Friday 5 August 2016

The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes - The Missing Witness Sensation

Having recently re-read, with great enjoyment, some of Ernest Bramah’s Max Carrados short stories it seemed worthwhile to also re-watch the adaptation of The Missing Witness Sensation from the superb 1971 TV series The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes.

Max Carrados is a rather unusual fictional detective, being quite blind. His blindness proves to be only the mildest of inconveniences in his work as a detective. Max’s other senses have become abnormally sensitive and he has trained himself to do many things purely by touch or by sound. In fact some of Max’s abilities do perhaps stretch credibility just a little. Nonetheless he’s an intriguingly unusual detective and the stories are generally excellent.

The television version of The Missing Witness Sensation stars Robert Stephens as Carrados. For my tastes his performance is just a little too mannered and he plays Max as just a bit too much of an Oscar Wilde-style exquisite. On the other hand the point of the story is that Max is almost undone by his own vanity so perhaps that influenced the actor’s performance.

A member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood is on trial for his part in a post office robbery. During the robbery a woman was shot and it is feared that she may die - if she does die the charge will no longer be robbery with violence but willful murder. The prosecution had what they thought was a very strong case until the defence produced a surprise witness who provided the accused with an apparently watertight alibi. By pure chance Max Carrados is in a position to break that alibi and the Irish Republican Brotherhood is determined to prevent him from doing that. Max is kidnapped, mostly as a result of his overweening vanity - he loves to show off his ability to do things that no-one would expect a blind man to be able to do.

You might think that a blind man would have little chance of escaping from captivity but Max is undismayed. An entertaining battle of wits follows. This episode is more of a suspense story than a mystery and it’s executed with considerable skill. We have already seen evidence of Max’s resourcefulness and determination but his position seems hopeless, and yet he remains sublimely confident.

This series was made at a time when British television was still shot mostly in the studio on videotape although there is some location shooting in this episode. Thames TV did a fine job with the costumes and sets for this series and by TV standards it looks fairly sumptuous.

My review of the Max Carrados short stories can be at my Vintage Pop Fictions blog.

My reviews of a couple of other episodes of The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes, The Case of the Mirror of Portugal and The Duchess of Wiltshire's Diamonds, might also be of some interest.

I have to confess that The Missing Witness Sensation is not one of my absolute favourite episodes from this series but it’s still worth seeing.

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