Catch up on your Holmes history this holiday season
By G. Michael Dobbs, Managing Editor
Three wildly different DVDs are featured in this week's column.
The American Brew
I worked with a writer once who was a huge beer fan. So huge, in fact, that one of his prize possessions was a worn videotape of a show Jean Shepard did for PBS on beer in which Shepard proclaimed that "beer is the mother of us all."
According to a new documentary on beer, Shepard was right. The story of beer is closely intertwined with the history of this country.
If you're a beer fan or a history buff, then put this new documentary on your list of films to watch. Director Roger Sherman and writer Jesse Sweet have assembled the story of beer that your father never told you.
America's love affair with beer started in the colonial days when water and milk were considered to be unreliable and potentially harmful beverages. The levels of alcohol in beer made it the safe and dominant beverage.
One of the duties of American housewives at that time was to know how to make beer and they did even a mildly alcoholic version for the kids.
The film shows the rise of local and regional breweries and how illegal activities at saloons were a major motivation behind the call for prohibition not just the consumption of beer and its impacts on health. The story of how microbrews came into being and their growth is also covered.
Among the extras is an interesting short film of a cheese tasting at which beer is treated like wine and paired with various types of cheese. The reaction from the tasters indicated they hadn't thought of beer as they do wine.
The film is best viewed, by the way, with your favorite beer in a frosty mug. I suggest a local beer such as Paper City.
I really wanted to like this new psychological/supernatural film about a man coming to terms with a haunted house and his past, but ultimately the script and the direction by Tennyson Bardwell undermined the positive aspects of the production.
Although unrated, this film would probably be a PG-13 and does something I view as positive it tries to scare us without blood and gore.
Tim Daley delivers a solid performance as Bryan Beckett, a man who is a dyed-in-the-wool skeptic. He doesn't believe in God and certainly doesn't see any aspect of the supernatural as possible. When his aunt dies, he is licking his lips in anticipation of taking possession of her home and the art and antiques it contains.
He discovers, much to his disgust, that his aunt has bequeathed her house to a paranormal research program at a local university. When Beckett experiences unexplained events, the professor in charge of the program isn't much help as he is a skeptic himself.
One of the students, though, played by Zoe Saldana, does believe in the supernatural and helps Beckett unravel the mystery behind the house.
The film's problem is its ending is telegraphed to the audiences about three-quarters of the way into the production. Once we see what is going to happen, it's easy to lose interest.
Sherlock Holmes Double Feature: The House of Fear and the Pearl of Death
The 14 Sherlock Holmes films starring Basil Rathbone from 1939 to 1946 were programming staples on local television stations when I was a kid and they have been rather hard to see in the age of DVD. Now, with the Robert Downey Jr. version of Holmes about to hit the big screen, two of the Rathbone films are now available on a double feature.
Rathbone is one of my favorite actors, another person whom I am willing to watch in almost any film. His long stage and screen career was almost ruined by his success as the fictional detective through typecasting and he expressed serious misgivings about playing the role so often.
Holmes purists have long taken issue with the liberties the filmmakers took in bringing Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's stories to the screen. Although I love the books, I also love these films.
These two films are quite good entries in the series with "The Pearl of Death" as truly outstanding. An adaptation of the Conan Doyle story, "The Adventure of the Six Napoleons," the film pits Holmes against Giles Conover, a criminal mastermind almost the equal of his arch nemesis, Prof. Moriarty. Played with an oily charm by Miles Mander, his character's crimes are abetted with the talents of an actress played by Evelyn Ankers and a psychopathic killer played by Rondo Hatton. Part horror film, part mystery, "The Pearl of Death" is great fun.
I also enjoyed "The House of Fear" with Holmes and Watson deducting the mystery behind a group of men being murdered one by one by an unseen assailant.
These films are a great way to introduce a younger audience to Sherlock Holmes.