After the death of his beloved wife Lucy, noted jurist Justin Playfair (George C. Scott) goes quietly mad and believes that he is Sherlock Holmes. His brother, beset by blackmailers whose trigger fingers are getting itchy, seeks to have Playfair - or Holmes, more appropriately - committed, allowing him access to the man's fortune. But as luck would have it, the reluctant psych pressured into signing the papers is named Dr. Mildred Watson (Joanne Woodward). Thus begins a journey for both, as Holmes deduces his way towards a final showdown with Moriarty - who may or may not be fictional - and this new pairing of Holmes and Watson find they need each other far more than either first realizes.
Writer James Goldman and Director Anthony Harvey teamed up again three years after the Oscar-winning The Lion in Winter to produce this gentle, humanistic comedy and love story (to simply call it a romantic comedy would cheapen it), which is by turns, satire, suspense story, and fairy tale. Universal, finding themselves confused by a movie that defies easy categorizing, re-cut the movie and barely released it, although it received glowing reviews.
I might as well come clean - this movie has remained safely seated in the number two spot of my personal favorites for nearly thirty years; it is almost impossible to watch this movie with an open mind or heart and not come away affected. Even the rather abstruse ending, which enraged me when I first saw the movie, I now openly embrace as the only possible ending to a magical tale. Scott and Woodward are absolutely perfect, and Jack Gilford, as an aging librarian who has known Playfair under both of his identities, will steal your heart while you're not looking.
Earlier pan and scan versions of this movie simply removed the top and bottom mattes from the film, and as They Might Be Giants utilized no sets - everything is either somebody's office or apartment - the boom mike was often tragically present. No such gaffes are apparent in this Widescreen presentation, though. The occasional compression error does present itself toward the end, but are minor - otherwise, this print is flawless.
I've seen both versions of the movie, and one of the scenes which Universal cut for theatrical release - almost the entire supermarket sequence, toward the end - is here restored, and this is cause for rejoicing. Although the edit did not quite cut out the heart of the movie, it certainly stabbed that heart and left it to die. The segment represents a minor victory for the disenfranchised - which in the world of They Might Be Giants, are the forces of good.
Sadly, this also means a couple of short, silent sequences involving Woodward's near-spinster shrink character at home, were lost. While not essential to the story, these scenes illuminated Watson's character far more beautifully than any amount of dialogue. Also missing is one of Gilford's speeches about the importance of dreams in one's life.
The interactive menus are backed by the more memorable snatches of Jerry Goldsmith's score, which manages to be winsome and slightly melancholy at the same time. The audio commentary serves up director Harvey being interviewed by film historian Robert Harris, who seems much more interested in talking about The Lion in Winter and Harvey's collaborations with Kubrick than the film at hand... and shame on him. I often found myself switching audio channels in annoyance.
Nicely written bios are provided for Harvey, Woodward and Scott - Goldman is irksomely (and typically, as if film scripts appeared by magic) omitted. The theatrical trailer and a marketing featurette, "Madness... It's Beautiful!" are both in wonderful condition, if the sound is a bit muffled. Both are valuable for showing just at how much of a loss was Universal at trying to promote the film. The trailer studiously ignores any mention of Sherlock Holmes (!), and the featurette comes off as a frustrated tone poem about New York City, with lots of stock footage of the Big Apple and damned little Woodward and Scott.
Have I mentioned how much I love this movie? I love this movie. If only I could have this version with the missing scenes I mentioned earlier - even as a "Deleted Scenes" option on the extras menu - I would be so happy, people would probably think I had gone insane.
Dr. Freex, 4/8/00