It’s hard to believe that Nicholas Meyer’s The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, which ignited the Sherlock Holmes boom of the 1970s, is 45 years old. And for me, it’s even more astonishing that I waited until this past weekend to see the film version that followed just two years later.
What a great movie! The script is tightly-plotted, action-packed, suspenseful, occasionally funny, and always fun. The acting is superb.
I’ve always had a problem enjoying Holmes pastiches that stray too far from Canonical orthodoxy. The Seven-Per-Cent Solution is the apex of that. It tells us that Moriarty wasn’t the Napoleon of Crime except in Holmes’s drug addled mind – and for reasons that it very appropriately took Sigmund Freud to unearth from the depths of the sleuth’s unconscious.
So maybe that’s why I didn’t see the film in 1976. Or maybe Ann and I were just too busy with our first-born child, who arrived that year. But on Saturday, Seven-Per-Cent was the centerpiece of the annual film festival put on by the Illustrious Clients of Indianapolis. It was a great day.
Nicol Williamson is brilliant as the suffering Holmes, despite not looking the part. Alan is a convincing Sigmund Freud. Robert Duvall, fresh off his role in the first two Godfather movies, is surprisingly adequate as the controversial choice to play Watson. Baker Street Miscellanea originally reported that Orson Welles was cast as Myrcroft, but Charles Gray plays the role so well in this film that he later reprised it opposite Jeremy Brett in the Granada series.
But my favorite performance in Seven-Per-Cent is the legendary Laurence Olivier as Professor Moriarty. He looks the part as if he has just stepped off the pages of a Paget illustration. Of course, his Moriarty isn’t the crime lord but the (relatively) innocent former tutor of the Holmes brothers, which he portrays to perfection.
There is much more to be said about this landmark book and movie, and Steven T. Doyle says it all in his wonderful monograph “Together Again for the First Time: Forty Years of The Seven Percent Solution.” It was the Baker Street Journal Christmas Annual of 2015. If you don’t have a copy, try to get one.
Nicholas Meyer, a long-distance member of the Clients, will be visiting the club in October as part of the tour for his new Holmes novel.