Monday, August 6, 2012

Vasily Livanov as Sherlock Holmes – Mortal Fight (1980) - Review

Vasily Livanov and Vitaly Solomin as Sherlock Holmes and Dr John Watson in Mortal Fight (1980)

This episode is based on the Canonical story The Final Problem.

In the previous episode, The Master Blackmailer, Sherlock Holmes (Sir Vasily Livanov) received a letter from Professor Moriarty (Viktor Yevgrafov). In a slight deviation from the canon, Charles Augustus Milverton is shown as a pawn of Moriarty. Milverton’s death causes Moriarty to focus his efforts to stop Holmes once and for all.

The first meeting between Holmes and Moriarty does not take place at 221 B Baker Street. Holmes and Watson visit a gentlemen’s club with the specific intention of dropping in on Moriarty. Holmes is taken to meet Moriarty by the latter's henchmen. Moriarty warns Holmes to stay away but as expected Holmes has no intentions of doing anything of that sort.

Vasily Livanov and Vitaly Solomin as Sherlock Holmes and Victor Yevgrekov as Professor Moriarty in Mortal Fight (1980)
Holmes and Moriarty meet
Back at the club, Watson witnesses a verbal confrontation between a certain Ronald Adair and Colonel Sebastian Moran. Adair accuses Moran of cheating to win a game of cards. Readers familiar with the Sherlock Holmes canon will recognize the significance of this encounter :)

The rest of the episode is a direct adaptation of the story. Holmes gives clear instructions to Watson about boarding the train to leave London the next day. The same night, 221 B is set on fire.

Vitaly Solomin as Dr John Watson in Mortal Fight (1980)

Holmes and Watson are soon engaged in a deadly cat-and-mouse game with Moriarty and his henchmen. Despite Holmes’s best laid plans, Moriarty has evaded arrest and is hell bent on avenging himself.

Holmes and Watson travel across Europe with the hopes of outrunning Moriarty. But Moriarty is always on their heels, as Holmes deduces time and again.

Vasily Livanov and Vitaly Solomin as Sherlock Holmes and Dr John Watson in Mortal Fight (1980)
Holmes and Watson on the run
Soon the climax at Reichenbach Falls is upon us. An errand boy arrives to take Watson back to the hotel on a false pretext. Holmes fully knows the import of this occurrence and bids adieu to his longtime friend. Just as Holmes expected, the ‘Napoleon of Crime’ makes his appearance…

Vasily Livanov as Sherlock Holmes and Viktor Yevgrafov as Professor Moriarty in Mortal Fight (1980)

As Holmes and Moriarty employ their Baritsu skills to best each other, they are not alone. Sebastian Moran, Moriarty’s sharpshooter, is watching the encounter to ensure that Moriarty is avenged should the latter fail to off Holmes himself.

Vasily Livanov as Sherlock Holmes and Viktor Yevgrafov as Professor Moriarty in Mortal Fight (1980)
Colonel Sebastian Moran up to his old tricks again...
The epic encounter between Holmes and Moriarty is done full justice. This is one of the best shot episodes in the series and the Reichenbach section is probably the most spectacular. The shooting was not done at the actual falls but in Russia. I never felt the difference and full credits to director Igor Maslennikov and his team of cinematographers (Anatoli Lapshov and Yuri Veksler) for their stunning work. Vladimir Dashkevich’s Moriarty theme and background score for the Reichenbach scenes are outstanding.

Vasily Livanov is my all-time favorite actor to portray Holmes and he is simply marvelous in this episode. As Holmes comes face-to-face with his archenemy, Livanov does an excellent job in essaying Holmes at arguably his lowest point in the canon.

Vitaly Solomin as Dr John Watson in Mortal Fight (1980)
Watson reacts to Holmes's disappearance
Vitaly Solomin is always good in his role. From refusing to leave Holmes alone to face his greatest threat to his discovery of Holmes’s fate at Reichenbach Falls, Solomin gets to show a wide range of emotions. Dr Watson is the common man we all identify with and Solomin’s Watson is one of the best.

Viktor Yevgrafov's version of Moriarty is one of the most sinister looking ones. Viktor’s tall stature and his spider-like movements make him a convincing Moriarty.

Viktor Yevgrafov as Professor Moriarty in Mortal Fight (1980)
Viktor Yevgrafov as Prof Moriarty

There have been a few other adaptations of The Final Problem, which include the Downey Jr movie Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, the Granada series adaptation and Sherlock.

In my humble opinion, a hero is only as good as his villain. If the villain does not appear to be genuinely intimidating, it is hard (at least for me) to take the hero seriously. Moriarty’s portrayal is very vital to the success of any adaptation of The Final Problem. From this perspective, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows and the Russian adaptation are clear winners. Eric Porter did an adequate but not exceptional job in the Granada series.

Click on the link below to buy the DVD:

There are many fine touches in this episode that I liked very much - The M files maintained by Holmes, Watson sketching a portrait of Holmes and Holmes preparing himself for the physically challenging confrontation at Reichenbach. Maslennikov’s love for the Sherlock Holmes canon has always been evident in the series and this episode is yet another fine example.

Vasily Livanov as Sherlock Holmes in Mortal Fight (1980)
My favorite parts in the episode

This episode is one of the best in the Russian series and will stand the test of time as one of the best adaptations of The Final Problem.

Click here to read all my posts about the Russian adaptation of Sherlock Holmes.

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Image Source: Lenfilm Films Studio

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  1. I will have to see if I can find a copy of this Sherlock Holmes

  2. How does one watch this Russian Sherlock? Is it on Youtube, or can it be ordered?

  3. Watched some Russian Holmes episodes, and I will surely watch them all. I like what you have done here.

    I don't know if this link works, but I wanted your opinion on this. I'm making the argument here that the movie In the Heat of the Night with Sidney Poitner, is an updated modern version of Sherlock Holmes. Tell me if the argument is sound.

    1. I will check it and let you know. Thanks for the comment.