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Sherlock Holmes (Jeremy Brett) and Doctor Watson (David Burke) are paid
a visit by one Helen Stoner (Rosalyn Landor), who lives in a mansion in
the country with her reclusive stepdad Dr Roylott (Jeremy Kemp), a
collector of exotic animals. She tells Holmes that she suspects her sister
(Denise Armon), who died a sudden death two years ago with "the
Speckled Band" being her last words, was actually killed. And now
Helen fears she's going to die the same death, since she was just moved to
her sister's old room and hears the same whistling noises her sister
described the days before she died.
When only minutes after Helen's
departure, Roylott pays a visit to Holmes to threaten him, Holmes knows
there is a case ...
Unbeknowest to Roylott, Holmes and Watson sneak into
Helen's room that very night to stand guard - and really, before long they
hear a whistling noise, and a venomous snake comes through the phony
ventilation shaft. Holmes has apparently expected that, so he chases the
snake back with a walking stick ... and on the other hand of the shaft, it
bites its owner, Roylott, to death.
You see, Roylott could only reign
freely over his deceased wife's money as long as his stepdaughters remain
unmarried. Once Helen's sister wanted to marry, he made up the scheme with
the snake, knowing its poison would be undetectable for local coroners.
And now that Helen also threatened to marry ... well, why wouldn't the
same scheme work twice?
And the mysterious last words, "the
Speckled Band"? Oh, that's the name of the snake actually.
Brett gives one of his best Holmes-performances, showing not only his
character's ruthlessness but also his fears and the like, but the rest of
the episode is a bit uneven: The ending is actually suitably macabre and
atmospheric - but the baddie of the piece is given away too soon in the
story (about halfway through), and given away without a doubt (other
versions of the story at least tend to pretend there are other suspects or
make the villain's identity less obvious), thus eliminating the
"who"-aspect of the murder mystery and concentrating on the
"how". But even if that takes quite some suspense out of the
story, at least the "how" is highly original in this case.