The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes: The Problem of Thor Bridge (1991)
The Problem of Thor Bridge (1991) is a slight story that is spun out to an hour by Granada TV but fails to hold attention. It’s from The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes which, in publication terms, represents the final twelve short stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle featuring our famous detective and, in television terms, is Season 1, episode 2. My sympathies are with Jeremy Paul who drew the short straw of adapting this for the screen. The script is actually quite faithfully to the original although it features quite long sequences where figures stride about the landscape looking distraught but, for the most part, not saying anything to each other. I understand the game that must be played to try to fill the screen with interesting action. To that extent, the arrival of the horseless carriage in Baker Street is a masterstroke. Indeed, the appearances of this wonderful machine brightened my day significantly. More to the point, it was just the kind of showy extravagance that a nouveau riche American would make a point of being seen in while abroad in London. It would have been considered tasteless by conventional society, but given him a significant boost among the other arrivistes.
So, if we put the performances of Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke to one side, the whole shooting match stands or falls on the characterisation of this jumped-up American by Daniel Massey. In his day, Massey would have been considered one of our leading actors, perhaps surprisingly, being nominated for an Oscar and winning the Golden Globe for his role in Star! I suppose his good looks and natural charm won everyone over — being the godchild of Noel Coward also probably helped. Anyway, what with the success of Dominic West in The Wire, Hugh Laurie in House, and Matthew Rhys in Brothers and Sisters, we’ve grown more used to seeing our British stars making a hit on US TV (except for people like Joely Richardson in Nip/Tuck who fail to move their accents across the Atlantic). Massey’s attempt is one of these magnificent failures. He blusters and stomps his feet, waving his arms around when all else fails. Sadly, none of these physical efforts can distract from the stagey awfulness of the accent. Since his role is pivotal, it leads us down the path to melodrama. Maria Gibson (Celia Gregory) wears her slightly revealing dress with great style and walks around the country house hoping to find a welcoming smile, but she knows in her foreign heart that her husband no longer loves her. He’s in the thralls of that prim-looking Grace Dunbar (Catherine Russell) Ay, caramba! or whatever the Brazilian women spurned say at this point in their lives.
So then on to the bridge itself and, from the outset, we all know the alleged seductress didn’t do it. Poor Grace is locked away in a cell, but still manages to look fresh and strangely unabashed. To get to the answer, all you have to do is ask a couple of questions based on some simple facts. We start with a matched pair of guns in an easily accessible box in the house. Maria is found shot in the head. There’s no gun beside her. A gun is found in Grace’s wardrobe. The other gun in the pair is missing from the box. If you are in need of inspiration, the CSI episode in Season 5 where a Sherlock Holmes impersonator is shot will supply the answer.
Put all this together and The Problem of Thor Bridge (1991) is very poor value. When distilled to its essence, we have a bullying Yank who’s quick to fall in love with a Brazilian beauty and then, with equal suddenness, drops her in favour of the English governess. Even at the best of times, Victorian and Edwardian servants were victimised by despotic landowners and their sons, and this poor English rose is no exception. Quite what she sees in this appalling man is never clarified although, I suppose, she may be thinking she can defend the children. Whatever the reason, she endures jail and then submissively consents to be taken away from it all by this dangerously unreliable man. Not even the great Jeremy Brett can save this melodramatic rubbish from sinking into oblivion.
For reviews of The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes series, see:
The Boscombe Valley Mystery (1991)
The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax (1991)
The Illustrious Client (1991)
Shoscombe Old Place (1991)