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Spotlight on: Jeremy Brett in The Eligible Bachelor

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The Eligible Bachelor DVD Cover Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes in The Eligible Bachelor

Each generation has its own Sherlock Holmes. With all due respect to William Gillette and Basil Rathbone, Jeremy Brett is my generation's, as well as my personal favorite (though I must admit the radio series from the 1950s starring John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson, with Orson Welles as Professor Moriarty, runs a close second). With his beak nose and piercing blue eyes, brimming with barely-restrained mania, he is the closest to the troubled detective as written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Brett personifies the character who, when not on a case, was so starved for mental stimulation that he had to inject it intravenously, and who denigrated his adventures as set down by his friend and companion, John H. Watson, M.D., as "[tinged] with romanticism, which produces much the same effect as if you worked a love-story or an elopement into the fifth proposition of Euclid." (Conversely, Brett the actor was quite the humanitarian and, upon learning of Holmes' popularity with children, sought permission to have the character overcome his cocaine addiction.)

Similarly, Edward Hardwicke is closer to the canonical Watson than the bumbling doctor played by Nigel Bruce in the Rathbone films and radio series. Hardwicke's eyes display a certain level of intelligence that not only makes him believable as a doctor, but also lets on that he is often both amused and frustrated by his brilliant friend's erratic behavior. This gives the audience its focus of identification as well as adding another layer to the relationship. The two have amazing chemistry onscreen, which belies the great difference in their personalities (as displayed in an interview with the two actors included in the Casebook of Sherlock Holmes DVD set).

The Last Vampyre and The Eligible Bachelor were broadcast in early 1993, with just one week separating them. Whether this was a way of quickly getting them out, and out of the way, is unknown, but they are the weakest of the five features by a considerable measure. Only Brett's performances, which had gotten increasingly moodier by this time due to his illness, remains as a reason to recommend them.

The Eligible Bachelor is loosely adapted from "The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor." Here, Holmes is tormented by a recurring nightmare involving waterfalls, a quagmire, and cobwebs. Looks like the work is finally getting to him, and he shows some signs of ennui, even going so far as to express that he missed the challenges that Professor Moriarty, "the Napoleon of crime," offered Holmes in his day. There has simply been no one else since that has truly tested his faculties. Sadly, based on this film, his problem is unlikely to get better.

The weak case (as expanded by Hound of the Baskervilles scripter Bowen) that Holmes is offered concerns a young rich American girl (played by the charming Paris Jefferson) who sets out to marry an English lord whose family home is mortgaged to the hilt. She disappears soon after the wedding and, to make things more complicated, was last seen in the company of the lord's mistress. It's all a bit overwrought, and secrets abound, showing that it all could have been prevented had their relationship involved open communication.

There are no extras on The Eligible Bachelor DVD, and sadly, once again MPI's subtitles are consistently the worst I've ever encountered -- so bad, they border on the ridiculous. Someone deaf or hard-of-hearing would have little or no chance at actually understanding what was being said by the characters. Not only is the dialogue constantly mislabeled, often completely changing its meaning, but far too many easily discernible lines are marked "(unintelligible)." That marking should be a last resort in any case, but here it appears to have become a crutch for a lazy transcriber.

The film, however, has been digitally restored, and comes with a very informative booklet with fascinating tidbits about the film (some of which I have used in this review). The lack of extras and viable subtitles is disappointing, but those primarily interested in a bright clean picture and terrific sound will find that MPI has indeed delivered the goods yet again on that point.

This review originally appeared in somewhat different form on The Green Man Review. Copyright 2006. Reprinted with permission.

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