I guess we’re all getting used to living in the metaverse these days, but writer Nicolas Meyer was well ahead of the curve; adapting his own novel, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution: Being a Reprint from the Reminiscences of John H. Watson, M.D. his 1976 film mixed fictional and real life characters together to ingenious effect. Meyer repeated the trick in 1979’s celebrated Time After Time, in which Jack the Ripper steals HG Wells’ time machine, but this less familiar work has plenty to amuse fans of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, as well as adherents to Sigmund Freud’s school of thought.
Holmes, played by Nicol Williamson with characteristic intensity, is an hopeless cocaine addict in this version; Dr Watson (Robert Duvall) is all for staging an intervention, and engages the help of Holmes’ nemesis, Moriarty (Laurence Olivier). This Moriarty is no master of crime; he’s a maths teacher to whom Homes has taken an irrational dislike, or so it seems. Watson arranges for Moriarty to flee to Vienna, knowing the Holmes will take the bait and head to Austria, where he was there be treated by Sigmund Freud, played with saturnine charm by Alan Arkin. Holmes recovers his bearings, but gets involved in a tricky case involving one of Freud’s patients, played by Vanessa Redgrave. Can Holmes and Freud solve the mystery, or will he relapse into a drug-addled dwam?
With an impressive cast and a lovely mock-classical score, this is a lush, lavish production from director Herbert Ross that failed to find much of an audience, but ticks the boxes in terms of detective-work; once recovered, Holmes’ deductions are vintage, and a pleasure to watch. Things escalate to a spectacular set –piece in which Holmes duels a villain atop a speeding train; there’s also a clever build-up in which Holmes, Freud and Watson have to dismantle one of the train’s carriages in transit to create more fuel for the chase; it’s a metaphor that speaks accurately to the way than an addict will repurpose anything to reach their goal with little thought about tomorrow.
The Seven-Per-cent Solution is an ingenious bagatelle of a film; Watson is probably the main character here, and there’s a brilliant bit of framing in a mirror that reveals clearly that we’re seeing this narrative from the good doctor’s POV. With witty dialogue and ideas, and never afriad to digress and show us how Freud might win an indoor tennis match, this is an untypical but still faithful view of the great detective, and well worth exhuming on its current run on imdbtv in the UK.