Sunday, March 21, 2010

Sherlock Sunday: Cushing's Final Bow

The Masks of Death (aka "Sherlock Holmes and the Masks of Death") (1984)
Starring: Peter Cushing, John Mills, Anne Baxter, Anton Diffring and Ray Milland
Director: Roy Ward Baker
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

An elderly Holmes (Cushing) and Dr. Watson (Mills) come out of retirement in the years just before the start of WWI to investigate two baffling mysteries that turn out to be related. Old friends also return, and Holmes may even get to have a rematch with The Woman as he tries to solve the mysterious deaths of five unconnected men in London and the disappearance of a German prince from a country estate.

Peter Cushing once again gives an excellent performance as Sherlock Holmes in what I like to pretend is his final role. He was dying even while making this movie, but he did not appear so frail so as to it being obvious, as he did in the few other film appearances he had after this one.

Cushing's Holmes is often gruff and cranky, but he remains charming and likable. John Mills also gives a good performance as his loyal assistant Watson, who is treated far better by both the actor and the script writers than he is in most adaptations; it is very clear in this film that Watson is only a dunce when compared to Sherlock Holmes.

This made-for-TV movie is an excellent Holmes adventure that captures the feel of Conan Doyle's stories like few attempts to bring Holmes to the screen have. It's also a reunion/farewell performance of sorts for actors and crew that were regulars on Hammer and Amicus productions, as it features several actors who were were regulars in those films and is directed by Roy Ward Baker.

"The Masks of Death" is, sadly, not available on DVD and long out of print on VHS. I hope that the Robert Downey Jr Holmes movies will cause whoever owns the rights to this one to release it on DVD.


  1. I believe that Mr. Cushing lived for another 10 years; if I recall, he passed away in 1993 or 1994, right around the time that Vincent Price passed.

    Also, I think Mr. Cushing also had a small role in "Top Secret!" as the Swedish Book Store owner, but I forgot what year that was.

  2. You are correct. I meant to say that I like to think of this film as Cushing's final performance, because the ones that follow make me feel a bit sad. Especially the "Top Secret" one. He looks seriously old and frail there.

  3. You're right he does. I wonder what he looked like in 1994.