I have enjoyed many of Conan Doyle’s stories and often for different reasons. The Musgrave Ritual is a fun treasure hunt, while The Blue Carbuncle is a nice Christmas tale. Hound of the Baskervilles is a wonderfully eerie piece and readers of the Junkyard know how much I enjoy those.
The Man with the Twisted Lip fascinated me. It’s not really much of a mystery when the resolution is revealed, but the idea behind it was captivating. And, although the episode makes no reference to the event, the short story had an added mystery that has left many a fan curious… But more on that in due course…
The episode has a bizarre structure. Mrs. Whitney comes to Holmes and Watson to help find her Opium addicted husband, Isa, who has been missing for two days. Holmes is out, but Watson goes to the opium den to find Isa. Up until this point, the mystery appears to be around Isa, but he’s but a link in the chain. As Watson moves to pay the operator of the den, he is grabbed by another addict who is revealed to be Holmes himself, on another case. There is a missing person that needs to be found!
Mr. Neville St. Claire has gone missing and his wife spotted him in the upstairs window of a disreputable establishment. She tried to get into the building but is detained by a “lascar” and a “Malay”. When she does manage to get upstairs, she finds only a beggar in the room. All indications lead to the idea that the beggar murdered her husband and threw his body into the Thames through a nearby window.
Had Neville not been seen, there would be no mistakes as Mrs. St. Claire would never have known about what was going on.
The motive is embarrassment, for Neville St. Claire is not dead and the erudite beggar, Boone, is not a killer. In fact, Boone is none other than Neville St. Claire himself. Neville had been working for a newspaper and was asked to do a piece on the beggar problem of London. He dons the disguise and makes enough money that he continues doing it. In a year, he claims to have made over £700, to the listening inspectors shock! This has helped him take very good care of his wife and children, but he is mortified by the idea that she might find out. When Holmes pieces it together, he shows up with a sponge to the cell where Boone is being held on suspicion of murder, and scrubs the make up away.
Holmes: “There is nothing so important as trifles!”
Holmes nails it. And those trifles can extend to the filming of the episode. Note when Holmes rouses Watson – by tickling his foot! – Watson wakes with a start. He then wipes drool from his mouth. Subtle but present. Watch Brett closely too; he is a master of micro expressions – those tiny movements that capture a thought or an insinuation perfectly. Trifles indeed, but boy do they enhance the story!
Interestingly, Holmes solves the puzzle while washing his own face, but it’s an interesting point that St. Claire is using a disguise as it’s the same strategy Holmes employs in this very story.
The scene of Jeremy Brett sitting cross-legged, pondering the possible outcomes is iconic. But it’s preceded by a laughter inducing moment. Watson makes a plea to Holmes: “I have an urgent request… may I go to sleep?” We cut then to a scene of Holmes waking Watson only 2 hours later. Holmes may care about his friend, but perhaps not so much about his need for sleep.
Holmes gives us two more nuggets worthy of inclusion: “It is better to learn wisdom later than to never learn it at all!” I think that’s something we should all remember; we don’t all learn at the same rate, and learning late in life isn’t necessarily wrong. What I do think is wrong is when Holmes says that Watson has “the grand gift of silence” which makes him “invaluable as a companion.” I often find Holmes brilliant but in this I must disagree. I would pull my hair out without a companion to engage in discussions!
A thoroughly enjoyable televised episode with a satisfying conclusion. But let me take a moment to talk about this story outside of the episode. Mrs. Whitney goes to see Watson’s wife about Isa’s disappearance. Watson says “Folk who were in grief came to my wife like birds to a light-house.” His wife replies, “It was very sweet of you to come. Now, you must have some wine and water, and sit here comfortably and tell us all about it. Or should you rather that I sent James off to bed?” Of course, the question then is: “who is James?” While I pondered a hitherto unspoken reference to a child, Mrs. Whitney follows along with this: “Oh, no, no! I want the doctor’s advice and help, too.” Perhaps we will never know, or maybe, in an episode all about disguises, there’s another disguise waiting to be uncovered! ML