Color, 1971, 91 mins. 16 secs. / 86 mins. 8 secs.
Directed by Anthony Harvey
Starring George C. Scott, Joanne Woodward, Jack Gilford, Al Lewis, Rue McClanahan
Indicator (Blu-ray) (UK RB HD), Kino Lorber (Blu-ray & DVD) (US RA/R1 HD/NTSC), Anchor Bay (DVD) (US R0 NTSC), Universal (DVD-R) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
Among the many literary figures being revived, deconstructed, and lampooned in the 1970s, a special place was reserved for Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle's beloved Baker Street sleuth who figured in the film and novel of The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, and plenty more. Then we have They Might Be Giants, the American feature debut for Oscar-nominated director Anthony Harvey (The Lion in Winter), adapted by James Goldman from his relatively obscure 1961 play and shot on location in Manhattan. Bolstered by a pair of tremendous lead performances, the film became something of a cult favorite and went on to inspire the name of the popular alternative band. Though its spirit is much in the same vein as Don Quixote, King of Hearts, Harold and Maude, etc. as a study in whimsical delusion, this one more than earns its place as a unique comedy with a strangely wistful and melancholy core.
Mostly spending time in his makeshift laboratory, former judge Justin Playfair (The Changeling's Scott) copes with the death of his wife by assuming the identity of Sherlock Holmes right down to his clothing choices. His eccentric behavior and obsession with tracking down his nemesis, Professor Moriarty, is enough for his brother to send him off to an institution where Justin ends up under the care of psychiatrist Dr. Mildred Watson (Woodward). After a few bumpy incidents, he takes her on his partner in a deduction challenge across the city that bring them closer together as they cross paths with a variety of oddball characters.
From the outset this film balances its modern urban setting with a peculiar atmosphere of gentle fantasy, with John Barry's beautiful score and Victor J. Kemper's delicate cinematography underscoring the more romantic elements that gradually emerge along the way. On top of that you get a slew of welcome character actors along the way, first with The Munsters' Al Lewis and Rue McClanahan followed by Jack Gilford, James Tolkan, F. Murray Abraham, Kitty Winn, M. Emmet Walsh, Frances Fuller, and plenty more. A former editor with multiple Stanley Kubrick films under his belt, Harvey had very bad luck on the big screen after this with films like The Abdication, Players, Eagle's Wing, and the notoriously troubled Grace Quigley, all of which struggled to find an audience to some extent.
Released theatrically in the U.S. by Universal, They Might Be Giants was shortened a bit for its U.K. release (omitting most of a raucous grocery store scene near the end) and was reportedly also prepared in another version for TV broadcast, though what we have now are the two theatrical cuts presented together for the first time on the Region B U.K. Blu-ray in 2023 from Indicator. Prior to this we had a 2000 DVD from Anchor Bay, featuring a great audio commentary with Harvey and film preservationist Robert A. Harris, plus the trailer and a promotional making-of featurette from the initial release, "Madness... It's Beautiful" (8m1s). Those were all ported over for the 2019 U.S. Blu-ray from Kino Lorber, with a no-frills DVD-R from the Universal Vault Series in between. The Indicator has all those extras well and adds on a thorough, scholarly new commentary by Barry Forshaw and Kim Newman who have fun pointing out the Sherlockiana scattered throughout the script, the history behind the play, the backgrounds of the major actors and technicians, and the film's relationship to other quirky cinematic and literary studies in madness. Newman returns on camera for "A Study in Sherlock" (26m53s) for a lively overview of Sherlock on film from the turn of the 20th century through Basil Rathbone, Jeremy Brett, Michael Caine, Ian McKellan, and Benedict Cumberbatch. A 72-image gallery is also included. Quality-wise the Blu-rays are from the same master, looking and sounding extremely similar; the Indicator has a slight edge bit rate-wise and will benefit on larger displays or projectors though. As usual, improved optional English SDH subtitles are provided for the DTS-HD MA English 1.0 mono track. The limited edition packaging comes with a 36-page booklet featuring a Chloe Walker essay, an overview of Harvey’s career (as actor, editor, and director), and sample critical responses.
Reviewed on March 30, 2023