Incident At Victoria Falls (1992 Europe/International)

incidentIf you didn’t know better, you’d take this for one of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot stories. Just add twenty years and make the hero short and squat instead of so tall and narrow that he seems to be on stilts. Imagine Holmes and Watson in pith helmets and white suits, tramping through the jungle in an exotic location. But really, this TV movie is not to be taken seriously. Its a light-hearted romp with an enjoyable train journey as the highlight.

The story actually sticks rather closely to Holmes’ character and location while he and Watson are given the task of guarding the huge diamond on its way from South Africa to England. Holmes is beginning to pack his gear, preparatory to retiring to Sussex and keep bees, and the sad Mrs. Hudson gives him a slight hug, which revolts him. Speaking of Sussex, this is the dirtiest motion picture ever to involve the world’s only consulting detective and his Boswell. Twice, Neil McCarthy gets to make love to two topless women — one a pale young American, the other a coffee-colored Indian Maharani. The swine! Neither of the women, alas, is Jenny Seagrove, who plays Lilly Langtree. She and the fictional thief named Raffles make love too, but it’s relatively decorous.

I don’t think I’ll try to describe the plot. It’s turgid and tangled. I couldn’t follow it, at any rate, even though I was relatively conscious. Then I wasn’t. I lost track of the fabulous jewel too. There’s a fake one involved. There are several flashbacks. Everyone seems to be a suspect at one time or another, even Teddy Roosevelt, played by a jowly Claude Akins. Once the characters are moved to Capetown, Holmes and Watson more or less disappear and turn into an ordinary detective and his friend. The writing still carries some wit with it though. Jenny Seagrove stands out with her wide, startled eyes. Watson is naturally attracted to her, especially when she takes him aside and asks if she can ask him a personal question. The eager Watson is receptive. “Do you think,” she asks, “that Mr. Holmes finds me attractive?”

incident at victoria fallsWatson has no idea if his master does or not. This is not within his purview. Perhaps the world famous sleuth prefers fuller figured women. What we do know is that he’s impeccably dressed, polite, aloof. He doesn’t drop acid, smoke dope or exhibit other bad habits. Well — he smokes a pipe, which I guess is a devalued practice these days. Christopher Lee doesn’t put any spirit into the part, although, given the character, not much may be called for. Still, Jeremy Brett’s quirkiness and Basil Rathbone’s quick darting glances livened up the character in a way that Lee’s performance doesn’t. He has a tendency to sit quietly, puffing his pipe, and bringing Watson up to date on who might and might not be the treacherous thief and murderer. Maybe, aged 69, he didn’t have the energy to give it enough oomph.

A lot of that sluggishness is the director’s fault. Bill Corcoran has too many shots of people standing still, staring at one another, and having a conversational exchange. At one point, Watson is preparing tea and Holmes begins one of his little analyses. Instead of listening while he continues with the brewing process, Watson simply stops and stares back at Holmes, teapot in one hand, tea cup in the other. These static encounters happen over and over. And the music is laughable. The theme is an electronic tune that is very repetitive and would more suit a cartoon. Later on there are violins but they’re electronically amplified and the effect is lost, which is too bad because the score is rather pretty. This 3 hour tale is diverting without being too exciting. This is one for those who like Horlicks and an early night. Like me.

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