Sherlock Holmes: The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax

Good lord, is that not a long title?  And every time I read it, I want to add “abbey” at the end, having read Dracula long before I’d ever read Sherlock Holmes.  As titles go, this is one of my least favorite of Watson’s attempts.  

This is actually a sad story too.  While the plot focuses on a hard-headed woman who lives by her own rules who goes missing, the fortunate fact is, she is found by the end but alas, she never herself again, so the title serves a double purpose: it works for the chief mystery of the episode as well as they outcome.  

Having said that, I’m forced to conclude that Watson actually did succeed with the title.  It’s just a bit long for a blog dedicated to the Great Detective, but I suppose I can hardly fault Watson for that.  I mean, he didn’t know what the future held, did he?

The Crime

While Watson is vacationing in the country and taking 14 mile walks per day, he becomes acquainted with Lady Frances Carfax, a local eccentric.  He’s rather fond of this odd woman; “a stray chicken in a world of foxes”.  She goes to church by boat, and lives a fairly bohemian life.  When a random horse-rider, Philip Green, turns up she acts like he’s a real villain.  Then she goes missing.  Watson fears the worst and contacts Holmes for help.  Holmes shows up.  What he discovers is that this rider is actually a man who deeply loves Carfax and has nothing to do with her disappearance.  That crime goes to the local “veteran” Albert Shlessinger who, in fact, has chloroformed her and was about to bury her with another body so as not to be discovered.

The Motive

The Lady Frances has inherited very expensive jewelry but wants little to do with it.  She goes to her brother for money, but he tells her to sell the jewelry; he won’t help her.  (He’s busy planning to fight the 6th Doctor in Trial of a Time Lord – the actor is none other than Michael Jayston!)  She breaks down and sells the jewels but the episode lost me a little here.  It seems she sells them to make money to donate to Shlessinger.  He’s a conman and murderer posing as a crippled missionary with his wife.  They are planning to bury his wife’s former nurse who has died of natural causes, but they plan on burying Lady Frances along with her.  Holmes finds the corpse, but realizes that Shlessinger has all his bases covered until it dawns on Holmes that the coffin was usually deep!  

The Mistakes

The most glaring mistake was watching Lady Frances being lifted out of the coffin.  TWICE.  Both Holmes and Watson have a moment of lifting her out – the scene is exactly the same along with what looked like a real bad bout of whiplash in both cases, but the cut was clearly missed.  Another mistake is that the dead nurse found by Holmes and Watson is clearly breathing in the coffin.  Always a mistake to do close-ups of actors playing dead!  

But the real mistake is that Holmes doesn’t piece it together sooner.  By the time he does, the Lady Frances is nearly dead anyway, presumably from too much chloroform coupled with being nearly buried alive.  Green takes the mantle of being her protector from then on in the hopes that she will recover one day, but the final scene is a heartbreaking one, showing the two sitting together, without any words between them.  


Shlessinger: Why, you’re a common burgler!

Holmes: And my friend is a dangerous ruffian. Together we mean to go through your house!

When Holmes comes to Shlessinger’s home to look around, Watson brandishes a gun and Shlessinger makes the accusatory remark above.  Brett delivers his line as Holmes with such power, that I laughed.  Holmes is a rogue, but man, do I think he’s a great hero!  

Watson doesn’t do too poorly either.  When he encounters Green and believes him responsible for Frances’s disappearance, he tackles him in a bank.  Later, when Shlessinger is discovered, he bolts from his wheelchair and takes off into a graveyard.  Watson takes a shot and changes the phony cripple into a real one with a shot to his leg.  

The Verdict

“I failed,” says Holmes as he walks away, depressed.  He saved her soul, perhaps, but her life?  I’m not sure she’ll ever recover and we are left with that sad image.  However, that makes for a really strong, meaningful episode.  Weirdly, the only thing I really remembered from the book was that Holmes was concerned with the shape of Shlessinger’s ear, which plays no part in this episode. 

One very interesting moment is in Watson’s opening missive to Sherlock.  He says he’s walked 14 miles with “hardly a twinge from either my leg or my shoulder.”  Fans of the series know that Conan Doyle seemed to have forgotten where Watson was supposed to have been shot in those original days.  It was a shoulder shot when we first met Watson, but another story gave us something about his leg.  This line cleverly addresses that he has problems with both.  I’ve said time and again that this series pays attention to details… well, visual gaffes aside… and shows great love for the source material.  No Sherlock Holmes fan should miss these!   ML

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