Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Seven-Per-Cent-Solution (1976)

His cocaine habit has finally caught up with Sherlock Holmes (Nicol Williamson), and he begins to have rather intense paranoid delusions concerning his former maths tutor, a certain Professor Moriarty (Laurence Olivier). A desperate Watson (Robert Duvall) realizes the only one way to save his friend from madness and a junkie's death is the help of Viennese alienist Sigmund Freud (Alan Arkin). But how to get him there? Holmes's brother Mycroft (Charles Gray) has a plan. Clearly, he and Watson only need to convince Holmes that Moriarty is planning some evil in Vienna, and off he'll go after him.

That plan, as it turns out, is a sound one, and once Holmes meets Freud, it doesn't even take that much effort to convince the detective he needs treatment.

Once Holmes is at least half rid of his more acute problems, Freud follows a call to a former patient, the singer Lola Deveraux (Vanessa Redgrave) whom he also helped through a cocaine addiction. To the unschooled eye, it looks as if Deveraux has had a relapse, followed by a suicide attempt. Holmes, though, quickly notices that the singer must have been held and drugged against her will and has only escaped her captors with great risk and effort.

Clearly, it's a case the reconvalescent consulting detective, his friend and Freud just have to investigate.

Herbert Ross's The Seven-Per-Cent Solution is one of the stranger examples of professional Sherlock Holmes fanfic in the movies. It's scripted by Nicholas Meyer based on his own - and much beloved - novel, but is hated by just about as many Holmes fans as love it. I think part of the loathing a certain part of Holmes fandom has for this particular film is based on the same lack of humour usually found in the more fanatical religious people  - a state of mind that is the absolute antithesis of a film that clearly loves Holmes as a character and a concept yet also is willing to make fun of him and treat him as a human being instead of a mere icon.

On the other hand, The Seven-Per-Cent-Solution really is just so very problematic as a film. For each clever nod to the Holmes canon, for each moment that wonderfully (and quite ironically) explains the mores of the time the film takes place in, for each intelligent and humane deconstruction of Holmesian basics, there's another element bound to annoy even the more mild-mannered viewer. Tonally, the film's just all over the place, jumping from comedy to adventure movie to deconstruction of a modern myth with little regard for thematic coherence; every scene's an only child, and Herbert Ross the last director in the world to be able to change that.

And I don't even need to start on the predictable and unimaginative "save the woman from the evil Austrian and the evil Muslim" mystery plot when there's also the film's curious decision to deconstruct parts of Holmes's heroism, but let the much more dubious Freud look flawless, or the script's tendency to pack every tired classic Holmes bon mot into its running time, or the horrible assortment of normally excellent actors speaking in bad accents. Robert Duvall is clearly the worst offender of them all in that respect. The combination of his ridiculously overdone stiffness and his comic opera accent not only make him a horrible caricature of a caricature of a Victorian gentlemen, but just don't work at all with Arkin's rather laid-back (but don't worry, badly accented) Freud and Nicol Williamson's intense Holmes.

On the third hand (yes, I use three hands in an argument - what of it?), this collection of flaws somehow can't keep the film from being enjoyable and entertaining, because the the film's many bad moments cannot outshine its good ones as completely as one would suspect. There's something just so right about Sherlock Holmes being treated by Sigmund Freud that it's impossible for me to actively dislike the movie.

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