For Balladeer’s Blog’s review of the first episode of this 1971-1973 series about London by Gaslight detectives from both the Victorian and Edwardian Ages you can simply click HERE
Episode: FIVE HUNDRED CARATS (February 5th, 1973)
Detective: Inspector Leo Lipinzki of Kimberley, South Africa, a figure created by George Griffith. The first Inspector Lipinzki story was published in 1893.
Synopsis: We are now in the second and final season of The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes. In addition to his many “ancient” science fiction stories – reviewed previously here at Balladeer’s Blog – George Griffith also wrote the eight Inspector Lipinzki stories, which were later collected in the book Knaves of Diamonds in 1899.
For the first time in this series we have a story set outside Great Britain, which I found to be a welcome change of pace. Leo Lipinzki (Barry Keegan) works as a Detective Inspector for the Cape Police, but technically the already wealthy and powerful De Beers Diamond Corporation is who he really answers to.
Virtually all the murders, thefts and other crimes that Lipinzki investigates stem from IDB – Illicit Diamond Buying – amid the busy diamond mines and other establishments of South Africa. (And if you read the Inspector Lipinzki stories you’ll see that the acronym “IDB” is used ad nauseum.)
The episode Five Hundred Carats opens up with a murder that we eventually learn ties into the brilliant, seemingly impossible theft of the Great De Beers Diamond. Though in the original story George Griffith presented it as if the Inspector himself was relating the case to him, The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes substitutes the fictional “Mr Cornelius” (Alan Tilvern), an American diamond buyer, for Griffith.
While Lipinzki investigates the murder we viewers get a taste of the expertise the green-uniformed Inspector has acquired during his years in South Africa. The killer used a spear to knock off their victim, trying to make it seem like a native South African committed the deed, but our detective can tell from a minor adjustment to the weapon that a white person was responsible.
The spectacular theft of the Great De Beers Diamond was accomplished by thwarting some absolutely staggering security measures, including barred cells and sturdy safes, which seemed impossible to overcome. The ingenious solution to the manner in which the crime was carried out put me in mind of the best episodes of Banacek, but set in the 1890s.
Roughly two-thirds of the way through the tale, Inspector Lipinzki has fixed upon the perpetrators, but must deduce how they did it AND must swim upstream against the De Beers board members who circle the wagons around their own when Leo’s investigation takes him where they don’t want him to go.
Risking career suicide, our detective wages a war of nerves on his quarries while thwarting their desire to smuggle the diamond out of South Africa.
Barry Keegan’s performance as the Inspector won me over. Instead of the stereotypical dapper, polished gentleman that he was in the original stories, Keegan’s Lipinzki is a rougher, more hard-boiled detective. He seems a far more likely type to have survived the hotbed of intrigue and crime that Kimberley was at the time.
Clad in his dashing, quasi-Breaker Morant style uniform, the tough, hard-drinking Leo comes across like a hybrid of Sam Spade and a world-weary ex-pat surviving by his wits and fists in an exotic spot where life is cheap. And in Kimberley, the lure of diamonds can spawn deadly betrayal at any moment.
Aideen O’Kelly brilliantly plays Bridie Sullavan, an attractive Irish widow who runs Rick’s Cafe Americain, I mean the local bar/ gambling spot, called The Victoria. Bridie is a terrific supporting character, serving as potential suspect AND sometime love interest for the Inspector while capably handling herself against drunk customers and overly amorous admirers.
The low budget is the only sizable problem with this episode. The mystery and mis en scene are entertaining and the tweaks to Lipinzki’s character work to perfection. But I DO wish they had kept the short story’s scene in which the Inspector shows off the small museum of smuggler’s relics that he keeps in his office. To me those souvenirs from some of his other cases would have cemented Leo in the minds of the audience as a true Sherlock Holmes of the Cape.
The Inspector Lipinzki stories combine so many of the best elements of Film Noir and Colonial-Era tales of intrigue that I would have loved to see at least one or two more of his yarns adapted for the small screen. Unfortunately, this was the only one of George Griffith’s Lipinzki stories in the series.
But hey, anybody up for some fan fiction about Sherlock Holmes and Inspector Lipinzki taking on Sebastian Moran in 1890s South Africa? +++
FOR A SIMILARLY INTRIGUING EPISODE OF RIVALS OF SHERLOCK HOLMES CHECK OUT MY REVIEW OF THE CHIEF PURSER HORROCKS MYSTERY, SET ON A 1902 CRUISE SHIP HERE.
I’LL REVIEW ANOTHER EPISODE SOON.
FOR MORE FORGOTTEN TELEVISION CLICK HERE: https://glitternight.com/category/forgotten-television/