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Spotlight on: Jeremy Brett in The Last Vampyre

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The Last Vampyre Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes in The Last Vampyre

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 Last Vampyre is based on the story "The Adventures of the Sussex Vampire," which is probably most famous for its mention of the untold adventure of the giant rat of Sumatra ("a tale for which the world is not yet prepared"). Unfortunately for the filmmakers, modern Sussex was a little _too_ modern for their periodic needs, so Glastonbury, though very recognizable, was substituted along with a plea from the production designer to change the title of the production.

Adapting short stories to feature length poses problems, the greatest of which is that there is generally not enough story to go around, and additions need to be made. Screenwriters like Jeremy Paul, however, are generally devoted enough to the project to take what they need to make it work from other Conan Doyle stories. In this case, Paul even deviated from the canon to tap the non-Holmesian "The Parasite." He also is confident enough in his ability to stay true to the essence of the series that he did not hesitate to create an entirely new character who may or may not be an actual bloodsucker (unlike the vampire in "Sussex," which was explained away by the skeptical Sir Arthur), but who definitely exerts a sort of emotional drain on Holmes.

Sadly, none of this really matters a whit as Vampyre is overlong and, the worst insult imaginable for this production, boring. Roy Marsden, the actor playing Stockton (the vampire in question) does not even seem sure of his own identity, merely giving the occasional threatening look from a distance every so often. I quickly lost interest.

Extras on The Last Vampyre are limited to Howard Elcock's drawings that accompanied the original printing of "The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire." 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 (in comparison to the Casebook and Memoirs sets) 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 as part of a longer work on The Green Man Review. Copyright 2006. Reprinted with permission.

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