I mentioned to a friend that I’d just watched The Six Napoleons. He remembered it well but asked me if Italians are really that animated. You see, this episode opens with an Italian man raging about something. We’re not given any subtitles, but it doesn’t take a Sherlock to know he’s mad as hell about something. He smacks his girlfriend in the face and then goes out in a fury screaming an Italian obscenity as he races to fight another Italian man. They get into a scuffle, the other man is arrested, and then we cut to Holmes, Watson and Inspector Lestrade just casually hanging out at 221b, in silence. Holmes gets Lestrade to tell him what curious case he’s working on and it centers around someone breaking and entering into homes to smash busts of Napoleon. Watson tells Lestrade all about monomania and Holmes rolls his eyes comically. He knows one thing: there’s a game afoot and it’s not the result of monomania!
I’ve had a few happy surprises watching this show, but the smacked woman caught my eye. She’s not classically beautiful but she’s strikingly (no pun intended) handsome. She plays a fairly small roll so I didn’t really think much of her, but for some reason, I sat through the credits. I was utterly caught off guard to learn that was Marina Sirtis of Star Trek: The Next Generation fame! But onto the crime…
While the break-ins are a crime in and of themselves, things go especially bad when, after the 4th bust is found and destroyed, a body is found on the steps of the latest burglary victims’ house. Lestrade identifies the dead man as an Italian and is immediately convinced he’s part of the Mafia. (100 years later, Lestrade would be speaking to his HR representative about making such broad assumptions of the Italians. I’d take umbrage, since I’m one of them… Italians, I mean, not the Mafia… but this was a long time ago.) The dead man was the same raging man from earlier in the episode. When he encountered the man who was breaking into the houses, they fought and he died. But the question remains: what is the object of destroying the busts…
Some time ago, the Black Pearl of the Borgias was stolen. When the police were on the tail of the thief, he had the wherewithal to hide the pearl… in a freshly poured bust of Napoleon. There were 6 in a given batch so he doesn’t know who owns the correct Napoleon and he’s determined to find it. Holmes reasons that there’s something to this case and pursues it. He intercepts Beppo on his 5th theft but still does not find it, so he contacts the owner of the last one, and purchases it legally. Then he smashes it, to reveal the treasure.
“Watson, this is no time for humbugs!” Not to sound too much like Star Trek’s Dr. McCoy, but I’m an Italian, not a gemologist. I can’t speak to the tensile strength of a pearl, but I feel reasonably sure that taking a crowbar to one might not leave it intact. Call me weird. Smashing a bust to powder, to me, an untrained viewer, just seems like a poor choice when looking for a gem within. I mean, if the dude found black powder, would it have dawned on the madman that pulverizing the thing wasn’t his best option?!
Barring that, I’m not sure the thief makes any real mistakes. He’s careful enough not to smash the busts within the homes, and even absconds with one for several blocks to break it under a streetlamp. Holmes only reasons it out because he had been involved in the case some time back when the pearl first went missing.
Lestrade: “We’re not jealous of you, you know, at Scotland Yard. No, sir, we’re proud of you. And if you come down tomorrow, there’s not a man from the oldest inspector to the youngest constable, who wouldn’t be glad to shake you by the hand.”
It’s rare that the quote doesn’t come from Holmes or Watson, but Lestrade really brings this one home. Brett is utterly devoted to the character and conveys a beautiful humility to Holmes with tears in his eyes as Lestrade delivers this line. It’s a masterful performance. If there is one thing Holmes is not known for, it’s humility and he struggles to maintain his composure before bidding Lestrade a good night, but as Lestrade is leaving, Holmes uncharacteristically reaches out his hand to shake the Inspectors. Even if this episode hadn’t been as good as it was, that scene would have elevated the whole production.
This is also the episode that gave Sherlockians that wonderful allusion to a mystery we never got to see, where Holmes found out about a dismemberment by the depth parsley sank into butter on a hot day. A mystery that will haunt us for ages to come, I’m sure. And watching Holmes whip a tablecloth out from under a perfectly placed tea kettle and cups is a joy to behold, especially in conjunction with the astonished faces of his onlookers!
Molto Bene! This was another enjoyable story with Holmes and Watson. Lestrade adds a sense of humor to much of the story, always thinking he’s a step ahead of Holmes, but there’s such a delight in watching Holmes bring home the prize at the end. Listening to him reason out even the most abstruse problem just gets the mental juices flowing. And watching the two best friends save the day, time and again, couldn’t be more enjoyable. ML