Monday, February 13, 2012

The Masks of Death

In 1984, Roy Ward Baker directed Peter Cushing in The Masks of Death. This was to be Peter Cushing's last go round in the deerstalker after the 1959 Hammer Films adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles and the 1968 BBC television series Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes.

The story involves a retired and elderly Sherlock Holmes in 1913. Inspector Alec MacDonald of Scotland Yard lures Holmes out of retirement to investigate three mysterious deaths. Each victim was found with a look of horror on his face and no visible cause of death. At the same time, Holmes is approached by the Home Secretary to investigate the disappearance of a German envoy from German Diplomat Graf Udo Von Felseck's house.

Cushing's Holmes is, even at 70, brilliant. Cushing, as he did with Hammer and the BBC previously, plays his Holmes strictly according to canon.

John Mills plays Dr. Watson in a manner not unlike James Mason's Watson in Murder by Decree and even somewhat resembled him at times. More intelligent than Nigel Bruce's Watson but not quite as astute as Edward Hardwicke's Watson, Mills plays him as a trust worthy and valuable friend.

Joining Holmes and Watson are Inspector MacDonald, from The Valley of Fear, and Irene Adler from "A Scandal in Bohemia". Thankfully, Adler is simply "the woman" for having bested Holmes and not a romantic interest, which as you may know, I really hate.

Roy Ward Baker had a history of directing low budget yet lavish looking films such as Amicus' The Vault of Horror and Hammer's Quatermass and the Pit. The Masks of Death continues this streak with a quite lovely looking film.

I may be biased as I have always loved Cushing's interpretation of Holmes, but I found this film to be a rather nice swan song for both Holmes and Cushing. There was to be a sequel entitled The Abbot's Cry but Cushing's health was deteriorating and production was never begun.

This film has yet to be released on DVD or Blu-ray so to view it, one must track down an old VHS copy. Luckily, that isn't terribly difficult to do. I found my copy on eBay and was comfortably watching it within a week.

I would give this film four pathetically drawn meerschaum pipes.


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