute featurette titled Elementary Cinema: The First Cinematic Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes, produced by Ballyhoo Motion Pictures. This is an interesting exploration of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's work as an author, the increasing popularity of the Sherlock Holmes stories, the early films that were made based on his exploits and the various actors to play the main characters over the years. This is thorough and well-put together, it makes for an interesting watch.

    Last but not least is an amusing seven minute Mutt & Jeff cartoon from 1926 titled Slick Sleuths where the titular duo basically take on Holmes and Watson style personas to hunt down the criminal mastermind that is The Phantom!

    The essay this time around is by C. Courtney Joyner and, once again, a postcard reproducing the film’s poster art is included inside the keepcase alongside the insert booklet.

    The Sherlock Holmes Vault Collection – The Final Word:

    The Sherlock Holmes Vault Collection offers up four interesting, if sometimes imperfect, takes on a few different Holmes stories in quality that is, considering their age and obscurity, more than decent. The Film Detective has also loaded up the set with some pretty strong extra features as well, making this a nice package for fans of vintage detective and mystery films.
    Click on the images below for full sized The The Sherlock Holmes Vault Collection Blu-ray screen caps!

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