The Seven Per Cent Solution (1976)

Country: United Kingdom
Directors: Herbert Ross
Starring: Nicol Williamson, Alan Arkin, Robert Duvall, Vanessa Redgrave, Laurence Olivier, Joel Grey, Samantha Eggar, Charles Gray, Jeremy Kemp
Music: John Addison
Based on the novel by Nicholas Meyer

For many years The Seven Per Cent Solution has been unavailable on DVD. You could pickup DVD-R and VHS copies on Ebay and other sources from the princely sum of $200, which was always out of my budget. But now, finally the film has been released by Fremantle Media in England and Umbrella Entertainment in Australia, which is fantastic news, and it’s a film that I believe that no Sherlock Holmes fan should be without.

The film opens with an intertitle that says:

‘In 1891 Sherlock Holmes was missing and presumed dead for three years. This is the true story of that disappearance. Only the facts have been made up.’

As the movie starts, Holmes (Nicol Williamson) has barricaded himself upstairs in his room at Baker Street and is in a manic, paranoid state. Mrs. Hudson (Holmes’ housekeeper) is concerned and asks Dr. Watson (Robert Duvall) to pay a call on him. When Watson arrives, Holmes is raving about Professor Moriarty, the ‘Napoleon of Crime’. The world, other than Holmes, does not believe that there is an evil mastermind controlling crime throughout the city. Holmes suspects otherwise and believes that man to be Professor James Moriarty (Laurence Olivier). But as Holmes as acquired a cocaine addiction (a seven-per-cent solution), nobody pays much heed to his incessant ramblings.

After Holmes passes out, Watson leaves and heads to his medical practice and is surprised to find Moriarty, a mathematics teacher, is waiting to see him. Moriarty, who seems like a rather meek and mild chap, says he has come to see Watson, as he is Holmes’ oldest friend and he may be able to help avert a scandal. It appears that Holmes has been stalking Moriarty – watching his house and sending him threatening letters. Holmes continual assertion that Moriarty is a criminal mastermind is wearing thin. If Watson cannot intervene on Moriarty’s behalf, then the meek maths teacher will have no option but to consult his solicitor. Watson agrees to intervene.

Watson decides that Holmes must be cured of his cocaine addiction and secretly arranges for Holmes to travel to Vienna and meet a young doctor who has had some success in curing people of their drug dependencies. This doctors name is Sigmund Freud (Alan Arkin). Of course, the hard part is to get Holmes to voluntarily leave London. To this end, Watson enlists the aid of Sherlock’s older brother Mycroft (Charles Gray). There appears to be a Holmes family secret concerning Professor Moriarty, and Mycroft uses this ‘unspoken’ piece of information to blackmail a measure of subterfuge from the Professor. Moriarty heads off on a whirlwind trip to Vienna. Naturally, the game is afoot, and Holmes follows accompanied by Watson.

Once in Vienna, Holmes follows the trail direct to Sigmund Freud’s door. There, Freud tries to cure Holmes of his addiction using hypnotism and other explorations of the great detective’s mind.

I must admit I am at an age where John Boorman’s sword and savagery epic, Excalibur came along at a time to be indelibly burnt into my brain forever. It is one of my favourite films. But Permission to Kill is not really the place for a discussion on that film, but Nicol Williamson’s performance as Merlin is a standout. Here, he may not seem like an obvious choice for Sherlock Holmes, but his performance perfectly catches the nuances as a drug addled and paranoid incarnation of Sherlock Holmes. His unusual vocal mannerisms convey Holmes mania and inner torment especially during the cold-turkey scenes.

Robert Duvall has always been a likable actor and his turn as Watson is measured and sympathetic; and most importantly of all, he does not portray him as a buffoon. Unfortunately though, Duvall’s English accent is all over the shop which undermines some scenes.

The Seven Per Cent Solution is a fantastic addition to the Holmes filmography. There are a few neat twists, and despite what starts out as a rather heavy plot – but is always enthralling – as the film progresses and Holmes recovers, we get a rip-roaring, vigorous Holmes adventure. I cannot recommend this film highly enough to Sherlock Holmes fans.

SPY CONNECTIONS

Nicol Williamson
– appeared in the film adaptation of Graham Greene’s The Human Factor
Robert Duvall – starred in The Killer Elite
Laurence Olivier – appeared in The Jigsaw Man and Marathon Man
Charles Gray – appeared in Diamonds Are Forever and You Only Live Twice
Jeremy Kemp – appeared in Operation Crossbow
John Addison – composed the music for Hitchcock’s Torn Curtain

The Seven Per Cent Solution (1976)

The Jigsaw Man (1983)

Director: Terence Young
Starring: Michael Caine, Laurence Olivier, Susan George, Robert Powell, Charles Gray, Vladek Sheybal, Anthony Dawson, Peter Burton
Music: John Cameron
Song: ‘Only You And I’ performed by Dionne Warwick
Based on the novel by Dorothea Bennett

The Jigsaw Man opens with a rather paunchy, grey old Englishman living in Russia receiving a visit from a Boris Medvachian (Morteza Kazerouni), a KGB agent. Medvachian tells the elderly gent that he is dead. Literally, as he shows him a newspaper with his obituary dated six months in advance. The elderly man is outraged. He insists he is an important person and cannot be treated this way. His name is Philip Kimberley (obviously a play on Kim Philby – played by Richard Aylen), and he used to be the Director General of the British Secret Service before he defected to Russia. And although Kimberley is quite old, every time he speaks, the voice of Michael Caine escapes from his lips. Is this a clever makeup job? No, it is a poor piece of dubbing. It seems that Kimberley has become a drunken embarrassment and the Russian powers-that-be want him out of the way. Kimberley is drugged and bundled into an ambulance which takes him to a private hospital. At the hospital Kimberley undergoes plastic surgery, and when he awakes, not only does he sound like Michael Caine, but now he looks like him, but with dark hair and a porn star moustache. Next we launch into a low-rent training montage which has delusions of being in the Rocky vein, but without the sweat and sculptured physical specimens. Kimberley is being turned into a killing machine.

After six months, Kimberley’s training is complete and the scars from the surgery have healed. To complement his new face, he is given a new name, Sergei Kozminsky. And he is given a mission. He is to go back to England. It is believed, that when he defected, he stole a payroll list of all the convert Russian agents working in Britain. He is to retrieve this list.
At this time it is also announced to the world the Philip Kimberley has died and a Russian State funeral is held in his honour.

Kozminsky/Kimberley (for the purposes of this review and to avoid confusion, I’ll refer to him only as Kimberley from now on) arrives at Heathrow. As he passes through customs, an official finds a note planted in his passport which says that he is a KGB agent and wants to defect. Within seconds, he is surrounded by security officers and spirited away to The Home Office. Medvachian and the KGB are not happy.

Meanwhile another flight lands at Heathrow. This one is carrying Jamie Fraser (Robert Powell), a top flight secret agent who poses as a United Nations diplomat. Upon arrival in London, the first thing he does is report to headquarters and his controller, Admiral Gerald Scaith (Laurence Olivier). During a heated debriefing it appears that Fraser has lost a fellow operative on his last assignment. The agent concerned was a homosexual who hanged himself in disgrace. It also appears that Scaith is not happy about Kimberley’s death and it is revealed that Fraser is now bedding Kimberley’s daughter, Penny (Susan George). It’s all rather tangled and contrived. Sorry, dear reader, it gets worse, but more on that later…..

Afterwards, Fraser heads to Penny’s apartment. She is being hounded by the press for a story about her late father. Fraser helps her through the wall of reporters and takes her to her country cottage. Meanwhile back at the Home Office, after his defection, Kimberley has escaped from custody. Scaith isn’t happy about this either, as Sir James Chorley (Charles Gray) mocks him for losing his prize. Scaith orders the room fingerprinted, but doesn’t expect much.

Scaith is portrayed and a bitter and twisted old man. Why is he bitter? When Kimberley defected, Scaith moved in on Kimberley’s abandoned wife. But rather than marry Scaith, she chose suicide. We see this via flashback as Scaith wanders the streets at night, heading home. On route, as he pauses to light a cigarette, who should pop up? Kimberley. But Scaith doesn’t recognise him as Kimberley. He thinks it is genuinely a defector call Kozminsky. Adopting a cringe inducing Russian accent, Kimberley as Kozminsky tells Scaith that back in Russia, he was close friends with the deceased Kimberley. Er, does that make sense? Kimberley also says he has access to the stolen Russian payroll documents and will sell them for one million dollars. As the two gentlemen stroll, they get closer to Scaith’s house. As a high ranking official, he always has a policeman patrolling his home. When they are within range, Scaith blows a whistle and the police officer comes running. Kimberley is forced to flee. More police flood into the area, and Kimberley has to disable two officers to make his escape. When it appears that Kimberley is in the clear, a green van pulls along side, and unknown assailant shoots Kimberley in the side. The van then drives off. When I say ‘unknown assailant’, it is pretty obvious who it is. After all, the British want their defector alive. There is only one other side – the Russians. But how they found him is a mystery. Oh well, just another poorly plotted red herring, in a piss-poor script.

Onwards. The following morning, in a sequence that seems like bureaucracy at it’s worst (or more poor plotting), Scaith asks Sir James Chorley to get his Special Branch men involved in the search for the defector. But Chorley says his Branch is stretched tight and asks to borrow some men for the task. First, he asks for Fraser’s partner – the homosexual who killed himself. Chorley is told of his recent demise. Then Chorley asks for Fraser. Scaith agrees. (Surely Scaith, as Fraser’s controller could have simply set him loose on Kimberley without bringing Chorley into it?) But after all that bullshit, Fraser is now working for Chorley to track down a defector called Kozminsky, who has access to the Russian payroll list.

Penny, now residing at her country cottage arrives home to find the tap dripping. She turn the faucet only to find it is covered in blood. Before she can react, Kimberley grabs her from behind, and confesses to be her father, despite his appearance. It doesn’t take long for him to convince her, as he reveals some intimate details from her past that only her father would know. She patches up his bullet wound the best she can, and puts him up in a hotel run by some of her friends.

Back at Scaith’s office, a Scotland Yard fingerprint expert explains that the fingerprints found at the Home Office, when the defector escaped, belong to Philip Kimberley. Scaith can’t believe it, but somehow is pleased that he will have a chance to go up against his old adversary once more. He also decides to keep this bit of information to himself. So Chorley and Fraser still believe they are after Kozminsky.

Kimberley decides it is time for one further change of appearance. He shaves off the moustache and dies his hair light brown. The transformation is complete – we now have pure Michael Caine. Next Kimberley ducks into a local church and retrieves a micro film he had secreted there many years ago. hidden in a statue, naturally. Kimberley then mails a small portion to Scaith as evidence that he still has the documents, and that he still wants his million dollars.

Back in London, Penny loans her apartment to a girlfriend named Susan (Maureen Bennett). Not a great idea, because the Russians are watching the flat and mistake Susan for Penny. Susan is kidnapped and whisked away to Russia.

Now this is where the story gets weird. Fraser and Chorley are still trying to track down Kozminsky and are staying at the same Hotel. After taking a shower, Fraser walks into his bedroom to find Chorley in the room wearing only a dressing gown. Chorley is a homosexual and because Fraser’s ex-partner was also gay, Chorley assumes that Fraser is. Fraser sets Chorley straight. It’s not an easy scene to watch. Not because of the homosexual theme – but because Charles Gray is lumbered with a poorly applied skull cap. It appears his character is bald and he wears a selection of different length wigs each day to intimate that his hair is growing. But the makeup in this scene is so badly applied, that rather than being a defining moment for these two characters, it simply becomes creepy!

Back to Penny. She makes a trip to her apartment to check on Susan who is not answering the phone. He finds the apartment has been trashed and Susan missing. In hysterics she calls Kimberley, but the phone is tapped. Scaith turns up and takes Penny into custody. Kimberley flees from the hotel he is staying at and calls Scaith. He still wants to make the exchange and organises a swap, cash for the payroll, at the church where the microfilm is hidden. Scaith agrees and sets Penny up as the delivery girl. She has to take the money to her father.

Naturally enough it is a trap, and all agents converge on the church, including Chorley and Fraser. As the exchange is taking place, Kimberley grabs Penny and puts a gun to her head. It’s a ruse, because he won’t kill his own daughter but Chorley and Fraser don’t realise that Kozminsky is Kimberley. Scaith realises its a ploy, but doesn’t let on. It does, however allow Kimberley to escape and he steals a car. Fraser ‘borrows’ a police motorbike and follows. For some reason, the chase and following shootout take place in a lion park. It just happened to be there, I guess (Why did the chicken cross the road?)

As I mentioned in the paragraph above, once the cars and bike have come to a halt, there is a shootout. Poor old Chorley buys it, but it appears he was working for the Russians anyway. That about wraps it up – there is a bit more but not worth discussing. In the context of the story and the past history these characters have, it doesn’t make sense. But, oh well, that sums up the movie really!

One of the most annoying things about this movie is the constant references to the Cambridge Spies, Philby, Burgess, Maclean and Blunt. Barely a set piece goes by without mention or allusion to these four men. I presume this is because of the publication of Climate Of Treason by Andrew Boyle, the book that outed Anthony Blunt as the fourth man, a few years earlier. As I mentioned at the start, Caine’s character is Philip Kimberley obviously a play on Kim Philby, and the comparison’s in life story are similar (Head of British Intelligence defects to Russian etc..). Maybe that is clever, simplistic, but a fare enough foundation to hang a film on. But the film makers aren’t happy with this. they have to go further. They imply that Philby exists also, which implies that two Heads of British Intelligence have defected. It is just clumsy, and reeks of name dropping for the sake of credibility.

Another clumsy aspect of the film is the way homosexuals are represented. In the film homosexuality seems to imply that one is a Communist. A dated view of the world, which would be sure to raise the ire of certain groups in the community. Fraser’s partner kills him self in shame, and at one point, Scaith says that if homosexuality had been legal in Britain at the time, Burgess and Maclean wouldn’t have defected. And as it turns out Sir James Chorley is a Communist spy, and he too is homosexual.

This has to be one of the most disappointing films in the genre. Why? Although it is not the worst film to be found on these pages (but it’s close), the talent associated with this project should have ensured a top-flight production. Let’s start with the team behind the camera. Firstly, director Terence Young has a proven track record with spy films, having directed Dr. No, From Russia With Love, Thunderball and Triple Cross. The second unit director is Peter Hunt. He worked with Young on the early Bond films and directed one of the best, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Then we move onto the people in front of the camera. Michael Caine, yep Harry Palmer himself, a doyen of the spy film, gives possibly the worst performance of his career. His attempt at a Russian accent is painful. Next we have Olivier. Well, it’s no secret that he made a lot of crap in the autumn of his years, but for an actor who is undoubtedly one of the greatest actors of the twentieth century to stoop to this level is quite sad. Then we have Robert Powell. He escapes my scathing tongue, by virtue that he is underused. The film features some fantastic character actors, who have been, or were the mainstays of the spy genre, like Vladek Sheybal (From Russia With Love, Billion Dollar Brain, Puppet On A Chain, Scorpio) and Anthony Dawson (Dr. No, Operation Kid Brother, and Blofeld’s voice in Thunderball). So despite all these seasoned campaigners behind and in front of the camera, they cannot lift this turkey up above the bottom rung. That’s why it is such a disappointment.

Maybe this review, with all the name dropping in the previous paragraph has peaked your interest. Please, don’t be fooled. This movie is only for spy or Michael Caine completists.

The Jigsaw Man (1983)