There is no shortage of movies about Sherlock Holmes. I'm sure there are famous fictional characters who have been portrayed more times on screen, but at the moment I'm hard pressed to think of one; as of this writing, there are around 50 feature films based on the exploits of the world's greatest detective. I have seen a handful -- less than half, I'm sure -- and it seems like the ones I enjoy most are those that defy our expectations or which attempt to subvert the legend. They're movies like Billy Wilder's famously compromised The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, or the Nicholas Meyer-penned The Seven Percent Solution or the 1988 comedy Without a Clue, newly available on Blu-ray from Olive Films.
Michael Caine plays the great Sherlock Holmes and Ben Kingsley his faithful assistant Watson, this time working on a case that involves stolen bank note printing plates that threaten to destroy the entirety of the British economy. The radical idea introduced by Without a Clue is that Watson is the true crime solving genius; he created Holmes as a character he would write about to solve mysteries during his days studying to become a doctor. When the public kept asking to see Holmes in person, Watson hired actor Reginald Kinkaid (Caine), a drunk and an egomaniac, to play the part. After years of watching Kinkaid/Holmes get all the credit for Watson's brilliance -- and more than a bit fed up with Kincaid's antics -- Watson is ready to call it quits and go his own way. And with that, the stage is set for the pair's greatest adventure yet...
What I didn't realize back then -- and wouldn't until years later -- is that Without a Clue was directed by the great Thom Eberhardt. It shouldn't surprise me, as he has a knack for subverting and deconstructing pop genres. The Night Before pulls the rug out from under the '80s teen movie by making a comedy about high schoolers going to the prom but which never shows the prom, turns the most popular girl into a prostitute and makes its hero unable to remember anything that happened. Night of the Comet, a movie for which I have professed undying love, subverts the teen movie, the zombie movie, the post-apocalyptic thriller -- you name it. Without a Clue continues that tradition of working in a familiar, well-established genre but finding ways to upend our expectations.
Sherlock Holmes from a few years back. That's a movie without a mystery.
Without a Clue has just enough of a mystery to keep us hooked, but that's not really where the movie's interests lie. It's more of a character piece about a faker learning to becoming that which he is faking and a writer who must learn that giving life to his fictions means ceding control of them. It is, in some ways, a movie about filmmaking itself -- about creating, in the words of Christine Baranski in Bowfinger, a "beautiful lie." Without a Clue isn't looking to take the piss out of Sherlock Holmes; on the contrary, it loves the character. It's merely providing an alternate take on one of the most famous characters in all of literature, breathing new life into him in the process. Here's hoping the new DVD and Blu-ray release helps people rediscover this movie.
DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (English)
Bonus Features: Trailer
Buy Without a Clue from Olive Films here