Monday 20 May 2024

Sherlock Holmes and the Masks of Death - 1984 TV movie review

The Masks of Death is a TV movie from 1984 with an impressive array of contributors. The director was Roy Ward Baker, veteran of innumerable films and TV shows; he was no Hitchcock, but he was certainly professional. The script was written by N.J. Crisp and Anthony Hinds, two men highly experienced in writing for the screen. Peter Cushing reprises the role of Sherlock Holmes, which he'd first portrayed 25 years earlier in The Hound of the Baskervilles; he'd also taken over from Douglas Wilmer to appear in 16 TV episodes about Sherlock in 1968.

Dr Watson was played by John Mills, and Irene Adler by the Oscar-winning American actress Anne Baxter. Ray Milland, another Oscar winner, plays the Home Secretary, while Gordon Jackson is Inspector MacDonald, Anton Diffring is (surprise, surprise) the Sinister Foreigner, and there are even small parts for Russell Hunter and Susan Penhaligon. 

Terrific ingredients, for sure. So I expected competence at the very least, and in that I wasn't disappointed. In 1913, three dead men are found in the East End, with expressions of terror on their faces. Holmes is set to investigate, but the Home Secretary begs him to pursue another inquiry, in the hope of averting war with Germany. Naturally, though, all is not as it seems, and the two matters turn out to be connected.

The story is okay, if hardly in the Conan Doyle class (at least, not Conan Doyle at his best!). The main problem is that nearly all the key people involved with this film were coming to the end of their careers. This was a last hurrah for Cushing and, very sadly, Anne Baxter, while Ray Milland did not last much longer. I think it's great that this group of senior figures made a Sherlock Holmes film, but I felt that there was a distinct lack of energy and excitement about the whole enterprise, meaning that it is a perfectly acceptable time-passer but really not much more than that. There were plans for a follow-up called The Abbot's Cry, but this didn't materialise, due to Cushing's failing health. To be honest, it's just as well. At his peak, he was an excellent Holmes, and it's better to remember him in his prime.

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