Without A Clue (1988) Review

Realweegiemidget Reviews are celebrating Michael Caine’s 85th birthday with a Marvellous Michael Caine Blogathon and I’ve used it as an excuse to revisit one of my favourite comfort movies: “Without A Clue”

Dr John Watson (Ben Kingsley) uses his keen analytical mind and powers of observation to solve crimes but, seeking not to jeopardize his chances of landing a job at a prestigious hospital, he invents the figure of Sherlock Holmes to take the credit. But when public demand grows for Holmes to appear in the flesh, Watson hires unemployed actor Reginald Kincaid (Michael Caine) to play the part.

There’s a delightfully gentle elegance to “Without A Clue” and despite its comedic twist it takes great pains to be authentically Sherlockian and keeping with the period. It helps that the two screenwriters, Gary Murphy and Larry Strawther are devoted Sherlockians, steeped in the lore of the greatest fictional detective of all time. The twist of reversing the roles and placing Watson at the cutting investigative edge is a marvellous conceit, allowing the film to have tremendous fun subverting the stereotypes and simultaneously archly commenting of the real life struggles of author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to escape and move beyond his most famous literary creation.

Kinglsey cuts a dashing, debonair figure as Dr Watson, the would-be ‘Crime Doctor’ and its thanks to his warm and impish chemistry with Caine that the film succeeds so spectacularly. Caine gets the lion’s share of the larks, clearly having the time of his life hamming it up as the wannabe raconteur and master thespian and the ease at which Caine manages to play the dual role within a role is a testament to how skilled and often underrated an actor he is.

The supporting cast is fun too, with Jeffrey Jones as Lestrade, Lysette Anthony Leslie Giles and Paul Freeman (“Raiders Of The Lost Ark”) as a wonderfully Puckish Professor Moriarty. There are plenty of nods to the official Holmes canon but the film’s secret weapon is that the plot itself, while played for comedy as expertly as Holmes himself bows his violin, feels like a genuine ‘lost’ Conan Doyle adventure and would work terrifically as a straight Sherlock Holmes adventure.

Sadly, this was their one and only outing as Holmes and Watson, but Caine and Kingsley are so good you wish this had been the start of a long franchise. Happy Birthday, Sir Michael – and thank you for “Without A Clue”.

8/10 

 

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