So having seen the recent Sherlock Holmes movie, I thought I’d take a survey through the past and look at some older Holmes movies, particularly funny ones: Without A Clue (1988) and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother (1975)
Without a Clue holds up pretty well, though the buffoonery seems a little silly. The premise of the movie is that Watson created the Holmes character to hide his own involvement in detective activities. Of course, the actor he hired to play Holmes is a doofus. And hilarity ensues. By contrast, Holmes’ Smarter Brother appears alternately stale and insane. There are some funny moments in it, and my everlasting love for Madeline Kahn (and soft spot for Gene Wilder and Marty Feldman) gave it wide latitude to be mediocre, but much of the film just doesn’t hold up.
- The difference in humor in the thirteen years is striking. In 1975, Wilder has just come off a run of very successful films, with both Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein appearing in 1974. There are pratfalls and silliness–such as Holmes falling off a roof into a rain barrel, complete with slide whistle–as well as outrageous goofy humor that only people like Dom Delouise can pull off. Without a Clue is much more reserved, with little of the humor happening in a way that could break the audience’s disbelief.
- Both films rely on Moriarty as the central bad guy. In Wilder’s film, he’s spun out past any kind of real villain to be a kind of Elmer Fudd character. Without A Clue‘s M is much more restrained, only looking silly during the final sword fight against Holmes.
- Speaking of which, both films have closing sword fights and, surprisingly, establish plausible reasons that Holmes would know much about sword fighting. (Perhaps “plausible” stretches credulity a bit for “Adventures,” since that film establishes Holmes’ sword-fighting ability through his duel with a bicycle-powered robot fencing machine.)
- Both films also reach their denouement in a theatre. The decision to take this remediated story (from literature to film) and bring it to a third presentation format seems strange to me, but compelling as well. Bravo!
- Oddly enough, though I think Without A Clue holds up as a better film, it’s not as memorable. Many of the jokes were pretty funny, but the unhinged surreality of movies in the 1970s let Wilder make gags that will stay with me, I’m sure, much longer than those from Without A Clue.
Anyhow, they’re amusing if you haven’t seen them. I would probably stay away from Adventures unless you’re a fan of 1970s comedies–it’s pretty dated. I couldn’t help but wonder if the mid-list comedies of the 2000s, like Talladega Nights, will be similarly dated and ludicrous in 2030.