Masks of Death Reviews
Everyone likes to talk about Basil Rathbone or Jeremy Brett as Holmes, but I think Peter Cushing gave a superior performance to both of theirs. Cushing may have been too short to match Conan Doyle's physical description of "the great detective," but he captured his personality far better than either Rathbone or Brett, whether due to actor interperation or the quality of the scripts. Rathbone and Brett's Holmes were arrogant but they were also mean-spirited and generally jerks to the people around them. Cushing's Holmes, as portrayed in "Hound of the Baskervilles" and this film is just as arrogant and self-absorbed, but he has a kindness to his character that comes through in the original stories that is lacking in the celebrated Rathbone and Brett versions.
In "The Masks of Death," Cushing plays an elderly Holmes in the years just before WWI as he and Watson come out of retirement to investigate two baffling mysteries that, as is usually the case in detective fiction, turn out to be related. Old friends also return, and Holmes may even get to have a rematch with The Woman as he tries to solve the mysterious deaths of five unconnected men in London and the dissapearance of a German prince from a country estate.
Cushing's Holmes is often gruff and cranky, but he remains charming and likeable. John Mills also gives a good performance as his loyal assistant Watson, who is treated far better by both the actor and the script writers than he is in most adaptations; it is very clear in this film that Watson is only a dunce when compared to Sherlock Holmes.
This made-for-TV movie is an excellent Holmes adventure that captures the feel of Conan Doyle's stories like few attempts to bring Holmes to the screen have. It's also a reunion/farewell performance of sorts for actors and crew that were regulars on Hammer and Amicus productions during almost a reunion of sorts, as it features several actors who were were reguarls in those films and is directed by Roy Ward Baker.
"The Masks of Death" is, sadly, not available on DVD and long out of print on VHS. I hope that the Sherlock Holmes movie that releases this week--a movie that looks to have about as much to do with Doyle's Holmes as the majority of other screen adaptations, which is to say virtually nothing--will do well enough that whomever owns the rights to this picture now, will see fit to release it on DVD.
Meanwhile, I'm looking forward to getting a copy of Cushing's outing as Holmes in the 1960s in a BBC-produced series.