Friday, Aug. 21, 2009

Rivals of Sherlock Holmes

By David Luhrssen
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It was a clever idea for television. “The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes” was a series based on detective stories by Arthur Conan Doyle’s less-remembered contemporaries, all of them set in late Victorian England and featuring eccentric sleuths. The 1971 first season is out Sept. 1 on DVD.

The 13 episodes were filmed on the tightly budgeted stage sets endemic to British TV of that time, and the rare special effects weren’t terribly impressive. The focus was on plots and characters, many of them played by a young cast whose names would become better known in future years, including Jeremy Irons, Peter Vaughan and John Neville.

Some of those characters were unconventional indeed. Lady Molly was a woman unafraid of stepping out of the drawing room and into a murder scene. Behind his respectable façade, Horace Donnington was as much a criminal as a crime solver. The fascinating Carnacki was a detective specializing in the psychological and the supernatural. Played with slightly bumbling diffidence by Donald Pleasence, Carnacki was as mild but persistent as a clerk in a government office as he investigated the fear that can become tangible through the force of human emotion

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