Category Archives: laurence olivier
The Seven-Per-Cent Solution ~ Combining two themes I’ve been writing about here and elsewhere this year, I look at a Sherlock Holmes movie from the 1970s. Having never seen this one before, all I remember of hearing about it was the much ado about Holmes’ drug use. That’s not that big a deal however as it’s from the books, and therefore canon.
The film sets its tone immediately with the opening credits, which reminded me unfortunately of those of Monty Python and the Holy Grail from the year before. This was to be a comedy then. The story purports that Moriarty’s evil was a drug induced paranoid delusion of the detective’s, and that he needed the help of Sigmund Freud to get well. In hypnosis sessions, the ‘true’ origins of Sherlock Holmes are revealed.
The cast is filled with major star power including Robert Duvall as Watson with an impossible English accent. Alan Arkin as Freud, the underrated Charles Gray as Mycroft (a role he would play again in the PBS Jeremy Brett Holmes series), and Nicol Williamson as the simpering, almost imbecilic Holmes are all brilliant, and that’s not even mentioning Sir Lawrence Olivier as the maligned Prof. Moriarty. It’s not the way I want to see my Holmes, but there’s no denying the great performance.
The film is based on the first of three Sherlock Holmes books by author and director Nicholas Meyer, who also received an Oscar nom for the screenplay. He is obviously a huge Holmes fan, and all three of the books were designed to fill in the blanks of the detective’s life, as well as dismiss some of the canon he felt didn’t quite fit. Sadly, the later included Moriarty.
The Seven-Per-Cent Solution is a beautifully shot, wickedly performed, and well designed mystery adventure, well worth watching, but it’s not the kind of Sherlock Holmes story I want to see. I guess, in the end, I’m a traditionalist.
Marathon Man ~ This is actually, just by weird coincidence, my second John Schlesinger and Dustin Hoffman movie this week. Like Midnight Cowboy, Marathon Man is an interesting time capsule that maybe doesn’t hold up as well. Midnight Cowboy still holds its own as representative of its era while Marathon Man comes off lacking its initial impact and in fact feeling dated. It’s the 1970s, but it’s not as timeless and is showing its creaks and groans.
Based on the book by William Goldman, who also wrote the screenplay, this tale of runaway Nazi dentists, smuggled diamonds, and the slacker graduate student caught in the middle just isn’t as hard hitting as it was in 1976. Roy Scheider, the king of the seventies, has little to do, while Hoffman does a bad naive Benjamin Braddock imitation throughout, and William DeVane’s best bit is when he recites the plot aloud in super speed. Scheider is wasted because the screen feels so empty when he’s not there, and it similarly feels that that is the only times the direction appears skilled and careful.
The grueling scenes of torture between Hoffman and Laurence Olivier, what the film is remembered chiefly for these days, are all that still stand up. These scenes are horrifying. I often have conversations with folks who won’t watch horror but do watch things like this. I don’t get it, I really don’t. Olivier as a Nazi scares the crap outta me, yet I laugh at Freddy Krueger. And the Nazis were/are real. It’s the real monsters that scare me. The scariest movie I ever saw was The Incident, about two hoods terrorizing a subway car full of innocents. No boogieman there. I just don’t get it.
Marathon Man is a good thriller for its time, just don’t see it before a dentist appointment.