Sherlock Holmes in New York (1976)

Country: United States
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

Regular visitors to this site, may have read this review before (originally posted in Jan 2010), but as the film has finally been released on DVD (by Madman Entertainment in Australia.) I thought it was well worth revisiting. I must admit, I am rather happy I can now relegate my old grey-market NTSC videotape to the scrap heap.

Before we begin, one thing, I feel 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, of course, 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.

The novelisation

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.

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 – which I know rubs some people the wrong way. As an adjunct here, I must watch The Hound of London, in which Macnee plays Holmes (although it has a reputation for being one of the worst Holmes films ever).

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.

Here’s the spiel from Madman.

Roger Moore takes on another literary hero in the DVD debut of this cracking and rare Sherlock Holmes mystery

The games afoot for Sherlock Holmes when he is lured to New York by his arch nemesis Moriarty under the guise that something sinister has happened to Holmes’ former flame, Irene Adler.

During their last meeting, Moriarty had promised revenge in the form of shattering Holmes’ reputation in the eyes of the world. He plans to commit the crime of the century – a crime that will occur under his very nose – and he will be powerless to stop it. The world will sneer, ridicule and the hound the famous sleuth into oblivion.

So when the villainous scoundrel makes good on his promise by quietly robbing the world’s gold reserves from a high-security bank vault, why is Holmes refusing to put his remarkable deductive powers to use? Has Moriarty indeed pulled off the crime of the century?

Roger Moore, taking a break from the height of James Bond hysteria, joined an all star cast including Patrick Macnee, Charlotte Rampling, Gig Young and John Huston as Moriarty for this sumptuous big-budget Sherlock Holmes adventure filmed by 20th Century Fox in 1976. Never before available on DVD, this Special Edition includes a newly recorded feature-length audio commentary with Sir Roger Moore.

2 Comments Posted in Film and Cinema, Television
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  1. Great review! Need to get myself this DVD before sundown!

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