They Might Be Giants (1971)

They Might Be Giants (1971)

“No coaching, please — I work by pure deduction.”

A “paranoiac” (George C. Scott) convinced he’s Sherlock Holmes befriends a psychoanalyst named Dr. Watson (Joanne Newman), and the pair gradually fall in love.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Detectives and Private Eyes
  • George C. Scott Films
  • Joanne Newman Films
  • Mental Illness
  • Mistaken or Hidden Identities
  • Nonconformists
  • Play Adaptation
  • Psychotherapy
  • Romantic Comedy

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “uplifting comedy about a brilliant man” takes on “a special dimension” as Woodward’s Dr. Watson “follows Holmes on his adventurous trail through New York City in search of his possibly imaginary Moriarty”, and “begins to believe that he really is Holmes”. He notes that “it becomes irrelevant whether or not [Scott] is Holmes”, given that “we have instead the story of two lonely people who find their ideal companions, who see the grand qualities in each other that no one else is aware of”. He argues that while the film “runs out of steam toward the end” and “has its fill of silly and pretentious moments”, it “is really quite touching” — and he further notes that the “pairing of heavyweights Scott and Woodward is to be treasured”; indeed, it’s challenging to imagine this film being nearly as enjoyable or watchable without its big-name leads, who bring substance and conviction to their “non-conformist” characters. Fine use is made of authentic New York City settings, and Victor Kemper’s atmospheric cinematography perfectly suits the story.

An unexpectedly moving moment: A telephone operator (Theresa Merritt) jeopardizes her job to help an inconsolable young woman (Kitty Winn) locate her suicidal boyfriend.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • George C. Scott as “Holmes”
  • Joanne Newman as “Dr. Watson”
  • Several unexpectedly touching scenes
  • Victor Kemper’s cinematography

  • Good use of NYC locales

Must See?
Yes, as an enjoyable and finely acted cult favorite.


  • Cult Movie


One thought on “They Might Be Giants (1971)

  1. First viewing. Not must-see.

    I’m aware that this film has its defenders; it appears to have a small cult following. And I can even understand why: the film gives voice to those who feel ‘different’, misunderstood…or even crazy – because they are out-of-step with the rest of the world.

    The film’s ending suggests that even those ‘at sea’ can find happiness…if they find partners (in their own way) as ‘at sea’ as they are.

    Scott’s Justin Playfair becomes ‘Holmes’ because, as Playfair, he snaps. He is tired of the world being an evil place – and, on top of that, his wife dies. He’s left defenseless. But, since he’s an incredibly intelligent man, he ‘opts’ for a madness which will not leave him defenseless – in fact, the exact opposite: a vigilante against all evil.

    The premise is terrific. I went into the film sensing wonderful possibility. But the film let me down. It takes on a kind of madness of its own: starting out as smart (esp. Scott and Woodward’s first real scene together), drifting into becoming increasingly precious, then finally running off the rails altogether. (I don’t even find the final scene enigmatic – as some apparently do. I just think it’s weak, and a reflection of the film’s lack of narrative discipline.)

    Some of the film’s fans have a particular love for the penultimate supermarket scene. I just find it silly and over-played.

    James Goldman also wrote the book for the Sondheim musical ‘Follies’ (which I saw in its original production) and, of course, ‘The Lion in Winter’ (also helmed by ‘Giants’ director Anthony Harvey). His writing, to me, tends to have a fanciful quality which too often seems strained. I know Goldman’s characters in ‘Giants’ (in particular) aren’t meant to be totally realistic – but maybe that’s where I have the most difficulty with the piece. To me, the main characters (who we’re supposed to side with) don’t seem like people at all…so the story doesn’t pull me in.

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