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The Seven-Per-Cent Solution
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The Seven-Per-Cent Solution

Writer-director Nicholas Meyer scored the biggest hit of his film career when he somewhat surprisingly steered Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, into the top ten list of box office champions for 1982; it grossed more than 48 Hrs. and Poltergeist. But one could argue that Meyer's most inventive screen work is his script for The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (1976), which he adapted from his own, critically-acclaimed novel. Although The Seven-Per-Cent Solution was ably directed by Hollywood mainstay Herbert Ross, its real draw is Meyer's audacious pairing of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes, with the very real father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud. It's an engaging combination that makes for a fascinating, often playful film.

In Meyer's rather modernistic take on Holmes, Dr. Watson (Robert Duvall) grows concerned with Holmes' (Nicol Williamson) increasing dependence on cocaine (the "seven-per-cent solution" of the title refers to the injection that Holmes administers to himself; 7% cocaine, 93% water). Hoping to cure the detective of his addiction, Watson contrives to have him meet the up-and-coming Freud (Alan Arkin). Holmes and Freud impress each other with their respective powers of deduction, and soon team up to save a patient of Freud's, Lola Deveraux (Vanessa Redgrave), who has been kidnapped.

Meyer raised the bar high when he set out to write his novel. Given the seriousness of Freud's groundbreaking work, Meyer could have wound up trivializing one of the giants of analytical thought. Then again, playing too fast and loose with the Sherlock Holmes persona could have alienated legions of Holmes purists. Certainly, not everyone was happy to see such overt emphasis placed on Holmes' cocaine addiction, and the re-imagining of his arch nemesis, Prof. Moriarty, comes out of left field. But, in both the book and the film, Meyer never takes a wayward step. In fact, he was nominated for an Oscar® for Best Adapted Screenplay, with the eventual winner being William Goldman, for his brilliant work on All the President's Men.

Meyer had long been a Sherlock Holmes fan. When his father, a psychoanalyst, couldn't be persuaded to write a tome on Holmes and the psychological pull of detective stories, Meyer decided to research the topic himself (he remembered his father once telling him that being a psychoanalyst was not unlike being a detective). A screenwriters' strike suddenly left him with nothing else to do, so, as he put it, he "just sat in for six months and immersed myself in Holmes." While pouring through assorted books, he also got in touch with The Baker Street Regulars, a Sherlock Holmes fan club that boasts over 15,000 members. When the dust settled, Meyer had a novel based on, as he put it, "the meeting in Vienna of the world's two most brilliant detectives."

Meyer had more than his share of legal trouble while writing both the novel and the screenplay. You can't just swipe a licensed character out of somebody else's work and use him in your own book, so Meyer's lawyers had to convince Baskerville Investments Ltd. (the legal name of the Doyle estate) to loan Holmes out for a while. Then, when the movie was in development, Sigmund Freud's daughter, Dr. Anna Freud, refused to have herself fictionalized by Hollywood. That's why Freud has a son in the picture, rather than a daughter.

The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, by the way, would have featured music by Bernard Herrmann, who, of course wrote a string of remarkable scores for Alfred Hitchcock in the 1950s. Herrmann had to back out at the last minute, due to illness. Taxi Driver (1976) would turn out to be his final film credit.

Producer/Director: Herbert Ross
Screenplay: Nicholas Meyer (based on his novel)
Cinematography: Oswald Morris
Editing: Chris Barnes
Music: John Addison
Production Design: Ken Adam
Art Design: Peter Lamont
Set Design: Peter James
Costume Design: Alan Barrett
Cast: Alan Arkin (Sigmund Freud), Vanessa Redgrave (Lola Deveraux), Robert Duvall (Dr. Watson), Nicol Williamson (Sherlock Holmes), Laurence Olivier (Prof. Moriarty), Joel Grey (Lowenstein), Samantha Eggar (Mary Watson), Jeremy Kemp (Baron von Leinsdorf), Charles Gray (Mycroft Holmes).
C-114m. Letterboxed.

by Paul Tatara

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