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Eligible Bachelor, The
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by Jay Seaver

"'I made a science of instability, and I succeeded.'"
4 stars

That line comes near the end of "The Eligible Bachelor", but it could sum up Jeremy Brett's run nicely: A portrayal of the detective as a man whose genius pushes him to the brink of insanity, though one which doesn't extend to caricature, even when the writers go a bit overboard.

The eligible bachelor of the title is Lord Robert St. Simon (Simon Williams), who is romancing a beautiful American heiress, Henrietta Doran (Paris Jefferson). Of course, a man such as Lord Robert is likely to have a few skeletons in his closet, one of them being actress Flora Miller (Joanna McCallum). Things are going well right up until the wedding, where "Hetty" starts acting agitated, and after which she disappears. Robert takes the case to Sherlock Holmes (Jeremy Brett), who is going to need even more assistance than usual from his friend Doctor Watson (Edward Hardwicke) on this one - a combination of between-case doldrums and disturbing dreams has him even more high-strung than even his normal standards.

The plot device of Holmes's strange dreams is an odd and controversial choice to make; as in The Last Vampyre, it pulls Holmes away from one of the things that makes him appealing: That although Holmes's abilities may appear supernatural, everything he does is comprehensible (even, dare we say, elementary) after it has been explained. Screenwriter T.R. Bowen does not completely break that rule here - Holmes never treats his dreams like visions, nor does he apply them to the case at hand; in fact, during Watson's summation at the end of the film, the implication is that the lack of an explanation annoys Holmes just as much as it may bother the audience. On a certain level, it seems as though these nightmares were created for the sole purpose of keeping Holmes visible in the first act, where the events that lead to Holmes being brought in play out, and to give Brett a bit of a meatier role.

And if you can do it well, there are far worse things to do when making a Sherlock Holmes movie than giving Holmes and Watson more face time, especially when they are played by Brett and Hardwicke. And if it leads to them remaining fresh, rather than simply falling into familiar patterns after playing the same characters in dozens of stories over a period of ten years, that's a bonus. So here we see Brett push Holmes ever further toward the brink of madness, while Hardwicke's Watson is given many lines that were originally Holmes's in Arthur Conan Doyle's original story ("The Noble Bachelor"). It works out well for them; Brett gets to demonstrate Holmes both at his most unhinged and as humbled, while Hardwicke is able to step forward a bit and play Watson as a bit more active, as opposed to merely being the contrast to Brett.

As with the other two Sherlock Holmes movies Granada produced between their "Case-book" and "Memoirs" series, the writers have greatly embellished what was originally a fairly short story, and the time spent before Holmes becomes directly involved in the case feels more than a bit like padding (I believe the exact same dream sequence appears twice!). On the other hand, the integration of new characters and plotlines is fairly seamless, and once Lord Robert comes to seek Holmes's assistance, the pace picks up considerably. The second and third acts of the movie are an exciting mystery story, with a thrilling climax.

The appealing cast benefits from the expanded story, not just because some wouldn't have had roles at all. Paris Jefferson, for instance, gets a chance to charm us as Henrietta before her disappearance, and Joanna McCallum makes Flora memorable as well. Simon Williams does very well in a role that must vary from being charmingly aristocratic to being desperate. Anna Calder-Marshall, meanwhile, makes a fine impression as a mysterious woman whose part in the case is initially unclear.

After this film, Granada and their American partners (WGBH-TV) would apparently decide to go back to closer adaptations of the original stories as opposed to continuing to expand them to movie length. They would not film all of the stories, due to Brett's failing health and eventual death at the age of sixty-one, but they created a remarkable body of work; even the more-embellished versions gave us a chance to see Brett as the definitive Sherlock Holmes.

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originally posted: 12/21/09 07:00:05
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Directed by
  Peter Hammond

Written by
  T.R. Bowen

  Jeremy Brett
  Edward Hardwicke

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