TV… The Return of the World’s Greatest Detective (1976)


A Seventies Surprising Sherlock Holmes is afoot…


Sherman Holmes develops schizophrenia and believes he is Sherlock Holmes. Holmes teams up with his friend and social worker, “Doc” Watson to investigate the mysterious death of an embezzler.


The Return of the World’s Greatest Detective (1976), Maljardin


Lets go to a time just before this actor was involved in one of the biggest mystery cliffhangers of all time. With actor Larry Hagman signed up for an intended pilot episode for a TV series in a full length TV Movie. This the mystery comedy movie The Return of the World’s Greatest Detective (1976), which was a flop. In retrospect, Hagman as the leading star of this TV Movie must have been relieved about this. With him just two years later signing up for his most famous role as J.R. Ewing in TV’s Dallas (1978-91).

This now stand alone movie, 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. With this TV Movie was intended to be the starting point for a then 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. With his work motorcycle constantly falling over, being stolen and other incompetent actions, 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. Nicknamed Doc (Jenny O’ Hara) by her colleagues. After several mishaps at work, Holmes is reallocated to a job with less duties. This to his joy, with him having more time to read on the exploits of his favourite detective, Sherlock Holmes. Reading his prized book on this detective, Holmes motorcycle falls on his head with him sustaining 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 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 now replaced with a terribly omnipresent English accent. Holmes is discharged from a hospital under the care, of Doc Watson who believes he needs a friendly face to support him.

With him now having additionally developed strong deductive powers, Holmes seems to have taken on more than this detective’s identity. With Holmes believing that Moriarty was behind his recent compulsory, hospital stay. On discharge, Watson finds him accommodation at 221b, Baker Street with her 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 persons identity, but the other man’s death seen through the eyes of his killer, this death made out to be an accident. With this “accident” reported in a newspaper article. This read about by Holmes, who convinces Watson its 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 reported to the then sceptical Lt Nick Tinker (Nicholas Colasanto) and the case is on after he convinces him. 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). Telling of a man retreating into also believing he was Sherlock Holmes – but after his wife’s death. But in this storyline, the social worker a psychiatrist and the pair going after Moriarty.  On seeing the trailer I remember this familiar film one I watched way back, and enjoyed Scott’s portrayal of Holmes.

The TV pilot was an interesting premise, but the movie 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. Which made me wish this the Watson, he’d team up with, rather than the more annoying female sidekick.

Hagman appeared to revel in his role, and this 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, with 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 been steadily in work since then.  However there was sadly a lack of chemistry with O’Hara. Or perhaps I’m just biased towards his later on-screen relationship with the actress who played his on-off screen wife, Linda Gray in Dallas. Here O’Hara felt very much in Hagman’s shadow, and her character developing 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 with her reinforcing his thoughts, and even neglecting other people in her caseload to assist him in solving the case. Luckily there was a in film character reminding her of this. But his pleas fell on deaf ears.

With a similar plot to Shutter Island (2010), Watson as the social worker reinforced her patients delusions and reality by reinforcing his thoughts of being Sherlock Holmes. The ethics of this was mentioned in the storyline from 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 case load. 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 this series not made with this more palatable if it had been due to other causes. As it appears, it is only with more recent research, that supporting this may happen. With Watson, also getting others to take part with this charade including her colleagues as part of his “therapy”. These scenes then answered by thoughts on how things would have been set up on Shutter Island. It would have been interesting to see how this part of the storyline would have progressed had it been made into a series.

However the pluses of this film included the opening eerie film score and scenes, some inventive camera shots as the movie progressed and Hagman’s charismatic, fun performance throughout. Finally you don’t have to be a detective to remember, Hagman involved in one of the biggest TV mysteries of 1980s. As in his role as that Ewing you loved to hate in Dallas, it was a case of who shot J.R.?

Weeper Rating:  0 /10

Handsqueeze Rating:   🙂 🙂 🙂 /10

Hulk Rating: ‎mrgreen  ‎mrgreen ‎mrgreen ‎mrgreen/10

Bonus Trailer: Yes.


Return of the World’s Greatest Detective 1976 TVM promo, ModCinema


The Mystery Mania Blogathon 2019, No 16

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, the Christmas tag post on the 12 Days of Dallas, the final episode Conundrum and confessing my love for JR Ewing. He also stars in my post on 80s Crushes and in the review of the Dallas original series. He also appears in my review of McMillan. And of course Hagman was the inspiration for the Darlin Dallas blogathon.  Ron Silver in Romancing the Stone and McMillan and Wife.

13 thoughts on “TV… The Return of the World’s Greatest Detective (1976)

  1. I saw it about a year ago and don’t remember it much. I definitely got the impression that it was a failed pilot. At the time, I wasn’t surprised that the pilot failed. I thought it was pretty weak.

    Liked by 1 person

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