Friday, May 18, 2012

The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (1976)

This is my favorite Sherlock Holmes film to date, with my favorite portrayal of Holmes.  Why?  Easy. Because of the outstanding script by Nicolas Meyer and the brilliant performances by Nicol Williamson as Holmes and Alan Arkin as Sigmund Freud. The rest of the cast is big name:  Robert Duvall plays Watson, Vanessa Redgrave plays the lady in distress, and Lawrence Olivier puts in a turn as Moriarty.

Nicolas Meyer is also responsible for the script to Time After Time (on my top 25 films list), as well as my two favorite movies in the Star Trek series, II (Wrath of Khan) and VI (The Undiscovered Country).  I don't think I've seen anything written (or directed) by Nicolas Meyer that I did not like.  Both Time After Time and The Seven-Per-Cent Solution deal with a mix of characters.  In Time After Time, it's H.G. Wells and Jack the Ripper, in The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, it's Sherlock Holmes and Sigmund Freud.

The Seven-Per-Cent Solution is a darker entry into the Holmes film, in that it deals with Holmes's cocaine addiction.  The plot concerns Watson and Holme's brother, Mycroft, concocting a scheme to get Holmes to Vienna, where he can be treated for his addiction by Freud, who has successfully helped others, including himself, overcome the addiction.  As Holmes fights to kick the habit, he takes on a case regarding a missing woman, with Freud stepping up to the sleuthing plate, every bit as brilliant in his own way as Holmes is.  It makes for a fabulous, entertaining partnership.  The first half of the film deals more with the addiction, the second half deals more of the action of solving the mystery, though both are well-balanced, and the film has always engaged me the entire way.  It makes particularly interesting use of Moriarty as well, not as the villain, but as a mathematics tutor from Holmes's childhood involved in a tragic incident.  I've never seen Moriarty as anything but the evil mastermind, and this different kind of nemesis is very refreshing.

The depth of Williamson's portrayal as Holmes never ceases to amaze me.  From the manic, obsessed-with-Moriarty, drug-addicted Holmes, to the recovered, calm and decisive Holmes, Williamson moves smoothly, brilliantly, and without a misstep between the disparate facets of the character.  He was a first-class actor who really got to shine here.  And, as usual with a Nicolas Meyer script, there's also real meat to the characters that an actor can dig into.

Alan Arkin is equally awesome as Freud, committed to helping Sherlock Holmes recover.  As they get more embroiled in the mystery aspects, it always makes me smile as the intelligence of both men both clashes and meshes.  I can never decide which character and performance is my favorite, Arkin as Freud, or Williamson as Holmes.  They're both perfect.

There's plenty of action too, from a duel between Freud and a German baron -- fought on a tennis court! -- to the big train chase finale, which includes a sword fight on top of the moving train.  The train chase across the European countryside is definitely my favorite part of the film.  It's perfectly paced to keep you on the edge of your seat, and satisfy a viewer with each step along the way to the conclusion.

I think this might have been the first film I saw Robert Duvall in, isn't that odd?  He is a credible Watson, worried and steadfast.  He doesn't have that much to do, compared to Holmes and Freud.  It is a bit weird to hear him with a (admittedly) bad British accent.  It doesn't detract from the film for me, though, just sounds weird!

I love John Addison's score to this film as well.  I've seen other films with his scores, but none stuck in my head like this one.  I think he exactly nailed the right emotional tone this movie required, and I'm particularly fond of the train chase music.

This movie comes very close to making my top 25 favorite film list; in fact, it used to be on it, but alas, something has to drop off the list when new movies come along!  This movie isn't for everyone because of the drug addiction, but it's one of which I never tire.


  1. Would you believe I've never seen any Sherlock Holmes film?! Scandalous, but true! I won't even tell you I've read any Sherlock Holmes stories, because I don't remember them. I know I had to read a couple of them in my high school literature class, but I've long since forgotten them.

    As for Robert Duvall, I loved him in Lonesome Dove! Yes, that is a Western...and I love it!!

    1. I am surprised you haven't seen any of the Basil Rathbone ones! Some of them freaked me out when I was a kid. The Scarlet Claw and Pearl of Death, I seem to recall, gave me nightmares. But some were not scary. I was just about to start re-watching them all, in which case I'll review them here.

  2. I reeeeally need to rewatch this! All I remember is loving Alan Arkin and the duel on the train. I have the book too -- maybe I should re-read it, since my viewing time is so limited lately.

    1. Yeah, Alan Arkin is awesome. Between The Russians are Coming and this one, I really loved him. That is the best duel-on-top-of-a-train. I have the book too. I read it a long time ago. I should probably re-read it too.