Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Seven-Percent Solution (1976)

My past review of these two TV movies, as well as this will indicate, I am a 'slight' Sherlock Holmes fan. I've read and loved the stories, I've seen all fourteen Basil Rathbone-Nigel Bruce movies, I've  watched Sherlock, waited for Sherlock, gave up on Sherlock, and have just discovered the fantastic Elementary! As for today, I'll be talking about 1976 Nicholas Myer (based on his own novel) film The Seven-Percent Solution...

The movie is about Dr Watson's concerns about his friend and colleague Sherlock Holmes, who is dangerously addicted to drugs, to the point where he's delusional, and thinking his old maths tutor Professor Moriarty is an evil criminal mastermind. Watson, with the help of Holmes' brother Mycroft, lures Holmes on a false trail to Vienna (as Watson knows that Holmes would only go to 'the continent' at this time if he thought he was following Moriarty), where addiction specialist Dr. Sigmund Freud lives.

As Holmes struggles with his addiction, and tries to find a kidnapped starlet, what repressed memory is responsible for his feverish obsession with Professor Moriarty?...

The Seven Percent Solution is not only a great Sherlock Holmes story, but it's also a well-written deconstructive take on the series, which focuses on Holmes' dependence on cocaine (present in the original Arthur Conan Doyle stories).

If you've read The Final Problem, then you'll find this movie to be extremely intelligent. You see, Professor Moriarty doesn't actually appear in The Final Problem, other than a flashback recounted by Holmes. Even the final fight between the two arch-enemies happens entirely offscreen*. And Holmes' paranoid ravings in Seven-Percent are word-for-word the same as what he says to Watson at the start of Final Problem. And come the end, the film also has a fine explanation of not only why Holmes became a detective, but also what the source of his indifference to women is.

*Wow, The Final Problem was really poorly written, wasn't it! Especially since it was meant to be the permanent conclusion to the Sherlock Holmes series. Funny how it only becomes a well-written story if you take the continuity of a movie made 90 years later into account

Nicol Williamson makes a fine Sherlock Holmes, although his voice is a bit grating at times around the start, when he's erratic, but that goes away after the first ten or so minutes. His is one of the best Holmes' portrayals out there, thanks in no small part to his portrayal of a side to the detective not often seen in iterations of Sherlock Holmes, if anywhere else at all (I'm not counting Elementary, since in that, he's already recovered from drugs).

Robert Duvall is a strange choice for the role of Dr. Watson, but he impresses, and his English accent even sounds convincing (Not that I had to tell you that. He is Robert Duvall after all!).

And Alan Arkin is definitely good as Dr. Freud. Though I imagine you'd have a hard time watching his performance here if you've seen his starring role in 1968 non-Pink Panther Pink Panther movie Inspector Clouseau.

The rest of the acting, from Charles Grey as Mycroft Holmes, to Laurence Olivier as Moriarty, is fine, although Vanessa Redgrave, who plays kidnapped starlet Lola Devereaux, isn't very good in the film's final scene. Also, I wish that particular character had gotten more screentime. It would have helped the story, and the character (especially given the movie's ending), better.

As for the characters, Dr. Watson is fine here, and Dr. Freud is an interesting addition. He's a good character and contributes to the plot.

When it comes to the story, there are some feel that the adventure/mystery storyline halfway through the movie gets in the way of the 'Holmes' drug problems' story but I don't, because not only is said adventure/mystery a lot of fun, not only would it be a bit of a downer having a whole Sherlock Holmes film be about his serious detox struggle, but I think the two halves complement each-other, and go together well. The first half is the detoxification, and the second half is the afootness of the game, and why shouldn't this story have an adventurous mystery? It is a Sherlock Holmes story after all. And anyway, the adventure does have themes of drugs, what with the former-addict Lola Devereaux and everything to do with her, and there's the fact that the mystery and adventure is part of what helps Holmes beat his own addiction.

The film does have one aspect that might be, ah, how you say, fucking stupid. Holmes trails Moriarty to Vienna by making sure he steps in vanilla, and thanks to Toby the bloodhound, he's able to track the professor's train journey all the way from London to Austria! I have no idea if that'd work, but to a layman, it sounds like bullshit. It might be possible though, who knows.

Also, at the end (this isn't really a spoiler), when Holmes is going on an extended 'vacation' to fully conquer his addiction, Watson asks what to say in his stories (the accounts of he and Holmes' cases), and Holmes says to say that he was murdered by his old maths tutor. That's really going to screw over the innocent Professor Moriarty, given how in this universe, Watson's published accounts are fact, rather than Conan Doyle's fiction!

There are a couple of near "Oh, man, I shot Marvin in the face!" moments, given how Holmes questions a suspect while training his gun close up at the crim's head, and there's one point where he's talking with Freud, and the gun's pointed at the psychoanalyst's chest. Nicol, put the prop down!

Ad the final problem is...damn green screens! The actors at one point are in a train, and you can see that there's a green screen out the window projecting the 'outside world'. Twentieth Century, they're in a train! You can actually film them on a train, because while you're too cheap to build camera contraptions to stick on the front or sides of cars (Come on, Twentieth Century, be a Man and build a goddamn camera holder, and a sturdy one too! I could easily if you just gave me twenty minutes. Because I'm a Man!), you have all the room in the world to hold a tripod when in a friggin' carriage! There are also many obvious green screen shots during the final sword fight on top of the train, which is more understandable. Hilarious, but understandable-ish.

*By the way, this post, like some others, is imageless. This can either mean two things. Either I saw said movie on video, or, as is in this case, I taped the movie on TV. Once I procure the DVD, I shall add images accordingly.*

So, to finish, I absolutely recommend The Seven-Percent Solution. I remember the first time I saw this movie. Come the end, I had a big smile on my face! It's a great romp, and a fantastic take on Sherlock Holmes!...


  1. I like the poster art! Very Art Nouveau! That style seems to have come back in the 1970s, from a few illustrations I've seen. "The story is true. Only the facts have been made up." :)

    So, you're a fan of "Elementary". I haven't watched that one. Honestly, I didn't give it a fair chance and even try watching it. The show must be popular enough, because it's been on for a while. I guess if I ever watch it, I'll have to adjust my brain to a different Sherlock and Watson. There have certainly been enough variations on those characters by now!

    Alan Arkin as Dr. Freud and Laurence Olivier as Moriarty! This movie sounds worth watching to see those two in character if nothing else.

    Hmm... I don't know if a Bloodhound could track vanilla footsteps that far. I guess Bloodhounds are really sensitive to smell and vanilla can be pretty strong... I might have to do some googling and try to find an answer to that.

  2. I sure love that tagline!

    I didn't give it a fair chance either, because the ads didn't look appealing to me. I sure regret that now! It's already better than Sherlock by default, because it has so many more episodes, but the stories, character development, etc are all so much stronger.