They Might Be Giants

They Might Be Giants. Universal 1971.

Before watching the movie:

No, it’s not about the band, but it did inspire the name. George C. Scott plays a modern-day man who believes he’s Sherlock Holmes, hence the Don Quixote reference title.

I think it’s time I admitted I have a problem where it comes to Sherlock Holmes stories, but I’m interested in seeing what George C. Scott does with the role.

If the poster image this week looks cheap and slapped together, it’s because it’s from the DVD release. I try to pick a poster version most faithful to the theatrical release, but I found that one far too nonindicative. The same could probably be said for last week’s.

After watching the movie:

Justin Playfair, retired judge devoted to fixing the world, had a nervous breakdown after the death of his wife and permanently adopted the persona of Sherlock Holmes. A year later, his brother Blevins finds himself being blackmailed, and schemes to get the payoff money by having Justin committed and taking his. The psychologist who examines him is fascinated by his case of “classic paranoia” and devotes herself to studying and hopefully healing him. Justin wants nothing to do with it, until he finds her name is Doctor (Mildred) Watson. Instead of bringing him to the institution, Mildred finds herself caught up in Justin’s delusional trail of clues which he believes will lead him to a confrontation with Moriarty, the party responsible for all the injustice in the world, and the pair develop a romance on the run from legitimate and corrupt authorities.

I’m not sure if this is a sneaky comedy or a half-formed one. The overall tone got me to the point where several scenes surprised me by making me laugh, or making me realize I’d been grinning at the events for several minutes.  When it works, it works really well, but there’s a lot of connecting tissue that (usually) has to be there to carry the plot, but slows it down enormously. This may be a holdover from the play it was adapted from. However, I don’t think the talkiness is necessarily a bad thing. There are several philosophical speeches about the nature of reality versus idealized imagination which I feel are mostly effective.

Early on in the film, I wasn’t sure if Scott’s Playfair/Holmes was supposed to be considered less insane than the other characters treat him or not. He displays fantastic observation and deduction ability, deflects sanitarium orderlies without breaking stride, and is at all times helpful and dignified. But as the story progresses, the cracks appear. His “clues” get more and more haphazard, he endangers himself and others in the pursuit of these clues, and his obsession with “Moriarty” supersedes all logic and common sense.

I was expecting a typical end. As Playfair’s madness became more dangerous, I was hoping to see Mildred temper it into a form that could be celebrated, and then he would recognize his brother as his Moriarty or something. The actual conclusion was philosophical, more disturbingly surreal than the rest of the film, and experimental. I get preoccupied with trying to figure out what “really” happened, but keep reminding myself that the reality is supposed to not be as important as what the characters believe is happening.

Watch this movie: as a modern existentialist take on Don Quixote with everyone’s favorite detective.

Don’t watch this movie: for easy answers or snappy pacing.

One thought on “They Might Be Giants

  1. Valerie March 9, 2012 / 11:03 am

    Thanks for doing this one. When i watched this one, i couldn’t really bear to watch it – think i saw it on the first TV run and was constantly fleeing the room but unable to stay gone. i appreciate the steady commentary on what it is, or might be, or that the unbalancedness of it wasn’t just me!

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