A seventies surprising Sherlock Holmes is afoot…
A man believes he is Sherlock Holmes and then teams up with his friend and social worker, “Doc” Watson to investigate a possible murder.
The Return of the World’s Greatest Detective (1976), Maljardin and photos © NBC
Let’s go to a time just before this actor was involved in one of the biggest mystery cliffhangers of all time. To a time when actor Larry Hagman signed up for a pilot episode for a TV series in a full-length TV Movie. This was the mystery-comedy movie The Return of the World’s Greatest Detective (1976).
This pilot was a flop, but with Hagman heading the cast I figured I would give it a chance to redeem itself. In retrospect, Hagman as the leading star of this TV Movie must have been relieved about this disappointment. As just two years later Hagman signed up for his most famous role as J.R. Ewing in TV’s Dallas (1978-91).
This TV pilot is now a stand-alone movie, which gives author Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes one of his most alternative storylines. However, this potential storyline for a series seems more than a bit unethical. This TV Movie was intended to be the starting point for a possible crime comedy series called Alias Sherlock Holmes.
The film tells of an accident prone L.A. cop, Sherman Holmes (Larry Hagman). Holmes is obviously not cut out for his chosen career. As his work motorcycle constantly falls over, is stolen and he seems more than incompetent, he’s more than a bit of a liability. Sherman Holmes is seen as the bain of everyone’s lives in the police department.
This with the exception of his well-meaning friendly social worker colleague, Joan Watson. She’s nicknamed Doc (Jenny O’ Hara) by her colleagues. After several mishaps at work, Holmes is reallocated to a job with fewer duties.
This to his joy, with him having more time to read about the exploits of his favourite detective, Sherlock Holmes. As he reads his prized book on this detective, Holmes motorcycle falls on his head and he sustains a brain injury.
On coming round, Holmes develops schizophrenia. Holmes is deluded and thinks he is the fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes. With him believing this thought so intensely he speaks like his idol, wears an Inverness cape and Deerstalker hat and smokes a pipe like this fictional character.
Hagman’s Texan drawl is now replaced with a terrible omnipresent English accent. “Holmes” has additionally developed strong deductive powers. Holmes is discharged from a hospital under the care of Doc Watson, who believes he needs a friendly face to support him.
It appears he has taken on more than this detective’s identity and Holmes believes that Moriarty was behind his recent compulsory, hospital stay. On discharge, Watson finds him accommodation at 221b, Baker Street with Doc Watson even convincing his landlady to call herself Mrs Hudson.
Meanwhile, there’s skullduggery afoot with a man met by a mysterious person. We don’t see this mysterious person’s identity, but the other man’s death seen is through the eyes of his killer. This death was made out to be an accident and was reported in a newspaper article. This is read about by Holmes, who convinces Watson it’s a murder after he reflects on the accompanying photograph.
With Holmes and Watson visiting the garage and using his powers of deduction, Holmes collects evidence. His thoughts are reported to the then sceptical Lt Nick Tinker (Nicholas Colasanto) and the case is on. This is after he convinces him of his beliefs. But Tinker has other matters to deal with a series of smoke bombs reported …
This film was loosely based on a George C Scott and Joanne Woodward movie with a similar story, They Might be Giants (1971). This film tells of a man retreating into a mental health problem and also believing he was Sherlock Holmes – but after his wife’s death.
But in this storyline, the social worker is replaced by a psychiatrist and the pair go after Moriarty. On seeing the trailer I remember this familiar film I watched way back and had enjoyed Scott’s portrayal of Holmes.
The TV pilot was an interesting premise, but the movie is mainly carried by Hagman’s Holmes interpretation. However with his at best, terribly English accent he makes Keanu Reeves’ much slated English accent from Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) look good.
Also worth watching was Hagman’s on-screen relationship and rapport with Colasanto. This rapport made me wish this character was the Watson, he’d team up with, rather than the more annoying female sidekick.
Hagman appeared to revel in his role, and this is supported in his autobiography with Todd Gold, Hello Darlin, Tall (and Completely true) Tales About my Life. Hagman tells how this film was intended for a weekly series “but it didn’t go”, Reporting he
“put a lot of creativity and energy into that project, and it took a while before the disappointment faded”.
However, this series’ failure was fortuitous for him with him offered and taking more prestigious parts. This, as he won small roles in The Eagle Has Landed (1976) and Superman (1978) and of course Dallas. Colasanto of course would go on to take a role in Cheers (1982-93) as Coach. O’Hara also has also been steadily in work since then. However, in this show, I felt that both actors had a lack of chemistry with O’Hara.
Perhaps I’m just biased towards his later more obvious on-screen rapport with Linda Gray. This is the actress who played his on-off screen wife in Dallas. Here O’Hara felt very much in Hagman’s shadow, and her character developed more than an unhealthy liking for her one-time colleague.
I found the Social Worker, Watson’s involvement in his case bewildering, due to my previous role as a mental health professional. With her apparently buying items to support Holmes’ new reality. Also, she reinforces his thoughts, and even neglects other people in her caseload to assist him in solving the case. Luckily there was an in-film character reminding her of this unprofessional behaviour. But his pleas fell on deaf ears.
With a similar plot to Shutter Island (2010), Watson as the social worker reinforced her patient’s delusions and reality by reinforcing his thoughts of being Sherlock Holmes. The ethics of this was mentioned in the storyline by her colleague with her.
It was additionally surprising she was allocated his case in the first place, and to have her one time colleague and friend on her caseload. Almost as a comment to stress the show’s writer was aware of this, this was initially seen as a good thing. But later, her colleague warned her of her developing intimacy with him.
I’d like to think it was possibly for the mental health slant to this story that this series was not made. This part of the story may have been more palatable if it had been due to other causes. Watson also gets others to take part in this charade including her colleagues as part of his “therapy”.
These scenes however answered my thoughts on how things would have been set up on Shutter Island. But would have been interesting to see how this part of the storyline would have progressed had this pilot been made into a series.
However, the pluses of this film included the opening eerie film score and the set up of some scenes. These with some inventive camera shots. I enjoyed Hagman’s charismatic, fun performance throughout.
Finally, you don’t have to be a detective to remember, that Hagman was involved in one of the biggest TV mysteries of the 1980s. As in his role as that Ewing you loved to hate in Dallas, it was a case of counting the suspects in the mystery of who shot J.R.?
Weeper Rating: 0 /10
Handsqueeze Rating: 🙂 🙂 🙂 /10
This film was added to Pop Culture Reverie’s The Mystery Mania Blogathon. Other reviews with this cast include Larry Hagman in my post on Dallas, 12 Days of Dallas, the final episode Conundrum and confessing my love for JR Ewing. He also stars as one of my 80s Crushes and in McMillan. Ron Silver in Romancing the Stone and McMillan and Wife. Nicholas Colasanto stars in Family Plot.