Sherlock Holmes In New York (1976)

Director: Boris Sagal
Starring: Roger Moore, Patrick Macnee, John Huston, Charlotte Rampling, David Huddleston, Gig Young, Geoffrey Moore
Music: Richard Rodney Bennett
Based on characters by Arthur Conan Doyle

Why Sherlock Holmes? Some readers may be wondering why I am writing about Sherlock Holmes? After all, he isn’t a spy. But I would assert that Holmes and many characteristics found within a Sherlock Holmes story provided a template for many of the spy stories that were to follow throughout the years. I consider Sherlock Holmes to be one of the ‘Originators’ along with Bulldog Drummond, Simon Templar and Flash Gordon. Yes – Flash Gordon, but I’ll talk about him some other day.

One thing, that I feel it is important to point out, is that Holmes is now so much bigger than the original stories written by Arthur Conan Doyle. There have been countless continuation novels (not only limited to Holmes, but Professor Moriarty and Holmes’ brother Mycroft have each had novels written about their exploits). Then there are the films. The first Sherlock Holmes film was the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (AKA: Held For Ransom) and starred Maurice Costello as Holmes. Since then, over 70 actors have played the part in over 200 films. But for most people, it was Basil Rathbone’s portrayal of the deerstalker cloaked crusader during the 1930’s and 40’s that are most fondly remembered. But with a 200 plus film back catalogue, a huge range of actors have tried their hand at playing Holmes; some more successfully than others.

For the spy fan, the Holmes adventures that are of interest are the propaganda films from the forties, which feature Basil Rathbone as Holmes battling Nazi spies and other assorted evil doers. Also of interest are the films which feature arch villain Professor James Moriarty. There is no mistaking that the rivalry between Homes and Moriarty is one of the battles in popular culture. Moriarty himself is one of the great ‘evil masterminds’, and certainly a prototype Blofeld (or any other diabolical villain). It is not so very surprising that David McDaniel in The Man From UNCLE novel, The Dagger Affair intimated that the evil organisation THRUSH was set up by Professor Moriarty.

But moving forward and retaining the espionage theme, what we have in Sherlock Holmes In New York is James Bond (Roger Moore) as Sherlock Holmes and John Steed (Patrick Macnee) as Doctor Watson. Incidentally, Macnee would move from second banana (Watson), to top-dog (Holmes) in the film The Hound of London.

Roger Moore in his biography only has one page devoted to Sherlock Holmes in New York, but it appears to have been a pleasant working experience. From My Word is my Bond (page 264) – Roger Moore – 2008 Harper Collins:

‘Jack called me up and asked if I’d be interested in a TV movie for Fox called Sherlock Holmes in New York. Patrick Macnee was already cast as Watson. It was to film in LA, so that all rather suited me. It was actually shot on the Hello, Dolly sets at Fox’s Hollywood studio.

I’ve already related the story of how I called Oliver Reed and asked if he was interested in playing Moriarty. Well, after he turned us down flat, Jack approached John Huston. As well as being a famous and accomplished director, writer and producer, Huston also turned his hand to acting in the odd film. He was wonderful to work with. On his arrival, John said to our director, Boris Sagal, ‘My boy, I have a lot of speeches to deliver. I may need some help remembering them.’ So, the art department made up beautiful prompt cards – or idiot boards as well call them – with the dialogue written on, and held them behind the camera at strategic points for John to refer to. He delivered every line perfectly, never looking at them once. The old cad.

John and I both enjoyed backgammon and fine cigars, so between takes we’d sit down to play and smoke. I never had the opportunity to work with Huston as a director. That would have been fun and is one of my few regrets.

Other casting fell into place: Charlotte Rampling, David Huddleston, Gig Young, Signe Hasso and my son Geoffrey, who was around ten, who played Irene Adler’s (Charlotte Rampling’s) son who is kidnapped by Moriarty. We later discover that the boy is in fact the result of a suggested liaison between Holmes and Irene Adler.

I won’t say this is regarded as one of the most popular or warmly remembered Holmes film, but we certainly had fun making it.’

As the film opens the year is 1901, and in London, Moriarty (John Huston) is enjoying a brandy is his gaudily decorated villains lair at Victoria Docks. As the clock strikes midnight, one of Moriarty’s lieutenants, Colonel Moran arrives with news. Moriarty and his team of cronies have been plotting the assassination of Lord Brackish, who is the head of the London Bank.

As Moriarty congratulates Moran on the success of his part of the mission, Moran’s voice begins to change. Then he pulls off several rubber appliances that had been glued to his face. Underneath is Sherlock Holmes (Roger Moore). Holmes recounts how all of Moriarty’s men have been rounded up by the police and how his assassinated attempt has been thwarted.

Moriarty is enraged. But then goes to show Holmes a trapdoor in the floor, a knife that is fired from a cash register on a desk, and a falling chandelier. He shows Holmes each of these devices that could have killed him, and then explains why he didn’t use them. He chose not to kill him at this time because he is preparing the crime of the century, and not only does he plan on changing the world with his audacious act of criminality, but also to humiliate Holmes in the process. Moriarty taunts that he plans to commit the perfect crime and Holmes will be helpless to stop it. As there is no direct evidence against Moriarty at this time, Holmes cannot have him arrested.

In the United States, Irene Adler (Charlotte Rampling) is preparing to star in a new Broadway production at the Empire Theatre in New York. For nine years, for each production she has starred in, she has sent two tickets to the premiere Holmes. He has never attended any of the productions.

Three days later, Holmes and Dr Watson (Patrick Macnee) are at their modest lodging at 221B Baker Street. An envelope arrives from the United States and inside are two tickets for Irene Adler’s new play, but the tickets are torn to shreds. Holmes realises something is amiss and immediately, with Watson in tow of course, he heads for New York.

Upon arrival, they go to the Empire Theatre to acquire tickets for the evening’s performance, but when it comes time for the curtain to be raised, the theatre owner addresses the crowd and says that Irene Adler will not be appearing on this evening due to illness. Her understudy will play the role. Holmes and Watson waste no time, and head directly to Irene Adler’s home. Irene is not ill at all, but something is troubling her, and it doesn’t take long for Holmes to deduce what it is. It appears that Irene’s son, Scott (played by Sir Roger’s son Geoffrey) has been kidnapped.

Shortly thereafter, a note is delivered by a messenger addressed to Holmes directly. But who knew he’d be here? The note says that if Scott is to survive, then Holmes is to refuse any request that the local police may ask.

It all becomes clear on the following morning when Inspector Lafferty (David Huddleston) of the New York Police Department approaches Holmes in want of assistance. In seems that New York plays host to the world’s largest gold depository in the world. Many countries have stored their gold in these top secret vaults, and all the gold has just been stolen. Lafferty asks for Holmes assistance in retrieving the gold. If the gold is not found, then in two days time, when an international transfer is set to take place, then pandemonium will break out between the different countries. It may even lead to war.

But, as Scott’s life is at stake, so Holmes refuses to assist the police in their investigations. At that moment, Moriarty’s taunt about how he will commit the crime of the century and Holmes will be helpless to solve it rings in his ears.

Sherlock Holmes in New York is actually a great deal of fun…that is if you can accept Roger Moore as Sherlock Holmes. I can. But, to be honest, Moore is the weakest link in the film. His acting is okay, but Roger Moore is, …well he’s Roger Moore. He’s the same likeable character that he portrayed as The Saint or James Bond. If you like Moore, then I suggest that you will like this film.

Patrick Macnee does a fine job with Watson, as the character is written. unfortunately, Watson is written as somewhat of a buffoon – definitely from the Nigel Bruce school of Watson.

In the quote above, Moore suggests that Sherlock Holmes in New York is not popular or warmly remembered which is quite a shame really. It is well written and the cast is engaging – Huston is clearly having a ball as Moriarty. Out of all the Sherlock Holmes films made this is far from the worst, and Moore’s performance isn’t bad.

The illustration of Roger Moore as Sherlock Holmes at the top is from Pat Art.

Roger Moore – played James Bond in seven films.

Patrick Macnee – played John Steed in the television series The Avengers.

John Huston – was one of the myriad of directors on the 1967 version of Casino Royale.

Richard Rodney Bennett – composed the score for The Billion Dollar Brain.
2 Comments Posted in Film and Cinema, Television
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  1. Hi ! Love your blog! Haven’t visited in a long time, I’m very pleased to see my Portatrit of Roger as Sherlock, thanks!
    Doing some research for an evil mastermind/spy comic with Vincent Price and P2K has been very inspiring.

  2. Thanks Pat. It’s a great portrait. As always, it’s great to see what you’ve been working on!

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