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The Seven-Per-Cent Solution: Special Edition Blu-ray + DVD Review

The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (1976) movie poster The Seven-Per-Cent Solution

Theatrical Release: October 24, 1976 / Running Time: 113 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Herbert Ross / Writers: Nicholas Meyer (screenplay & novel); Arthur Conan Doyle (characters)

Cast: Alan Arkin (Dr. Sigmund Freud), Vanessa Redgrave (Lola Deveraux), Robert Duvall (Dr. John H. Watson), Nicol Williamson (Sherlock Holmes), Laurence Olivier (Professor James Moriarty), Joel Grey (Lowenstein), Samantha Eggar (Mary Morstan Watson), Jeremy Kemp (Baron Karl Von Leinsdorf), Charles Gray (Mycroft Holmes), Georgia Brown (Frau/Mrs. Freud), Regine (Madame), Anna Quayle (Freda), Jill Townsend (Mrs. Holmes), John Bird (Berger), Alison Leggatt (Mrs. Hudson), Frederick Jaeger (Marker), Erik Chitty (The Butler), Jack May (Dr. Schultz), Gertan Klauber (The Pasha)

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In print form, Sherlock Holmes mysteries flourished from shortly after author Arthur Conan Doyle introduced the character in 1887 to his serialized final novel that ran in 1927. Unsurprisingly, Holmes outlived his maker. After Conan Doyle passed away in 1930, his famous detective continued to appear in works considered non-canonical.
Gerald Heard wrote three novels in the 1940s, having to rename the character without having permission otherwise. Conan Doyle's son wrote twelve short stories in the mid-1950s. Then in 1974, fledgling young American screenwriter Nicholas Meyer published his first novel. The Seven-Per-Cent Solution would spend forty weeks on The New York Times Best Seller list, during which it was already being prepped for film treatment, with Meyer to also write the script.

On film, Holmes had been spoofed as early as the 1916 silent short The Mystery of the Leaping Fish, starring Douglas Fairbanks as broad parody "Coke" Ennyday. Direct adaptations starring Basil Rathbone began with 1939's The Hound of the Baskervilles and would continue through 1946 for a total of fourteen films. After that, original films featuring Holmes continued to be made, from serious thrillers (the Jack the Ripper mystery A Study in Terror) to downright farces (Gene Wilder's The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother) to productions somewhere in between (Billy Wilder's The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes).

The 1976 filming of The Seven-Per-Cent Solution plays things straight, but not humorlessly, as it attempts to fill in some blank spots on Holmes' timeline. Nicol Williamson plays the detective, whose addiction to injectable cocaine is running high, as is his obsession with establishing Professor Moriarty (a briefly-seen Laurence Olivier) as his "evil genius" nemesis. Looking out for their mutual friend, Holmes' sidekick Dr. John Watson (Robert Duvall) and brother Mycroft (Charles Gray) conspire to lead Holmes, on the trail of Moriarty, to the Austrian home and office of Dr. Sigmund Freud (Alan Arkin), soon to be celebrated as the father of psychoanalysis.

Sherlock Holmes (Nicol Williamson) tries to kick his cocaine addiction under the advice of Sigmund Freud. Sigmund Freud (Alan Arkin) listens attentively as Sherlock Holmes uses his powers of deduction on him.

Freud uses some hypnotism to help Holmes, temporarily at least, conquer the demons of dependency, a battle compellingly presented with sweaty bed restlessness and hallucinated snakes and foes. After Holmes' cocaine addiction is beat, he, Watson, and Freud team up to solve a mystery involving another of Freud's patients, redheaded Lady of the Lilies, Lola Deveraux (Vanessa Redgrave). Lola too has defeated her cocaine addiction and, to Holmes, her break from sobriety appears to be the product of coercion. Lola appears to be the product of an international kidnapping plot, one that the three learned gentleman hope to unravel.

The chief appeal of Sherlock Holmes fiction is the thrill of being able to follow this brilliant master of deduction as he picks up on the smallest clues and outwits the most diabolical of criminal masterminds. Ironically, though, the mystery is the weakest aspect of The Seven-Per-Cent Solution. It is far more interested and interesting in crossing the paths of one of literature's great figures with one of human history's great minds. Meyer's story creatively uses an overlapping timeline to have an innovative real psychiatrist pick apart the mind of a fascinating, flawed, fictional sleuth.

The subject of the consultation is one of intrigue and appeal. It seems preposterous that popular turn-of-the-century literature could give an enduring hero a casual addiction to cocaine, of all drugs. In the 1970s, with drug abuse getting national attention for the lives it claimed and rehabilitation developing into a serious form of medical treatment, Holmes' battle suddenly took on new meaning and relevance to readers and moviegoers.

Sir Laurence Olivier plays Professor James Moriarty, an old man who hardly seems worthy of the suspicion he produces in Sherlock Holmes. Vanessa Redgrave plays "Lady of the Lilies" Lola Deveraux, the redheaded woman whose abduction drives the film's climactic mystery.

I was relatively surprised to find The Seven-Per-Cent Solution could attract Laurence Olivier for a small role and others like Duvall, Arkin,
and Cabaret's Joel Grey near the heights of their popularity. I was also surprised to see the movie presented in widescreen here. Clearly, I was mistaken to assume that this was a television movie. In reality, not only was it given a theatrical release, but it also received two Oscar nominations (for Adapted Screenplay and Costume Design) and was selected by the National Board of Review as one of the top ten films of 1976.

It wasn't simply distribution by Shout! Factory, a studio that typically handles niche television on home video, that colored my misperception. There was also the film's seeming obscurity and its less than cinematic design. Seven-Per-Cent is a wordy film. It boasts suitable production design and the occasional visual flair, but it also maintains a slightly stuffy and stagnant feel. Director/producer Herbert Ross had been helming feature films since 1969's musical remake Goodbye, Mr. Chips. Ross had come from Broadway and by that point had directed the first of what would be five adaptations of Neil Simon plays. The year after Seven-Per-Cent, Ross' second Simon adaptation, The Goodbye Girl, would win Richard Dreyfuss a Best Actor Oscar while the ballet drama The Turning Point earned eleven Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Director nods for Ross.

Although those would be his only two Oscar nominations, Ross would enjoy a long and significant career as director-producer, working into the mid-1990s on films that should be plenty familiar to today's young adults, including the original Footloose, Steel Magnolias, Michael J. Fox's The Secret of My Success, My Blue Heaven, and Boys on the Side. That those movies are remembered more with fondness than reverence gives us an indication of Ross' talents. He was a serviceable director who favored light entertainment and seemed to care more about straightforward storytelling than utilizing film's visual versatility to complement it.

That description proves fair on Seven-Per-Cent, whose silly opening credits establish a light tone and perfectly acceptable modest ambition. The film's most arresting sequence may be a largely superfluous indoor country club game of old-fashioned tennis in which the Jewish Freud challenges a pompous baron's anti-Semitic sentiment. By contrast, the film's climax, in which Holmes and company furiously chop the walls of train cars to keep their engine running, only feels like it should be exciting.

The Seven-Per-Cent Solution Blu-ray + DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

1.85:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: 2.0 DTS-HD MA Mono (English); DVD: Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles: English
Not Closed Captioned; Extra Not Subtitled
Release Date: January 22, 2013
Suggested Retail Price: $26.99
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (BD-50 & DVD-9)
Blue Keepcase
Still available as Universal Vault Series DVD-R ($19.98 SRP; July 27, 2011)

VIDEO and AUDIO

For what -- in the US, at least -- appears to be the first time since its theatrical release, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution is kindly presented in its original 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio. The movie looks good on Blu-ray, and not only for its age. Picture is clean and marred by just a few minor artifacts. Rare shots look out of focus and grainy. For the most part, though, the brown and tan-driven visuals shined, presenting as much sharpness and detail as allowed by their soft-lit original filming.

Sound is presented in 2.0 DTS-HD master audio and it also proved to be adequate. The dialogue isn't always the crispest, which makes the unadvertised (and unusual for Shout! Factory) inclusion of English subtitles all the more appreciated.

Author and screenwriter Nicholas Meyer recalls "When Sherlock Met Sigmund" in this new 2012 interview. Drew Struzan's 1976 poster artwork is put to further use on the Blu-ray's cover and menu.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

There is only one bonus feature included on each disc, but it's a great one. "When Sherlock Met Sigmund" (18:07, HD on Blu-ray) is a new interview with author/screenwriter Nicholas Meyer. He discusses the novel's creation (inspired by his shrink father and the 1973 Writer's Guild of America Strike),

being present on set to be able to come up with Victorian locution as needed, casting, his experiences with Laurence Olivier, changing the mystery to retain some surprise, wanting Ross to be more selective than he was, and the possibility of writing another Sherlock Holmes novel (he has written three overall, but none since 1993). Meyer's remarks are complemented by some production and publicity photos. If you're wondering where you recognize the scribe, it may very well be from a Star Trek DVD; he wrote the highly regarded second, fourth, and six movies, also directing that benchmark Wrath of Khan.

It's a little unfortunate that Universal apparently didn't turn over the film's original theatrical trailer to Shout! Factory. That is the only thing obviously missing from this set.

The discs' scored main menus reuse the cover art, which itself obviously dates back to the film's original theatrical one-sheet design from iconic Star Wars, Indiana Jones poster artist Drew Struzan. The Blu-ray sadly doesn't resume playback or support bookmarks, which gives the DVD its only slight edge.

The two uniquely, colorfully labeled discs claim opposite sides of a standard Blu-ray keepcase, whose translucency is exploited in nice reverse side artwork.

Siggy, Siggy, Siggy, can't you see? Sometimes your words just hypnotize me.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

There are enough fun ideas in The Seven-Per-Cent Solution to look beyond its somewhat lackluster mystery and pedestrian execution. I suspect that you would get as much out of the book as you do of the movie, with the movie requiring a shorter time commitment. Fans of Holmes and Freud are most likely to appreciate it, but all viewers should find some entertainment here.

Shout! Factory's Blu-ray combo pack is easily commended, boasting a strong feature presentation (with subtitles!) and a great new interview with author/screenwriter Nicholas Meyer. I'm not sure how this 1970s Universal movie fell into Shout!'s possession, but I can only hope more neglected catalog films do if they too will end up with such satisfactory Blu-ray treatment.

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Reviewed January 27, 2013.



Text copyright 2013 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1976 Universal Pictures, 2013 Shout! Factory and Universal Studios.
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