Unsung Classics

Unsung Classics 4: They Might Be Giants (1971)

This is a film that really moves me like no other. In this, the lonely find companionship, the unloved find soulmates, the damaged find healing and individuality is allowed a chance to shine.

This is a film about what it means to be different. The characters individual natures and quirky behaviour set them apart from the so called norm, and in some cases this leads to the rest of society classing them as mad or dangerous.

Who is worse though? A man believing himself to be Holmes, or Rudolph Valentino? Or  someone who seems to take great pleasure in locking up people and threatening anyone who doesn’t do as they are told? As long as nobody is hurting anyone else, why do we all have to conform? Be yourself and just try and cope with the uncontrollable force that is life.

Plus, as the funny, but deeply frustrating telephone exchange scene demonstrates, there is plenty of madness affecting the so called normal members of society.

Justin Playfair(George C. Scott)is a judge who retreats into the persona of Sherlock Holmes, after his beloved wife dies. Playfair believes he is Holmes, he has the detectives coldness and famed deduction and observation skills; yet retains Playfair’s obsession with stopping and punishing the evil people of the world.

Psychiatrist Mildred Watson(Joanne Woodward) is hired by Playfair’s brother to assess Justin, and if she deems it necessary insist he is committed to a mental hospital. At first Mildred sees him only as a sick man, but soon she gets caught up in his delusions. Holmes/Playfair believes that Moriarty is behind all the evil things happening in New York, from murder to injustice. The detective and the doctor set out to try and locate Moriarty(if indeed he even exists.)

Watson becomes as much of a friend to Holmes/Playfair, as John Watson was to the Holmes in Doyle’s stories. Both Holmes/Playfair and Watson are lonely and damaged in some way, yet each helps the other and finds salvation in their growing bond. Their growing romance is sweet to watch and the date night at Watson’s apartment is  touching, awkward, funny and sweet.

John Barry’s accompanying score is one of his very best. The music really touches your soul and fits the story perfectly.

George C. Scott is at his very best in the duel role of damaged patient and analytical detective. There are moments where he lets us catch a glimpse of Justin, and then the mask of Holmes descends once again as protection from the world.

Joanne Woodward is both funny and moving as the woman of reason drawn into a delusion, and possibly experiencing a break with reality herself.

My favourite scenes are the following. Holmes/Playfair correctly deducing about Watson’s life, the Rudolph Valentino scene, Holmes/Playfair teaching Watson how to walk like a detective, the elusive pimpernel scene between Holmes/Playfair and Peabody(Jack Gilford), Watson leaving and Holmes/Playfair mentioning that she went away in stockened feet, the “Mr. Rathbone” scene, and the hysterical cinema outing (especially when Watson says “good grief, I think they’re growing mushrooms!”)  🙂

Part human tragedy, and part comic look at the craziness that is life and humanity; They Might Be Giants is a very different kind of film than most.

Featuring memorable performances, and an ending that can be seen in two ways and should lead to much discussion(just what is that light? Train lights? Moriarty actually appearing? Police torches?)

This is one that has long had a place in my heart. If you like Sherlock Holmes then do check this out. If you believe in individuality, then this is a film for you too.

I’ve always thought this plot would make a good series set in the modern day. Each week have Watson trying to help Playfair, and the pair also getting caught up in the real cases brought to Holmes/Playfair’s door through people hearing of his incredible deductive/detective skills. The bond between Watson and Holmes grows, but maybe Watson comes to realise that it would be more harmful to actually make Playfair return to himself.

As ever, please share your thoughts below.

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6 thoughts on “Unsung Classics 4: They Might Be Giants (1971)”

  1. This sounds like another one that I need to track down. The themes that you mention in your first paragraph remind me of another movie that came out at roughly the same time, “Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon”, although that movie doesn’t have the whimsy and comedy that “Giants” appears to have…

    Liked by 1 person

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