The Red-Headed League (TV episode 1985)

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
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The Red-Headed League

The Red-Headed League (episode No. 12) is the 5th episode of season 2 of the Granada series: Sherlock Holmes (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes), starring Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes and David Burke as Dr. Watson, aired on ITV on 22 september 1985. 52 min.

The episode is an adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle's short story : The Red-Headed League (1891).

The Red-Headed League is one of the series' most entertaining episodes. Roger Hammond, with his clownish getup, makes a hilarious Jabez Wilson, gullible and crafty, whining and rapacious, obsequious and irascible. The fanciful trick devised by Moriarty's gang to remove Wilson from his shop while John Clay digs a tunnel from the shop cellar to the City and Suburban Bank vaults, brings about many irresistibly funny scenes, like the interview during which Duncan Ross, chairman of the Red-Headed League, pretends to be overcome with admiration for Wilson's flaming red hair, so outstanding that he selects the pawnbroker in spite of the League rules, which dismiss childless applicants. But the comedy doesn't overshadow the mystery, preserved till the end by Holmes' enigmatic behaviour: the sleuth explains neither why he strikes the pavement with his cane before Wilson's shop nor how he knows that the perpetrator of the bank burglary will be John Clay. Action is not lacking either and reaches a peak when Holmes, Watson and Inspector Jones wait in the silent and dark bank vaults for the dangerous criminals' irruption. As fast as a flash, Holmes disarms Clay, whose confederate is arrested at the end of a fight scene worthy of a western. The criminals handed over to the police and the arrogant bank manager reduced to babble humble apologies, Holmes' triumph is complete. But the adapter's stroke of genius was to prepare the tragic duel of The Final Problem from The Red-Headed League: above this whole bright episode, where Holmes revels in music, laughs his head off with Watson and accepts readily to be consoled for life dullness by his friend's loving admiration, hovers the huge, evil and threatening shadow of Professor Moriarty, ideally embodied by Eric Porter.




Plot summary (spoiler)

It's an odd misadventure which leads to Baker Street pawn-broker Jabez Wilson. Two months ago Spaulding, his employee, brought to his attention an enticing advertisement: The Red-Headed League offered a sinecure to the applicant, necessarily red-headed, chosen by its chairman, Duncan Ross. Selected, Wilson got down to work. His task consisted in copying the Encyclopaedia Britannica while displaying an unwavering attendance at work. But one morning, he found the door closed and the League dissolved…Holmes has a feeling that this ludicrous adventure hides a very serious business. Besides, we see Duncan Ross informing a mysterious and disturbing individual that the Red-Headed League plan has been successfully carried out. After much thought Holmes takes Watson along to the pawnbroker's street, strikes the pavement with his cane and looks over the nearby City and Suburban Bank yard… Back to Baker Street, Holmes and Watson are met by police inspector Jones and bank manager Merryweather. Soon the four men set off, for Holmes is convinced that a dangerous criminal, John Clay is about to burgle the City and Suburban Bank which, reveals Merryweather, has just received sixty thousands Napoleons from the "Banque de France". While watching the thieves' approach, Holmes explains that Professor Moriarty, a villain of superior intelligence and rare perversity, rules incognito the whole criminal world in London. As soon as John Clay comes out of the tunnel which has led him to the bank vaults, he is overpowered and caught. Under the false name of Spaulding, he had asked only for half the normal wages to make sure he would be hired, but his description enabled Holmes to recognize him as the dangerous John Clay, whose motive for becoming Jabez Wilson's employee was inevitably to prepare the way for a crime. The pawnbroker's pavement sounded hollow, which proved that Clay was digging a tunnel from Wilson's cellar to the bank vaults: the reason why the gang had to devise a hoax to remove Wilson from his shop! But Holmes ruins Moriarty's inventive plan to steal the French gold and the Professor contemplates eliminating him.

  • Credits : Monique Claisse (texts), Sarah Fava (photos) and Granada.