Shout! Factory // 1976 // 113 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker // January 2nd, 2013
The game's afoot!
Quirky, affectionate, and occasionally intriguing, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution is a film that never quite takes off, but instead provides a pleasant and intelligent little interlude.
Dr. John Watson (Robert Duvall, The Conversation) is concerned about his friend, the famous detective Sherlock Holmes (Nicol Williamson, Excalibur). Holmes' cocaine addiction has gotten out of hand, and the detective seems to be having paranoid delusions about an unassuming professor, James Moriarty (Laurence Olivier, The Boys from Brazil), who tutored Holmes in mathematics when he was a boy.
So Watson concocts a scheme to get Holmes help from the one person he believes can cure the detective: young and controversial psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud (Alan Arkin, Argo).
The Seven-Per-Cent Solution -- named for the cocaine concoction that Holmes prefers (seven percent cocaine to 93 percent water) -- is an overall satisfying film, but it's awfully uneven. The performances are very good; the script is witty, literate, and true to its characters; the art direction and costumes are excellent; but somehow, even with a late-game mystery for Holmes (and Freud) to solve, the overall effect is just a tad underwhelming.
The film was adapted by Nicholas Meyer from his novel. I haven't read the novel, so I can't say if there's something deeper there that the film missed. It would seem that teaming up two great minds of insight, Freud and Holmes, might yield a fascinating, intellectual adventure, with the greatest detective and the father of psychoanalysis using their powers to unravel some kind of ingenious criminal mayhem. Alas, that's not the case.
The focus is on Holmes' cocaine addiction, which Freud cures mainly through hypnosis. There are several scenes of Holmes hallucinating and suffering through withdrawal, as well as a duel (of sorts) at an athletic club between Freud and an anti-Semitic Baron (Jeremy Kemp, A Bridge Too Far). The Baron -- and his athletic skills -- will figure into the plot later.
The "plot later," by the way, offers Vanessa Redgrave (Howards End) as a singer and former patient who was also cured of drug addiction by Freud. She turns up having relapsed, but Holmes deduces that she was, in fact, kidnapped and had drugs forced on her. Who would do such a thing to the lovely lady? And why?
Well, that's what our gentlemen must figure out during the final section of the film, which a more traditional -- if overall, slightly slack -- mystery thriller. The tonal shift will provide a welcome jolt to viewers less interested in seeing Holmes presented as a troubled addicted going through treatment, but might prove jarring to those who've enjoyed the prospect of watching Holmes outside of his element as master sleuth.
Performances are generally excellent all around, with Arkin the stand-out. Williamson's Holmes might not fit the traditional conception of the character, but the script's portrayal of him as a weak addict isn't traditional, either. Duvall is nearly unrecognizable as Watson. Redgrave and Olivier, unfortunately, have roles so small that they are little more than cameos, which is particularly unfortunate in Redgrave's case, since she adds an undeniable charm every time she is on screen.
Shout! Factory gives The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (Blu-ray) a good-looking release, with a solid transfer that's not perfect, but in better-than decent shape for a film from the '70s. There's a clean, clear audio track that does service to the dialogue as well as John Addison's lush period score. The sole supplement is a very good, recent interview with author Nicholas Meyer. There is also a DVD disc of the film.
Loved by some as a unique entry in the Holmes canon, loathed by others as a misguided bore, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution is an acquired taste. My impression: Overall favorable, and I'm glad Shout! Factory has turned out a respectable disc, but I don't know that I'll be seeking this out again any time soon.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 113 Minutes
Release Year: 1976
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* DVD Copy