Balladeer’s Blog at last resumes its examination of both seasons of The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes. For my review of the very 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: THE MYSTERIOUS DEATH ON THE UNDERGROUND RAILWAY (January 29th, 1973)
Detective: Polly Burton, reporter, created by Baroness Orczy (The Scarlet Pimpernel). The first Polly Burton mystery was published in 1909.
Synopsis: This 2nd Season episode features another female detective created by the inimitable Baroness Orczy. Personally, I would rather the producers had done another mystery featuring Lady Molly of Scotland Yard, Orczy’s other – in my view better – female detective.
Lady Molly was the actual detective in her stories. Polly Burton (Judy Geeson), while a spunky reporter who never lets people belittle her over her gender, was really just the Archie Goodwin/ Dr Watson for the Teahouse Detective aka the Old Man in the Corner.
The series of mysteries featured Polly doing all the legwork for the mysterious older man who sat in the corner at the teahouse, and he was the one who really solved the cases, like Nero Wolfe. Even worse, sometimes Polly was little more than an awed listener to the Teahouse Detective’s tales of how he solved other mysteries.
Rather than do the obvious – make an episode about the Teahouse Detective with Polly helping him solve the title mystery – the producers presented Polly as if she was the actual detective, then proceeded to undermine her through the whole story as she is basically reduced to being the mobile clue-gatherer for her lawyer uncle Arthur.
John Savident portrays the uncle, who takes the place of the Teahouse Detective in the story. He makes Polly his assistant in a case to prove his client innocent of the murder of a woman found dead on the London Underground Railway. So it’s Rumpole of the Bailey crossed with Nero Wolfe. Uncle Arthur’s larger than life personality blows Polly off the screen in the scenes they share.
Wouldn’t it have been better to just do another Lady Molly mystery if they wanted a female lead? Lady Molly was great and had her own female Watson. Polly Burton is reduced to a Watson herself in this story. The series had done multiple episodes with other detectives, like Dr Thorndyke, Martin Hewitt and Dorrington.
The mystery itself is entertaining but not challenging. After a woman is found dead on the Underground, trying to find out her identity becomes a mania in London. Polly, with help from her policeman beau Richard Frobisher (Richard Beckinsale) smokes out the dead woman’s husband.
The woman was Beatrice Hazeldine and it appears she was poisoned via needle-ring. The main suspect is Frank Errington (Tom McCarthy), who seems to have been having an affair with the late Beatrice AND was recently studying up on poisons.
Other suspects include the dead victim’s husband and her sister, played by Anthony Higgins and Cyd Hayman respectively. Hayman’s spellbinding beauty will leave you wondering why she didn’t become a superstar.
Polly’s Uncle Arthur takes on Errington as his client and proceeds to clear the man via courtroom antics and a last-minute trap for the murderer in which the brave Polly serves as bait. With so few suspects I’d be spoiling the mystery if I wrote any more details.
Overall this was a disappointing episode but the period detail and John Savident’s eccentric performance make it worth watching once. As Uncle Arthur he skillfully demolishes some unreliable eyewitness testimony and clears his client despite the tunnel vision of the authorities.
In a side note, Savident is so reminiscent of Robert Morley that I can’t help picturing him, Judy Geeson and Richard Beckinsale in a 1970s British television remake of The African Queen.+++
I’LL REVIEW ANOTHER EPISODE SOON.
FOR MORE FORGOTTEN TELEVISION CLICK HERE: https://glitternight.com/category/forgotten-television/