The Sign of Four (TV Movie 1987) Poster

(1987 TV Movie)

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Excellent adaptation
james_oblivion15 February 2006
One of Conan Doyle's best Holmes stories is adapted to perfection in this, the first feature length Holmes adventure from Granada Television. Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke are fantastic (as always) and the supporting cast are quite good, not to mention appropriately quirky (especially important in this adventure).

The adaptation itself is, as was typical with the Granada series (and at least the first two feature length outings), quite faithful to the original story. It's well crafted and beautifully directed, with all the twists and turns of the Conan Doyle original (one of his most remarkable tales).

In short, this version of The Sign of Four manages to outshine all previous adaptations, and hasn't been rivaled since. The 1983 television version with Ian Richardson was certainly passable, but doesn't come close to this. Once again, Granada prove that their Holmes is without equal.
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Shows How Great Stories Can Be Told Without Tampering
Hitchcoc26 April 2006
Of all the Granada Sherlock Holmes presentations, I believe this to be the best. It has an intricate plot with an amazing story behind it. It is full of unforgettable characters. It has action. It has the Baker Street Irregulars. It has a dog named Toby. Mostly, it is full of life. Jeremy Brett is never better than in this presentation. The British imperialists in India must have been an interesting lot. There's that whole thing with entitlement through domination and power. The four men who become embroiled in the plot are dedicated to each other, even unto death. The two brothers, whose father turns out to be the fly in the ointment, are incredible, both physically and in terms of character. What is the revenge about? It's betrayal, but what is it based on? Where is the treasure? What is the treasure? Where did those strange footprints come from? It all unfolds with hardly a wasted moment in the almost two hour feature. There's also the romantic intentions of Watson who marries the young woman later, if you read the books. This is the young woman he leaves behind constantly as he and Holmes run off on their adventures. If you have an opportunity, see this.
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My personal favourite Sherlock Holmes mystery
TheLittleSongbird10 February 2009
Sherlock Holmes is a brilliant crime series, and has a brilliant star in the name of Jeremy Brett, who was without doubt the best Sherlock Holmes.

What is excellent about this adaptation, is the closeness to the book, and of course the acting of Brett and Hardwicke. And the fine camera work and period detail. Jenny Seagrove and Ronald Lacey did very well in their roles.

But for me, the highlight was the boat on the river chase, and the introduction of Jonathan Small(the flashback sequences were very interesting and beautifully played too), who was brilliantly played by the late John Thaw. He was the best actor in the adaptation, apart from Brett. It must be really uncomfortable with a wooden leg though. Great music too, very haunting at the beginning especially.

This is really good, if a little creepy, Tonga was very scary. The Ian Richardson version is also good, but not as effective. 9/10 Bethany cox
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faithful, but....
vandino127 August 2006
This is an extremely faithful adaptation of the original Doyle novel, and for purists, it can hardly be objected to (although the novel does start and end with Holmes' drug usage -- but is clearly eliminated in this adaptation, apparently by Jeremy Brett who thoroughly objected to that aspect of Doyle's character). As for the uninitiated, or general viewer, it's a bit of a slog. Brett is snappish and somewhat rude at times, unlike the Holmes of the stories, but otherwise excellent, with a gritty baritone that is quite commanding. Ronald Lacey almost steals the show as the Sholto brothers (and it's sad that he would die only a few years later). The real problem with this film is the slack editing and low key direction. Many scenes provide opportunity for dramatic punch but are handled matter-of-factly, with no help from an equally low-key music score. Also, the series of requisite backstories presented in the novel is too much for the film, getting to a point where we're even given a flashback-within-a-flashback. And to top it off, the climax of the story is yet another backstory flashback. It IS Doyle and it IS faithful, so you can't complain that the filmmakers took liberties and fouled things up... but the weakness of the novel as film material is also exposed. Purists though, should be delighted.
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The Best of All Sherlock Holmes Granada Feature Films
TigerShark 9018 July 2011
Out of all feature films with the great Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes this is by far the best. It has great elements in it such as Imperialist India, Missing Treasure, Baker Street Irregulars, and a Dog named Toby. What is not to like? The story is complex, colorful, and intricate and as it progresses in words of Watson "it grows darker than clearer" but the solution to the case is clever and quite powerful. It is faithful to the original story and it is beautifully crafted and realized. Like many Granada Adaptations it creates a marvelous atmosphere. Edward Hardwicke is superb as Dr. Watson with Ronald Lacey, Jenny Seagrove, and John Thaw (best known for playing Colin Dexter's grouchy and very cultured Inspector Morse) providing fine support as well. The production values, music, and photography are excellent. The only complaint is that it slogs a little bit towards the end but it is only a minor complaint. In my opinion, this two hour adaptation of the classic Sherlock Holmes novella is one of Granada's finest hours.
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Intricate Sherlock Holmes story gets the luxury of a two-hour TV treatment...
Neil Doyle5 January 2010
JEREMY BRETT and EDWARD HARDWICKE head the cast of an excellent version of THE SIGN OF THE FOUR, given fine support by JENNY SEAGROVE, RONALD LACEY and JOHN THAW.

The intricate story begins with a young woman (Jenny Seagrove) coming to Holmes with a story involving the mysterious disappearance of her father. Several years after his death she began receiving yearly presents of priceless pearls, one by one each year. The story becomes more and more complex as more of the characters involved in her father's disappearance come to the fore. Among them, RONALD LACEY, who gives a quirky performance as twin brothers whose father wanted them to receive his inheritance. JENNY SEAGROVE and JOHN THAW are particularly interesting in well-defined supporting roles.

All the Victorian atmosphere is here along with elaborate settings and fine color photography. The two hours go by swiftly, since there's so much story to tell. Well worth watching with only a few scenes toward the end that seem to go on too long.
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Queer Street.
Robert J. Maxwell12 April 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Conan-Doyle wrote four novellas that featured Holmes and Watson. The most familiar, and by far the most often filmed, is "The Hound of the Baskervilles," and for good reasons. (1) It's long enough to be a feature film without being padded, (2) Holmes is a fully blown character, and (3) the story isn't just an intellectual challenge or adventure -- it's positively eerie, with hints of the demonic.

Of the others -- "A Study in Scarlet" and "The Valley of Fear" -- it can be said of the first that when we're introduced, little by little, to the young Holmes, he's really an oddball and has mental and behavioral habits that never appear elsewhere in the canon, as Watson himself does. For instance, Holmes learns for the first time that the planets revolve around the sun and immediately tries to forget it because he doesn't want his storage capacity challenged. Watson keeps a bull pup, which is never mentioned again.

"The Valley of Fear", to my knowledge, hasn't ever provided the framework for a popular feature film. It appears late, and Conan-Doyle seemed to be grinding out the stories to make a living. Holmes has no quirks, no affinity for dope, shows no penetrating insight or feats of deduction, and some of his inferences are plain silly. The hero is dull.

In "The Sign of Four", Holmes is fully blown, is driven by boredom to use his seven-percent solution, and rips off some apothegms from Edgar Allan Poe's August Dupin. The story is full of delightful characters too, including eccentrics from India and a murderous cannibal dwarf. The Baker Street Irregulars make a prominent appearance. The movie gets it all down, with monster hookahs being used, mounted tiger heads, and a shivery performance by Ronald Lacey as an anxiety neurotic and a frozen, smiling corpse. There's an exciting launch chase on the Thames near the end.

The story has what I'd consider a weakness that it shares with "A Study in Scarlet" and "The Valley of Fear." There's a long, involved back story explaining the experiences of the villain that led to his criminal act. It's as if the author was just itching all over to put his most famous creation behind him and get on to more ambitious literary things but the poor guy was stuck with Holmes and Watson.

Yet, in the long run, grinding out his detective fiction didn't do either Conan-Doyle or Holmes much good. Towards the end of the canon, in the Memoirs and the Case Book, the stories are becoming benumbed, as are the characters -- with some notable exceptions. I guess it's possible for an author to just plain write himself out.

As a feature, this film is quite good. The heavy is played by John Thaw, "Inspector Morse," buried under a lot of make up and accompanied by a native of the Andaman Islands who is given a bad rap by Conan-Doyle. The Andamanese were an outlier of the British empire, flung off the Indian coast and seldom visited except by anthropologists and second-rate colonial officers. The islands were hit by the tsunami of 2004 but were so isolated that nobody knew or cared much about the damage. (The anthropologist's name was A. R. Radcliffe-Brown, if anyone wants to look it up.) I can chew over the villain's experiences in India because the rest of the story is so colorful and intrinsically interesting. It includes one of those "locked room murders" that so fascinate mystery writers.

And it goes without saying that, whatever Conan-Doyle might have thought of Holmes and Watson, Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke do justice to the characters.
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Possibly the best of the lot.
jackstupidjack2 August 2016
Among the best of all the excellent Granada/Brett Holmes portrayals. Careful use of locations, bold casting and holding firm to the original Conan Doyle story all combine to make for an excellent production, along with Brett and Hardwicke's ever brilliant representations of Holmes and Watson respectively.The production and direction pace the tale superbly well as Conan Doyle intended. The only negative (no fault of the production team) is that in the riverside scenes, the gentrification of London's riverside and disappearance of the riverside historical locations is apparent. All in all, if you are new to Brett/Granada's Holmes shows, or indeed to the Holmes stories in general, you could do worse than to start here with this excellent production.

Ronald Lacey lets a sly, dry fart slip out at 19.03 too as he smokes his shisha and gives the back story to Holmes/Watson and Miss Morstan, just as an amusing asides....
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Could this be the best Sherlock Holmes film?
Apulieus27 February 2018
This version of "The Sign of Four" is the closest anyone has come to transferring the spirit and letter of Doyle's stories to film. And it stars what might be the best Holmes and Watson to ever appear onscreen, Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke. "The Sign of Four" is a very close adaptation of Conan Doyle's novel, but that would count for nothing if it wasn't stylishly directed, sumptuously produced, and perfectly acted.

It was also made at the right time, when the Granada Sherlock Holmes TV series had proven a success and received the go-ahead and financial backing to expand its format. "The Sign of Four" was filmed in 35mm with a lavish (for TV) budget and presents a convincing vision of Holmes's world, from the cluttered Victorian furnishings to a steam launch chase down the Thames. Jeremy Brett was at the peak of his powers, before manic depression and heart failure permanently wrecked his health. His mercurial Holmes lives only for detection--without a case he's twitchy and irritable; on the trail he suave and scintillating. Hardwicke's Watson is grizzled paragon of common sense and decency. The other players (Jenny Seagrove, John Thaw, Ronald Lacey) are a perfectly cast assortment of eccentrics.

Director Peter Hammond is over-fond of compositions involving mirrors, but he keeps the eye (and the actors) occupied. At its best the film is a catalogue of quintessential Sherlockiana: London fog, hidden treasure, the Baker Street Irregulars, and Holmes's outlandish disguises, violin playing, and elaborate deductions. The plot is classically Holmesian, involving Imperial misdeeds coming home to haunt their perpetrators. Some have criticized the film for the lengthy flashback near the end, but this is the emotional heart of the film, the why-done-it that comes after the criminal's apprehension and gives a tragic coloring to his crimes. It gives the literal Sign of Four an ethical resonance.

Like all of the Granada Holmes productions, "The Sign of Four" has been remastered and released on Blu-Ray. It looks great but whoever handled the color correction eliminated the day-for-night effects so many scenes are brighter then they should be.
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Intricate mystery with Holmes and Watson and more than a touch of "Endeavour"
Ed4 July 2017
Warning: Spoilers
I didn't previously understand why the scene where Holmes discussed his cocaine use and the famous 7 percent solution wasn't filmed in this episode as in the Holmes canon but it became clear that it was because it was included in the first installment of the Granada series ("A Scandal in Bohemia").

Looming large in the denouement of this installment is the actor John Thaw (1942-2002) who was famous for playing Inspector (Endeavour) Morse in the original series and that explains my summary above.

It must also be mentioned that in the original Doyle story, Holmes reacts very badly to the news of Watson's impending marriage to Mary Morstan and, at the very end, he further reacts by reaching for his cocaine bottle but this is left unmentioned in the Grenada production.

Another scene, better done in the Doyle original, has to do with another appearance by Holmes in a surprising disguise which fools all people present but which is here rather abridged and also abridges the effectiveness of the scene.

This is also the episode where Holmes sends Watson to get his favorite dog Toby to help him in solving the mystery and also where he enlists the aid of his "Baker Street Irregulars" who actually seem more helpful, in the long run, than Toby, although they certainly upset Mrs. Hudson (As always Rosalie Williams) by invading their Baker Street household.
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"jewels at not less than half a million sterling"
zafrom18 November 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Granada Television made a solid 1987 TV movie of Conan Doyle's justly popular adventure novel, of 4 men who believed that they were in the right place at the right time. I very much enjoyed this version, including the back-story during the last part. As other reviewers have noted, Granada did not include all of Holmes's habits, the descriptions of some foreigners, and the romance between Dr Watson and Mary.

What surprised me though, because Granada's script took many sentences verbatim from the 1890 novel, were the many errors in the subtitles in the US 2003 DVD version. The actors did enunciate clearly for me, so I wonder if a machine -- or someone ignorant of various English phrases -- actually compiled the subtitles. For example the subtitles have "my besetting thing" for the actual "my besetting sin". Also: "inaudible" for "Mind there, mind there, for he bites something wicious." "Awe the energetic Jones the ubiquitous reporter" for "Ah, the energetic Jones and the ubiquitous reporter". "3 bob and a tenner" for "3 bob and a tanner". "If our man had an easy task just as ours ought to be." for "If ever a man had an easy task, this of ours ought to be." "2 stout men" for "2 staunch men". "Cease you." for "Heave to!" "you'll be court marshaled" for "you'll be court-martialed". "a nice cushy villa" for "a nice cushy billet". "I had a pretty nasty face in myself" for "I've had a pretty nasty facer myself." "pilgrims from Malay bound for Gito" for "pilgrims from Malay bound for Jiddah". And many more.

Not to worry, though. If you're hard of hearing or a non-native speaker, the novel is of course readily available online. And, as both Shakespeare and Doyle noted, "The game is afoot."
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