Watson briefly meets Holmes’ latest client, Josiah Amberley (Maurice Denham), on the stairs. When Holmes asks what opinion he formed of the man, Watson confesses he found him to be “a pathetic, futile, broken creature.”
Holmes agrees, but Amberley certainly seems to have cause for distress. His wife has disappeared, along with Dr Ray Ernest (a friend of both of them). Also, his strong-box has been forced and a considerable amount of cash and securities taken. Can Holmes locate the pair as well as Amberley’s missing money? Naturally, he can. But the solution to the mystery isn’t quite as straightforward as it initially seems.
The Retired Colourman was one of the final Sherlock Holmes stories, originally published in 1926. Given that it’s a very decent mystery, it’s surprising that this was the only time it was adapted for the screen.
With Holmes otherwise engaged, it falls to Watson to begin the investigation. And this means that the story is a lovely vehicle for Nigel Stock’s Watson. His performance in the series has, it’s fair to say, attracted some criticism over the years. He’s not quite in the Nigel Bruce buffoon category, but neither is he as competent as the Granada Watsons.
Stock’s Watson is honest, loyal and totally unimaginative. Yes, the series does delight in showing him to be several steps behind Holmes at all times, but if you closely read the original stories that’s a perfectly valid interpretation. For example, in this story Holmes is very blunt when he tells Watson that his initial enquiries have missed almost everything of importance (this is taken directly from Conan-Doyle’s original story).
He’s paired up for most of the duration with Maurice Denham’s Amberley. Denham, as expected, gives a fine performance and there’s something very entertaining about the combination of the relentlessly cheerful Watson and the doom-laden Amberley.
Holmes is rather cruel to Watson – as he sends him and Amberley off on a wild-goose chase so that he can do a spot of burglary at Amberley’s house. Indeed, Holmes sends them so far afield that Watson and Amberley have to spend the night in a rather uncomfortable country hotel. In the original story Watson speaks to Holmes on the phone, but here Holmes dictates a telegram to his unfortunate colleague. The result is the same though and it’s clear from the expressions on the faces of Holmes and Mrs Hudson (making a rare appearance in the Wilmer series) that they have little pity for poor Watson, trapped at a hotel at Frinton with the unpleasant Amberley!
Denham and Stock are the chief reasons why this one is very watchable. It’s true that there are a few plot-holes (particularly why Amberley decided to consult Holmes in the first place) but these are problems with Conan-Doyle’s story and Jan Read’s dramatisation is content to faithfully adapt the original material. A generous amount of location filming helps to open the story out (some of the other studio-bound ones do tend to feel a little claustrophobic).
An interesting adaption of one of the “lesser” stories from the canon.