By Richard Winters
My Rating: 4 out of 10
4-Word Review: He thinks he’s Holmes.
After the death of his wife Justin Playfair (George C. Scott) starts to think he is Sherlock Holmes and begins playing the part by smoking a pipe, wearing a deerstalker cap and playing a violin. His brother Blevins (Lester Rawlins) feels he needs to be institutionalized and hires a psychiatrist named Dr. Watson (Joanne Woodward) to analyze him. Watson finds Justin’s fantasy role-playing to be intriguing and reluctantly begins following him around on his fanciful jaunts to find clues from the evil Professor Moriarty and eventually the two begin a quirky romance.
The film, based on a play written by James Goldman, starts out with some potential. The musical score by John Barry has an interesting ominous quality to it. The idea of pitting the practical minded Dr. against the fanciful Playfair is initially engaging. Watching Woodward getting more and more exacerbated by Scott’s constant whims of fancy and refusal to ever to see reality is funny and lightly satirical. The film though drops off terribly when Watson loses all judgment and falls in love with the man despite the knowledge that he is clearly mentally ill. Watching the two frolic through New York City searching for meaningless clues to a mystery that doesn’t really exist makes the film pointless as well as losing all tension, momentum and plot. Having her fall in love with him at the very end might have worked, but having this otherwise sensible and intelligent woman get sucked into Playfair’s fantasy world so quickly is jarring and unbelievable. What is worse is that initially Playfair seems to be working on a real case and there is even a scene where he gets shot at, but then this side-story is frustratingly dropped without any explanation or conclusion.
Scott is in top form and this is an interesting follow-up to his Patton role that he did just before this. Woodward though steals it. She has never done much comedy in her career, but proves to be quite adept to it here. One of the funniest scenes has her trying feebly to cook a meal for Playfair in her cramped apartment despite having no skill at it.
Anthony Harvey’s direction is okay. I liked the way he captures the downtown streets of Manhattan during the rain. However, the film’s most interesting segment takes place in an all-night grocery store where over a loudspeaker are announcements of great sales and deals despite the fact that there are no customers. Eventually a police chase takes place inside there, which ends up being genuinely amusing on a silly level.
The vague wide-open ending cements this as being a complete waste of time and makes the whole thing a big build up to nothing. I realize that this is intended to be whimsical, but even then there needs to be some grounding and this film has none.
My Rating: 4 out of 10
Released: June 9, 1971
Runtime: 1Hour 38Minutes
Director: Anthony Harvey
Available: VHS, DVD, Netflix streaming