Sherlock Holmes (1954–1955)
Innocent pleasure
1 May 2009
Warning: Spoilers
This short-lived TV series is a fairly lightweight interpretation of Sherlock Holmes, but is well worth a view. I am glad it has been rescued from oblivion and made available on DVD for a new generation of viewers to enjoy.

Ronald Howard, H Marion Crawford and Archie Duncan are by no means the definitive Holmes, Watson and Lestrade but they make a good team in their own right. Watching them go through their paces, I found it was easy to temporarily forget other, more substantial, interpretations of these characters.

The series was shot on film and the production values are pretty good for a cheaply-made TV series of the mid-Fifties. Each episode is limited to a handful of sets, but the standing set of Baker Street is widely used and there is enough location shooting to prevent the shows becoming too claustrophobic. Shooting in France probably stretched the budget further than would have been possible in America, or even England.

Each episode is only 25 minutes, so don't expect complex plots or baffling mysteries. We do get some good deduction from time to time, but on other occasions Holmes leaps to conclusions by something not far short of clairvoyance. Of course, the stories vary in quality, with a couple veering perilously close to farce (the cowgirl and suffragette stories being the most overtly comic) but most are very enjoyable. I tended to watch two or three episodes at a time and I was never bored.

However, I must sound two warnings.

Firstly, the source prints are very ragged: clearly they have all been through the projector far too often. They are watchable, but would benefit from extensive restoration. Since these shows are far from being classics it is unlikely this will ever happen.

Secondly, while it is understandable that a company releasing budget price DVDs will use whatever prints they can get their hands on (and these might be the only ones that have survived), there can be no excuse for the wretched DVD transfer.

Digital recording is inherently inferior to analogue recording, so DVDs are inherently inferior to videos (until they start to deteriorate - which happens quite quickly). I have found that even major companies producing full price DVDs often use inadequate compression software that cannot handle subtle movement (e.g. close-ups of faces). This becomes particularly obtrusive when recording old films, where worn sprocket holes cause a slight shaking of the image that completely confounds many digital recording systems.

Having said that, the DVD transfer here is not just poor; it is probably the worst I have ever seen. Movement is often very jerky and there is highly distracting flickering and wavering throughout, with whole areas of the screen appearing to move independently of each other.

Some episodes seem worse than others (I have no idea why) but even the best of them are dismal. You can buy bargain-basement DVD recorders that give better results than this.

Nonetheless, if you can ignore the poor prints and atrocious transfer and just watch the shows, there is much innocent pleasure to be had.
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