Monday, February 15, 2021

BELLY LAUGHS: Without a Clue, 1988

 

"With apologies to the late Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson."

Above is the final credit to the 1988 comedy Without a Clue. The Holmes character has withstood countless spoofs and homages over the years. The disclaimer here is cute but not seriously necessary for this engaging take on those residents of 221B Baker Street. 

Dr. Watson and Mrs. Hudson throw the blighter out!
Ben Kingsley, Pat Keen

The screenplay by television writers/producers Gary Murphy (Night Court, Malcolm in the Middle) and Larry Strawther (Night Court) is their only big-screen effort - quality over quantity. The premise is that the clever Dr. John Watson provided a case-solving clue to a Scotland Yard patient but in order to be taken seriously claimed he was passing on information from a clever private consulting detective called Sherlock Holmes. The Holmes reputation snowballed, thanks in large part to Watson's Strand magazine stories. Public demand for a "real" Holmes grew to such an extent that Watson hired actor Reginald Kincaid to play the character.

The blighter!
Michael Caine

Ben Kingsley is the precise and natty Dr. John Watson whose considerable ego and pride in his detecting abilities are forced to take a back seat to the Holmesian monster he has created. His casting in the matter of the front for the firm leaves a few aspects to be desired. Kincaid is a drunkard, a womanizer, and an idiot. Michael Caine is the profligate Kincaid who basks in the publicity and adulation. A more felicitous teaming of actors for these roles is difficult to imagine. 

Wiggins on the job.
Matthew Savage

Mrs. Hudson played by Pat Keen (see The Baker Street Boys) is well aware of the truth of the situation under her roof and is squarely behind Dr. Watson. The Baker Street Irregulars led by Matthew Savage as Wiggins also treat Holmes with disdain. 

Strand editor Greenhough played by Peter Cook (see The Hound of the Baskervilles) is brought in on the deception but is not amenable to Watson's plan to kill off the troublesome Holmes. After all, Holmes is not troublesome to the coffers of the Strand.

Scotland Yard reluctantly comes calling.
Nigel Davenport, Jeffrey Jones, Ben Kingsley

Jeffrey Jones is a jealous and quick-to-jump-to-the-wrong-conclusion Inspector Lestrade. Nigel Davenport is Lord Smithwick, Chancellor of the Exchequer. The peer brings our inharmonious duo to the missing link in their current investigation. Queen Victoria herself wishes Holmes to assist in the case of stolen five-pound note plates and a kidnapped engraver. The fate of the Empire is at stake!

The criminal mastermind
Paul Freeman

The progression of the case leads to the not-so-startling fact that the man behind it all is Professor Moriarity played by Paul Freeman with nonchalant villainy. Moriarty is also in on the facts behind the Holmes and Watson partnership. Moriarty does not take Watson's genius for granted. 

A damsel in distress?
Lysette Anthony

Do we need a femme fatale? The girl-pinching souse Reg Kincaid certainly thinks so. Dr. Watson is equally quick to protect the daughter of the kidnapped engraver. There is some issue with the daughter. Does it have something to do with Professor Moriarty or is it something else entirely? Lysette Anthony as Lesley Giles makes herself home at Baker Street. 

Without a Clue is a colourful journey through Sherlock Holmes lore; from Baker Street to the Lake District to the docks of the Thames to the abandoned theatre which was the ignominious end of Reg Kincaid's theatrical career and conversely his greatest triumph. The cinematography by Alan Hume (Shirley Valentine) has a unique charm. The costume design by Judy Moorcroft (A Passage to India) is absolutely gorgeous, as well as era and character appropriate.

Case closed.
Michael Caine, Ben Kingsley

Henry Mancini supports the comedy and the characters of Without a Clue with a delightfully light score, his second in the Baker Street milieu having backed Disney's The Great Mouse Detective with its endearing music in 1986.

Without a Clue is filled with delightfully clever lines delivered skilfully by our two leading men in particular. The situations, ripe for double takes and hilarious slapstick are also carried off with great poise. Our familiarity with the characters (100 years old at the time of the movie) lends itself immediately to a spoof, but such a spoof must be good-hearted and fulfill its mandate to amuse. Mission accomplished and movie highly recommended.



Regarding my recommendation: Back in 1988 I talked up Without a Clue to co-workers. Later a woman complained, "The way you talked I thought it was something special, but it was just funny."












26 comments:

  1. “It was just funny.” Great story and a nice little coda to this post.

    I saw this once, long ago in my video store days. From what I remember, it was pretty good, though at the time I knew very little about the Holmes lore—not that I know so much more now.

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    1. A Holmes story on a chilly winter's day is a great escape, and if you combine it with laughs, you've got the cure for the pandemic blues. Some people underestimate laughter and the joy in being downright silly. I can't imagine how they get along.

      Hope your writing is progressing to your liking. Keep up the good work.



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  2. PETER COOK! I remember him from the short-lived comedy THE TWO OF US with MIMI KENNEDY and DANA HILL as her daughter. It aired on CBS (1981-82). Mimi played a TV host and Peter played her housekeeper. I am a fan of Mimi's. Did you see the TV-Movie from CBS titled ONCE YOU MEET A STRANGER with JACQUELINE BISSET and THERESA RUSSELL? It was a remake of STRANGERS ON A TRAIN. Mimi played an inebriated train passenger. CELESTE HOLM was also in it.

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    1. Funny you should mention Mimi Kennedy. My husband watches "Mom" and I caught a look at her and it was like seeing someone you used to work with and struggle to come up with the name.

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    2. Did you see THE TWO OF US and/or ONCE YOU MEET A STRANGER? I know Mimi was in DHARMA AND GREG and HOMEFRONT but I didn't watch those shows. I think you may have mentioned HOMEFRONT once.

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    3. Homefront didn't run for a long time, but it was the only one of those shows mentioned that I watched.

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  3. WITHOUT A CLUE is a delightful, witty comedy. I love the premise, but to the writers' credit, it's not just a "high concept film." Instead, it features sharp dialogue, an entertaining plot, and--most importantly--two marvelous actors who play off each extremely well. I watch it whenever it's on, but, sadly, isn't often enough.

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    1. True. It is not on often enough. It should be one of everybody's favourite comedies. Along with Galaxy Quest. Belly laughs galore.

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  4. I remember this as a very funny film, with a great vaudevillian turn by Michael Caine, who really has a flair for comedy. I'm convinced that Sir Michael can do anything as an actor! It's one of those movies you kinda wish they could have done a sequel.

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    1. I suppose getting two fellows like Caine and Kingsley together for a sequel was logistically impossible, but I know I held out hope for a while. I'm glad to have one very funny movie.

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  5. Strangely, some people just don't seem to get this film. Their loss!

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  6. When I think of comedy movies two of the names that come to mind are DORIS DAY and THELMA RITTER. They were in two movies together-PILLOW TALK and MOVE OVER, DARLING. JAMES GARNER was in MOVE OVER, DARLING and THE THRILL OF IT ALL. Doris Day received the CECIL B. DEMILLE AWARD from the GOLDEN Globes in 1989. She had earlier been a WORLD FILM FAVORITE. THE THRILL OF IT ALL was directed by NORMAN JEWISON who is 94! He is one of your fellow Canadians!

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    1. We're very proud of our Norman Jewison. He directed an eclectic group of quality movies.

      It must have been a thrill for writers to hear their lines spoken by Thelma Ritter. Like co-star Doris, she excelled at drama and comedy.

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  7. As you know PILLOW TALK and MOVE OVER, DARLING were directed by MICHAEL GORDON. You mentioned once that JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT is his grandson. Joseph has a milestone birthday today. He is 40! P.S. I'm sure you like the fashions in most of DORIS DAY's movies. Her comedy movies were fun to watch! The fashion was a bonus.

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    1. Pillow Talk's designer was Bill Thomas, a 9-time Oscar nominee with a win for Spartacus.

      Move Over, Darling's designer was Moss Mabry, a 4-time Oscar nominee with his final nod for The Way We Were.

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  8. MARILYN MONROE is another actress that was good at comedy and drama. I really like Marilyn in BUS STOP with DON MURRAY, ARTHUR O'CONNELL, HOPE LANGE and BETTY FIELD. Marilyn was also funny in GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES as was JANE RUSSELL. The costumes in that movie were very pretty and colorful!

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    1. The great Travilla was the designer for both Bus Stop and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. All together, he dressed Monroe for eight movies at Twentieth Century Fox.

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  9. I have only seen this once, and even then, I only saw part of it because I was pregnant and jet-lagged, and I fell asleep about halfway through it. BUT I acquired a DVD copy recently, so I will be able to watch the whole thing at last! What I do remember seeing, I did like, though ;-)

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    1. Pregnancy! They don't tell you the tiredness is preparing you for the sleep deprivation.

      Enjoy the movie. As you can tell, I think it is a lot of fun.

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  10. One of the movies that TRAVILLA did the fashions for was DREAMBOAT, a cute movie that you like(with GINGER ROGERS and CLIFTON WEBB). He also designed costumes for JUNE HAVER and DAN DAILEY. Travilla has over 100 credits on imdb. He was a busy-and talented-fellow!

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    1. Indeed he was. Travilla repurposed Ginger's golden gown in Dreamboat for Marilyn in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Waste not, want not.

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  11. Today ELIZABETH MACRAE turns 85! She is best known for her role on GOMER PYLE, USMC. She played GOMER's girlfriend LOU ANN POOVIE. She was good in the part and I think JIM NABORS and Elizabeth made a good team. She later did some soap opera roles but I didn't see any of them. Elizabeth did an ep of THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW-not as Lou Ann but as a character named BETTY. It was about HOWARD SPRAGUE who was to help a teenage boy with his homework and becomes interested in the boy's sister Betty. ANDY was set in NORTH CAROLINA and MISS MACRAE was born in SOUTH CAROLINA.

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    1. Once I checked her picture, Elizabeth came to mind. I believe I could even hear her voice in my head. I wish her well on her birthday.

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  12. Replies
    1. Indeed. To be filed under the "I want to be a people person but people won't let me" folder.

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