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Just after the Universal Pictures logo, a title card appears that reads: "'Jehovah has the Devil, Achilles has his Heel, Mohammed has his Mountain, Don Quixote has his Windmills: and SHERLOCK HOLMES, God bless him, has his MORIARTY.'-from Watson's Journal." An unidentified narrator simultaneously recites the words. Most of the film's cast and crew credits appear at the end of the film, following a brief written statement that reads: "The human heart can see what is hidden to the eyes, and the heart knows things that the mind does not begin to understand." The source of the opening quotation has not been determined and May have been written especially for the film or original play. The source of the final statement has not been determined.
The credits also include the following statement: "Supermarket sequence photographed at Pathmark Stores." The last shot of the film is a freeze frame of George C. Scott and Joanne Woodward as their characters face a blinding light, with the sound of increasingly loud horses' hooves heard on the soundtrack. The shot becomes increasingly bright, until it turns the screen completely white.
The James Goldman play on which the film was based was inspired by the popular late nineteenth-century stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who created the characters of Sherlock Holmes, Dr. John Watson and Prof. Moriarty. Throughout the film, the characters allude to plot points and characterizations in various Holmes stories. The title They Might Be Giants was inspired by the title character of the early seventh-century Spanish novel Don Quixote, who mistook windmills for giants. At one point within They Might Be Giants, "Justin Playfair" discusses Don Quixote, who he says went too far because windmills are not giants, but reflects that they might be giants. Justin, through his alter ego, Sherlock Holmes, was, like Don Quixote, chasing after evil that might or might not exist.
According to reviews and news items, the original running time of the film was 91 minutes, but was cut to 88 minutes at some point during its release and was copyrighted at 86 minutes. The edited minutes encompassed an extended version of "the supermarket scene" which has become a favorite among fans, who admired the scene's comic stance on the rebellion of outcasts against the institution of the impersonal American supermarket and the police and others who try to stop them. The sequence was reinstated for the DVD release in 2001, and was seen in the print viewed.
They Might Be Giants was shot entirely in New York City, with the exception of the supermarket scene, which, according to Filmfacts was shot in New Jersey. Prominent New York City locations included, among others, Times Square and Central Park. Although the film received mostly negative reviews, some reviewers praised its creativity, likening it to the work of Italian director Federico Fellini, and most praised the performances of Scott and Woodward. Critics complained of the film's choppy editing, and, according to the Newsday review, director Anthony Harvey disassociated himself from the version released by Universal, saying that the studio had cut down the picture from what Harvey thought was the final cut.
Director Anthony Harvey and screenwriter James Goldman previously had worked together on the 1968 film The Lion in Winter, which was also based on a play by Goldman. According to interviews with rock-and-roll performers John Flansburgh and John Linnell, their group, They Might Be Giants, took its name from the 1971 film. For information on other films featuring the Sherlock Holmes character, please consult the entries above and below for The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939) and Sherlock Holmes (1930).