Sunday 30 December 2007

The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (1976)

In 1891 Sherlock Holmes was missing for three years and writer Nicholas Meyer came up with a story to explain it. In this star-studded translation to screen, we first meet him in the throes of cocaine addiction, raving about the Napoleon of Crime, Professor Moriarty. Robert Duvall plays Watson with a langurous voice that doesn't sound anything like Robert Duvall, and he has to bring Holmes back from the drug. Holmes is Nicol Williamson and Moriarty is no less than Sir Laurence Olivier, who quickly arrives in Watson's office with tales of persecution and hints of mystery.

What seems most surprising is that none of these major stars have either of the two lead credits. Top credited is Alan Arkin, playing a Viennese doctor who Watson consults to aid Holmes's recovery, a doctor called Sigmund Freud. Yes, that Freud. Between the two of them they investigate the kidnapping of Fraulein Lola Deveraux, as played by Vanessa Redgrave, the other name to outcredit the heroes.

Williamson is powerful as Holmes, the incisive and intelligent Holmes we know but a furiously agitated one in the throes of addiction. In comparison Arkin is quiet and subtle as Freud, with his formidable intelligence carrying the day in many scenes, similarly but not the same as that of Holmes. Duvall is fine and I can appreciate the effort he put into his accent but it's hardly a successful one or indeed one of his most memorable roles. Olivier is hardly a minor name to have as the villain of the piece but he gets very little screen time. Redgrave is delightful but again has very little opportunity to make much of a difference to the film as a whole.

The story has plenty to offer, especially as an intellectual exercise, but it ends up a victim of its own cleverness. While much of it fits very well indeed with the canon, there's plenty that makes no sense whatsoever and whole sections are pure Hollywood. Sabre fighting on top of a train, indeed.

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