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USA 1976
Directed by
Herbert Ross
113 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

The Seven Per Cent Solution

Herbert Ross has a distinctively stagey directorial style and it is not surprise that some of his best known works are musicals (eg. Funny Lady, 1975 and Pennies From Heaven,1981).

The Seven Per Cent Solution is not a musical (although it does mark the first appearance of Stephen Sondheim's song 'I Never Do Anything Twice', later used in the revue 'Side by Side') but it is clearly meant as a bit of fun. How much of it is intended and how much unintended is open to speculation.  The title refers to a solution of 7% cocaine and 93% saline with which Sherlock Holmes (Nicol Williamson) has been habitually injecting himself.

Based on a novel by Nicholas Meyers who also wrote the screenplay, the film concerns the efforts of Dr Watson (Robert Duvall) to cure his drug-addled friend by putting him under the care of Dr Sigmund Freud (Alan Arkin). The splicing of historical fact and fiction is not an uncommon way to ground a story but here the history is so theatricalized that it counts for little. The other extra-filmic strategy devised to appeal is the cavalcade of stars in the cast but this doesn’t however work much better.

Robert Duvall must be the only actor able to get a proper British accent wrong and this is only one of the factors that tips the film towards the unintentionally comedic. As much as The Seven-Percent Solution is clearly intended as a romp, it is also the kind of film that reaps unintended laughs as beneath their powder and wigs, Duvall and Arkin not to mention Joel Grey are hardly well-suited to the material.  Laurence Olivier may be but has a peripheral role however Vanessa Redgrave’s damsel-in-distress is a shocker. About the only performer who emerges unscathed is Williamson as Holmes but it is in a film that suffers primarily from an incongruity between subject matter and sensibility and so, counts for little

FYI:  While Meyer’s book had Freud with a daughter, the child he had in real life, the movie showed him with a son because Dr. Anna Freud threatened a lawsuit if she was included.  Bernard Herrmann was slated to compose the score but died the December before the film was completed and the fragment he had composed was not used.




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