Young Sherlock Holmes (1985)

Young Sherlock Holmes (1985)

“I suspect foul play.”

Young John Watson (Alan Cox) meets Sherlock Holmes (Nicholas Rowe) at boarding school, and proceeds to help him solve a series of mysteries involving hallucinogenic-inspired suicides.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Cults
  • Detectives and Private Eyes
  • Historical Drama
  • Murder Mystery
  • Sherlock Holmes Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary notes that the primary problem of this “amiable if weakly written tale” (produced by Steven Spielberg, and scripted by Christopher Columbus) about “teenage Holmes… solving his first mystery” is that “it will take viewers about half the time it takes Holmes to figure out [the] whodunit”, thus leaving us “not overly impressed with his detective work”. He argues that “the opening scenes are the best, not only because [director Barry] Levinson provides some authentic Victorian flavor when filming snowy London or the school campus, but because we can see hints of the adult Holmes in the inquisitive, cocky, maturing teenager”.

However, he points out that “later the familiar overblown Spielberg adventure spectacle [taking place at] the Egyptian temple with bald, diabolical priests involved in a sacrificial ritual… replaces mystery-solving and our hero could be any indomitable Spielberg teenager, rather than a detective extraordinaire”.

This is all true, and yet I’ll admit to an overall fondness for this finely produced, creative imagining of Holmes and Watson befriending each other years before their “actual” first encounter as adults (per Doyle’s original stories).

Things start off with a bang, as we witness a series of truly gruesome hallucinogenic fits (courtesy of “excellent special effects by [George Lucas’s] Industrial Light and Magic”]:

and are introduced to both Watson and Holmes (who are “well cast and play… well together”).

An early scene in which Holmes’s schoolmate-nemesis (Earl Rhodes) challenges Holmes to find a hidden vase on campus within an hour provides plenty of evidence of Holmes’ brilliant deductive capacities, and several interactions between Holmes and his fencing instructor (Anthony Higgins) show us his capabilities as a fast-thinking combatant.

It’s true that later events take quite the Indiana Jones-inspired turn, but these sequences are creepily conceived and finely mounted, and I was willing to go along for the ride. While it’s certainly not “must see”, I’d recommend this one as worth a once-look.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • The incredibly animated (by Industrial Light and Magic) hallucinations
  • Fine period production design
  • Atmospheric cinematography

Must See?
No, though it’s recommended for Holmes fans.


2 thoughts on “Young Sherlock Holmes (1985)

  1. First viewing. Not must-see.

    A popcorn ‘thriller’ for teens which – though well-produced overall – seems to have a made-for-tv aura, with doses of Walt Disney and, yes, obvious Spielberg influence.

    Strangely, rather than becoming more exciting as it progresses, it seems to become repetitive and labored – but then, it also seems designed to be diverting more than particularly challenging.

  2. Not a must. Just saw as an expiring title on the Criterion channel. The film would probably have disappeared if it wasn’t for Spielberg’s involvement, Levinson’s direction, and Columbus’ script.

    It is well made, and the acting by the two leads is fine. The sets are impressive. Still, I’m drawn into the script by the guy who directed the first two Harry Potter films (Chris Columbus). While he didn’t write the script for the Potter films, this certainly seems like a forerunner (minus the era of the film).

    I liked the beginning then got sort of bored…and the Indiana Jones style action just makes me want to watch “Raiders of the Lost Ark” instead.

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