15. Hands of a Murderer (1990, TV)

IMDB score = 5.6/10

Holmes and Watson? = Edward Woodward and John Hillerman

Synopsis = Professor Moriarty is loose in London with spies everywhere, and only Sherlock Holmes can figure out what he's up to and stop it.

Defense by Brad Keefauver:

The year was 1990.

Edward Woodward was just done with a four year run as The Equalizer on CBS, in which he played a bit of a Mycroft/Anthea combo. And even though Jeremy Brett was still active on PBS, when American networks needed a Sherlock Holmes, Edward Woodward was there.

Or was he? The script, written by Charles Edward Pogue, was intended to be the third in a trilogy, the first two being The Sign of the Four and The Hound of the Baskervilles which had starred Ian Richardson as Holmes. Was this CBS’s first attempt in bringing Sherlock Holmes to their network, as they would eventually do with Elementary and Jonny Lee Miller?

Since they paired Woodward’s Holmes with a Watson who had also been a CBS fixture, John Hillerman from Magnum P.I., The Hands of a Murderer had CBS TV pilot written all over it. What manner of TV series would it have made? Let’s look at the evidence provided by the TV movie itself.

“It was the twelfth of April, 1900,” John Watson begins the movie by telling us. He’s already helping out the chronologists among us, placing this tale between “Retired Colourman” and “Thor Bridge,” so I was pretty satisfied from square one. And that’s not the only thing – the dialogue is cracking me up from the start, in ways I just couldn’t fully appreciate when I watched this back in 1990.

Lestrade is taking Moriarty to be hanged in one of those prison suits we saw on Jack Prendergast in the Paget drawings to “Gloria Scott.” And you know that’s just not going to go as planned. Soon we’re getting smoke bombs that would make a 1966 Batman villain proud. And James Moriarty isn’t just satisfied with escaping, the evil bastard. He has to give one of the Irregulars a cut on his arm!

No wonder Sherlock Holmes wants to give Lestrade a very angry chewing-out in his first scene, with Mrs. Hudson and all the Baker Street Irregulars at 221B. Edward Woodward’s Sherlock is a very emotional Sherlock, balanced out by Hillerman’s cool and casual Watson. Lestrade just thinks Holmes is still on drugs.

And, of course, with all those characters showing up already, who do they get a call from next? Well, Mycroft at the Diogenes Club, of course. The Hands of a Murderer wastes no time in bringing all your favorites to the screen, so it’s a very efficient movie that way.

The Victorian Nick Fury shows up to help Mycroft explain that Holmes needs to prevent a potential world war from starting, but, hey, Moriarty’s still out there, isn’t he? So . . . no!

Wait a minute . . . is this “The Second Stain?” I’m picking up some “Second Stain” here as we get a look at the Whitehall clerk’s beautiful and suspiciously hypnotic

girlfriend. Why do all of the side characters who aren’t Holmes’s pals or that clerk seem like Moriarty minions in this movie? And is this a review or a watchalong? I need to work on my reviewing skills before the final season of Elementary, CBS’s heir to this movie.

“What sort of people would do this, Colonel?” Mycroft asks after a burglary/murder, apparently unaware that criminals exist, despite his brother’s life’s work. This Moriarty, however, is a lot more aware of how criminals work. He’s a pretty good Moriarty, too, both in look and surrounding himself with a crazy team of henchmen.

Lestrade and Victorian Nick Fury make a good pair . . . oh, a code, too? This movie has every possible thing in it. I’m starting to think its major selling point is as a bargain Sherlock Holmes film that will get you all the possible Sherlock Holmes movie people and things in one tidy ninety-minute package. A real value for the economically minded! Lots of murdering hands here, too, so even the title is fulfilled with generous abandon.

Watson’s first emotional reaction comes when someone is thought to be wanting to kill the Queen. “The swine!” Watson reacts, his fondness for Victoria reminding me of John C. Reilly’s Watson for that one moment, and that’s never a bad thing.

The villains in this film really remind my of the rogues from 1966’s Batman series, they’re so wonderfully chewing up the scenery, especially in the closest thing this movie has to a sex scene with Moriarty and his female minion.

Want to see a Wiggins and Watson team-up? Mycroft on drugs? Sherlock Holmes basing an entire disguise on a single scarf? Hugo Oberstein sounding like a Hogan’s Heroes German soldier? An Irene Adler wannabe, who, for some reason isn’t Irene Adler even though every other Sherlockian mainstay is here? A cousin of the “Speckled Band” out for revenge? The woman Watson loves better than any other? (Holmes and Watson is my Canon now, so She is! Fight me!) SO MANY THINGS!!!

The final confrontation between Sherlock Holmes and James Moriarty comes at what is perhaps the strangest occasion in the history of Holmes/Moriarty confrontations, and I will not give it away here. Trust me, it’s a wild one.

The Hands of a Murderer, available on YouTube currently, is the perfect movie for a watchalong with some internet pals or local chums.

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