Monday, 30 July 2018

That's Rogertainment! Rogisode 10:
Sherlock Holmes In New York

A lot has happened in the 28 months since our last voyage into the world of Roger Moore films, not least the enormously unwelcome death of Sir Rog himself. It saddens me that I can no longer refer to him as The Greatest Living Englishman, as I have on so many previous occasions, so I suppose I will just have to call him The Greatest Englishman Ever from now on and hope the hyperbole police are off duty.

Anyway one of the things that hasn't happened since I put myself through Bullseye! back in early 2016 is me watching any more Roger Moore films, which is something I imagine a lot of people who have seen Bullseye! have experienced. Well it's time to get back on the horse, because here comes Rog in a deerstalker cap, Ulster coat and Inverness cape, which means he's either hunting deer in the north of the island of Ireland and/or a city in the Scottish Highlands, or - and this is by far the more likely reason - he's playing Sherlock ruddy Holmes.
"What do you call a deer with no eyes, Watson?"
"Dashed if I know, Holmes"
"No idea"
"Nope, none whatsoever"
"No, I mean... oh forget it"

Produced for US TV by NBC in 1976, Sherlock Holmes In New York was the fourth film Roger Moore squeezed in during the Broccoli/Saltzman wars which took place after 1974's The Man With The Golden Gun and delayed The Spy Who Loved Me until 1977. (It's quite something to realise that he played Holmes and Bond concurrently; for context, the modern equivalent would have been the BBC's Sherlock series kicking off in 2010 with Daniel Craig - at that time also sitting through a lengthy inter-Bond hiatus after two films in the tux - filling Holmes' shoes.) Shot at the Fox studios in LA, Rog's film is a lavish production with a cracking cast that's considerably better than I expected, but maybe that's just because I can still smell Bullseye!.

The 1901-set story (an original idea, not based on any of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's books) concerns a plot by Sherlock's own Blofeld, Professor Moriarty, to nobble a shitload of gold from a Manhattan bank vault, using the then-under-construction subway tunnels as a getaway (weird how no film critics ever mention Sherlock Holmes In New York as inspiration for Die Hard With A Vengeance). In a cheeky twist, Moriarty blackmails Holmes into refusing to help the clueless NYPD in solving the crime by kidnapping and threatening the life of a young boy who, it is strongly hinted, is the illegitimate son of old Sherl himself.

While it's hardly the pinnacle of Holmes on screen, SHINY - as I was delighted to discover is the film's acronym - is an entirely adequate addition to the canon. It benefits enormously from expecting a basic grasp in Sherlology of its audience: Holmes, Watson, Mrs Hudson, Moriarty, Irene Adler and even Colonel Moran all feature without the faintest whiff of any tedious origin stories. The dialogue is faithful to Conan Doyle's style, the plot is a rewarding puzzle and there's a reasonably exciting horse-and-cart chase at the end. And the supporting cast are top-notch: Patrick Macnee bumbles about as Nigel Bruce's version of Watson, eternally bewildered and ending every sentence with "hoho, eh?"; Charlotte Rampling is appropriately gorgeous and mysterious as 'the woman', Irene Adler, and John Huston's growly Moriarty constantly looks like he's trying to suppress a violent shart.
Co-starring John Pooston as Morifarty

But at the centre of it all is Rog, who - with typical self-deprecation - said of the part: "Another fictional character - I'm going to play them all the same, so it doesn't matter whether I'm going to be called Simon [Templar], Sherlock or Mr Bond." Normally I'd agree with him, but this is a rare Roger role where 007 is nowhere to be seen. Moore's Holmes is a logic machine with a quick temper and a deadly serious manner; Bond's charm and propensity for knob jokes have, for once, been kept in storage at Pinewood for the time being.

Ideal Holmes
Rog delivers his lines with the rapid-fire impatience of classic Holmes, and enhances potentially whiffy dialogue like "Watson, there is devilry afoot! I feel it in my very marrow" with his own naturally mellifluous tones and a deep furrowing of that normally-elevated brow. He also clearly relishes the mischief of the detective's frequent disguises, getting to grips with Irish, Italian and New York accents with varying degrees of success. There are little grace notes, too, that give away how much he's enjoying himself: witness the triumphant cape-toss over his shoulder after he fools Moriarty with what is frankly one of the least convincing disguises in Sherlockian lore. And as a gift for Rogerwatchers throughout history, there's a splendid montage of Holmes mulling over a four-pipe problem which is essentially the same shot of him frowning and smoking, shot from three different angles.

All of which amounts to an unspectacular but worth-your-while Sherlock Holmes film but an excellent Rogerformance, thoroughly deserving of a Rogerating of four Rogers, only the second time such an honour has been bestowed in the long and sad history of That's Rogertainment!.
If the two-year-plus gap between now and the last time I Rogered has left you baffled as to just what the chuff is going on, you can catch up here. See you in December 2020 for Rogisode 11!

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