They Might Be Giants

Here’s an oldie but a goodie that’s very hard to find. However, it recently turned up through the Netflix online streaming service, so take advantage. VHS is either non-existent or out-of-this-word expensive through Here’s hoping someone decides to put this film back into circulation with an affordable DVD version. Meanwhile, put it into your Netflix queue and show your support.

While not everyone agrees on the quality of this film, if you’re willing to suspend belief and go along for the ride, you’ll have a great time. It’s mystery, comedy, and romance in one.

For those born in or after, say, 1980, you may be more familiar with the eclectic musical group They Might Be Giants (TMBG for short). But, guess what? Those dudes actually did take their band’s name from this film. On a message board at the Internet Movie Database website, ‘JeffKaos71’ writes that “The band takes its name from a 1971 movie starring George C. Scott and Joanne Woodward (based on the play of the same name written by James Goldman).”

Since 2009, Sherlock Holmes has been reincarnated many times, currently enjoying a nice revival in film (by Robert Downey, Jr.) and on television through Benedict Cumberbatch’s updated Sherlock on PBS and Jonny Lee Miller’s contemporary portrayal in Elementary on CBS. The great detective obviously retains a following.

In They Might Be Giants, George C. Scott plays Justin Playfair, a man who believes he’s Sherlock Holmes; his psychiatrist (last name “Watson”) goes along with him in search of Moriarty. Playfair defends Don Quixote’s tilting at windmills, saying that the windmills, of course, were not giants but thinking [that] they might be shows imagination: ‘All the best minds used to think the world was flat. But what if it isn’t? It might be round. And bread mold might be medicine. If we never looked at things and thought of what might be, why, we’d all still be out there in the tall grass with the apes.'” If there’s anything the world always needs, it’s more imagination.

Scott is aptly cast in the film as the delusional paranoid Playfair who considers himself the larger-than-life Holmes reincarnated in modern-day New York City. Joanne Woodward, as the female psychiatrist, Dr. Watson, tries to help him. On the way, she becomes intrigued by the case and slips into the delusion for her own reasons.

Excellent character actors Jack Guilford, Rue McClanahan (Golden Girls), Al Lewis (The Munsters!), and Oliver Clark draw us into their world of is-it-make-believe-or-not and have us cheering, with Don Quixote, for everyone with an off-the-wall idea who’s been told they’re only “tilting at windmills.”

While enjoying the fantasy of the movie, we can ask ourselves what is reality, whose reality is ‘right,’ and what’s so important about any particular view. This film engages in a not-too-scary mystery while having a lot of fun. Ultimately, it touches the heart.

Hey, if a cutting edge rock-n-roll band — one that took a radically different/imaginative approach to making a name for itself and distributing its music — can find inspiration in this quirky film, it must be worth seeing!

Cast: George C. Scott, Joanne Woodward, Jack Guilford, Rue McClanahan,
Al Lewis, Theresa Merritt, Oliver Clark
Director: Anthony Harvey
Screenplay: James Goldman
Theatrical release: 1971; available through Netflix online streaming

Copyright ©2013 Jill J. Jensen | Clarity from Chaos