THE RETURN OF SHERLOCK HOLMES (Alpha New Video) DVD-r. Region 0. Released March ,2017. $ 7.98. 69 Min. Color. BONUS: Lost in Limehouse (1933) B&W. 20minutes 33 seconds.
Sherlock Holmes continues to be popular with fans of mysteries ever since his first appearance in Beeton’s Christmas Annual ,1887. Stage plays, movies, radio, television shows, books continue to explore and exploit the Master Detective’s adventures in both canonical and original works. New fans discover the tales of Holmes and his Boswell, Dr. Watson, and celebrate his tales.
One of those is 22-year-old Joshua Kennedy. Beginning at the tender age of five, Kennedy has made a dozen projects, including this his latest. Kennedy is obviously a true classic movie buff, as his previous efforts have been inspired by the output of Ray Harryhausen ,1950s science fiction, and Hammer films. The director has been twice nominated for a Rondo Award.
THE RETURN OF SHERLOCK HOLMES is perhaps his most accomplished piece of cinema. The opening titles and uncredited music suggest the great Holmes adventures like THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES (U.A.,1970). The cinematography and editing throughout the film are first rate. Camera set ups reference THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (Hammer,1959) and the Jeremy Brett series (Granada ,1984-94). The choice of locations (shot on or around Pace University, NY) for the most part suggest Edwardian London. The costuming is serviceable, considering the ultra-low budget under which that the film was shot. The story is a good one that weaves in elements of Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Empty House” (1903) and “The Adventure of The Six Napoleons (1904), both later part of the collection The Return of Sherlock Holmes (1905).
Where the film fails for me is a common bugaboo in no and low budget films is one of the most important- the acting. Joshua Kennedy gives himself the lead role, and acquits himself quite nicely. He is energetic, quirky, and holds the viewer’s attention with his portrayal. Sadly, the rest of the cast is defeated by British accents, often cockney, that would make Dick Van Dyke wince.
The range of performances go from monotonic to wildly gesticulating. The best actor in the film, Mark Redfield, appears in a blink or you’ll miss it cameo as Professor Moriarty. Dr. Watson is played by actress Bessie Ellis. Having a female Watson follows the precedent set by James Goldman’s stage play THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS (London,1961, later the basis for the 1971 Universal film) and more recently delightfully played by Lucy Liu on TV’s ELEMENTARY (C.B.S./Paramount ,2012-). Interestingly, all the women Dr. Watsons are intelligent companions to Holmes, often providing essential information to the Master Sleuth.
I wish that these films would take that extra step and audition performers who can perform. For me, a grating performance takes me out of a film faster than an ineffective special effect.
It would have been nice had there been a commentary track on the making of the film, as I am sure that many like myself would be interested in the director/writer’s process. There is a blooper reel (8 minutes 23 seconds) that shows that the cast and crew had an appropriate time making the movie, as well as how carefully shots had to be set up or modern traffic would be shown rolling by.
An interesting extra is the two-reel comedy short LOST IN LIMEHOUSE or LADY EMSERELDA’S PREDICAMENT (Masquers Club ,1933). The Masquers Club is an L.A. group founded in 1925 by former Broadway actors who moved West to make motion pictures and would be instrumental in helping to form The Screen Actors Guild in 1933.Their motto is “We Laugh to Win” and they would often put on skits or “Revels “of which proceeds went to various charities. From 1931 to 1933 the Masquers produced a series of comedy shorts that were co-produced by R.K.O. Radio Pictures. Their best remembered work is THE STOLEN JOOLS (1931) which had a large cast of major film stars, such as Laurel & Hardy.The Masquers,note Boris Karloff
LOST IN LIMEHOUSE is a broad spoofing of Victorian melodramas with British Stiff Upper Lip clashing with cads and dastardly Tongs. Lady Esmeralda (Laura LaPlante, best known for Universal’s 1927 silent THE CAT & THE CANARY and 1929’s SHOWBOAT (released silent and sound)) seeks help from Sheerluck Jones (Olaf Hytten, later to appear in a small role in Universal’s 1942 SHERLOCK HOLMES & THE VOICE OF TERROR) and Hotson (Charles McNaughton). Her father, the Duke of Dunkwell (Ivan F Simpson) is held captive by mustache twirling Sir Marmaduke Rakes (John Sheehan). The trail takes them to Limehouse, where they meet tongs led by a Fu Manchu like evil mastermind.
The film is pure silliness, full of lines like: “It was then I realized my dear Hotson that the victim was dead.” “How did you deduce that?” “His head was missing.” Plus, when someone sneezes at one point, they are clearly saying “Hashish!”. The film ends with everything blowing up (via some stock footage). Silly but fun.
How much you enjoy this disc depends on how much you are willing to overlook budgetary constraints (I was) and the mixed acting (I couldn’t for the most part). That said, Kennedy has a loyal fan base and I am sure that this disc will be well received.
See the trailer here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I47tddDo8UA
Kennedy already has another film finished (his last as a Pace University student, a remake of THE OMEGA MAN, W.B.,1971) and was doing a Kickstarter campaign to do a tribute to Harryhausen in an upcoming story of THESEUS AND THE MINOTAUR.
I understand that Kennedy is planning on moving to England. Perhaps when there, Kennedy will do a Holmes sequel using actual London locales and a stronger cast.
–Kevin G Shinnick
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