They Might Be Giants (1971) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Sometimes movies are just movies, and sometimes they are filmed literature. This is a case of the latter. On the surface it's just an offbeat little farce about a crazy judge who thinks he is Sherlock Holmes, a film prone sometimes to excessive slapstick and other forms of silliness. But lurking beneath that surface is an ennobling statement about the nature of goodness and compassion and hope.
This film came from the same creative team that produced the historical drama The Lion in Winter. Anthony Harvey directed both films, and James Goldman adapted two of his own plays to the screen. Goldman also wrote "Nicholas and Alexandra" and "Robin and Marian". After penning his four famous screenplays from 1968-1976, he went into virtual retirement, writing only one more theatrical film, "White Nights",  in 1985. Writing talent ran in the family. His kid brother, William Goldman, wrote the screenplays for The Princess Bride, All The President's Men, and Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid. 


 I once wrote (I should say "almost wrote", since it lies unfinished still) a rather bad novel about the life of Merlin. In that I posited that the people were able to recognize Arthur as the proper king even when he wasn't pulling magical swords out of rocks and lakes. In my version, Arthur was an uncomplicated peasant boy with dirty fingernails, and Lancelot was a drooling muscle-bound simpleton, while Mordred was brilliant, talented, cultured, educated, and handsome. Yet, to Mordred's chagrin,  people could look at him side-by-side with Arthur and realize that Arthur should be king. When Lancelot led a charge, every man would follow, but Mordred's leadership inspired nobody. Some followed if they were paid well enough. The people knew that Arthur and Lancelot were compassionate and pure of heart, and those qualities inspired men to drop their plows and fight at Arthur's side when necessary.

The characters in They Might Be Giants respond the same way to Sherlock Holmes. In their rational minds they know that he is loony, and that the forces of society are merely trying to restore order, but in their hearts people know that Holmes stands for compassion, human dignity, and respect for people. In short, for good. And people are quite capable of understanding that the choice between good and evil is more important than the choice between sanity and insanity. If sanity is harsh and painful and unforgiving, then there is no reason to stand and fight on its side. 

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen letterboxed, 1.85:1. The colors have faded.

  • Full-length director commentary, also featuring film archivist Robert Harris

  • Featurette:  madness, it's beautiful

So it happens that Holmes, by listening to people, studying them, granting them dignity, and trying to figure out why they behave as they behave, touches them deeply, as the "sane" members of society can never do. And when it came time for Holmes to battle Moriarty, the people that he affected were there to stave off the doctors and the police and let Holmes stand toe-to-toe with his archnemesis.

Was there a Moriarty? Is there a force out there instigating people to act toward each other with evil and greed and injustice in their hearts?

Can you look at the world and say there is not?

If you like Don Juan Demarco and/or The Fisher King, I can just about guarantee that you'll like this gentle little gem of a movie with a perfect ending. In addition to perfect performances by George C Scott and Joanne Woodward, veteran character actor Jack Gilford does an eccentric turn as The Scarlet Pimpernel (well, in his heart, at least).

Worth watching just to see the moment when the crazy man realizes his new psychiatrist is named Dr Watson.

The Critics Vote

  • Maltin 3/4

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 7.1. It is a cult favorite. Many people don't know of it, and there are some people who don't like it, but the people that do like it so much that they will name it among their top ten favorites. Some of my friends feel this way, and I am not far from there myself.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a B, and a favorite of mine.

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