Today! Because if it hadn’t been for my flawless footwork, I’d be standing here a dead man today –
Without a Clue (1988)
Directed by Thom Eberhardt
Starring Michael Caine, Ben Kingsley (x3), Jeffrey Jones (x2), Paul Freeman, Lysette Anthony (x2), Nigel Davenport, Peter Cook (x2), Pat Keen, Matthew Sim, George Sweeney, Harold Innocent
The best Sherlock Holmes comedy ever made, Without a Clue operates under the idea that Ben Kingsley’s Watson is the true mastermind detective, having hired an actor to portray his literary creation, worried that his criminal hunting pastime might be frowned upon by his medical superiors. Michael Caine’s Reginald Kincaid is a womanizing drunk who only barely manages to keep it together enough to don the deerstalker and parrot Watson’s information back to Scotland Yard and the adoring public. The story begins with them years into this deception, their relationship fraying badly from Kincaid’s lackadaisical character upkeep and Watson’s frustration with hiding his genius.
Kingsley is better known and regarded for his dramas, but his comedy work is routinely excellent, including another role on this list, as the supposed Mandarin in #265 Iron Man 3. Opposite Caine doing his best egomaniac boob actor, they sell this premise, even as it leaps into high-stakes Holmesian mystery, battling their legendary adversary Moriarty (a very effective Paul Freeman). Terrifically funny supporting turns come from Jeffrey Jones’ clueless Lestrade, Nigel Davenport’s Lord Smithwick, and the always great Beyond the Fringe alum Peter Cook.
The Kingsley/Caine Holmes is the third version on this list so far, following Rathbone’s classic version (#291, #333) and Downey’s mannered modern take (#383). There are at least two additional actor portrayals to come (I think there’s only two), and they are wild, but all this does seem to point to the notion that I prefer somewhat lighter, yet still fairly traditional takes on the character to more somber, cutting, esoteric ones. I’ve never been a fan of any of the TV depictions – Cumberbatch, Jeremy Brett, Ronald Howard, Jonny Lee Miller – even though they’re all significantly different from each other – while some other movies have been okay (Christopher Plummer’s Murder by Decree, Nicol Williamson’s Seven-Per-Cent Solution, Peter Cushing’s Hound of the Baskervilles, the ’80s Disney movie) to pretty poor (the oddball Peter Cook/Dudley Moore Hound, the William Gillette version that put the entire theater to sleep, as I’ve mentioned previously). But, there are many, many more screen Sherlocks out there, so who knows? Maybe I’ve been overlooking my ultimate favorite the whole time. I’ve got my fingers crossed for you, John Neville!
No awards came Without a Clue’s way in ’88, which is a shame given the great comedic leads on display here – where were you, Golden Globes?! Let’s at least hand over a Best Desperate Deduction honor, to Kincaid’s 11th hour theory that Moriarty’s real name must be Arty Morti!
Jones (#346 Howard the Duck), Anthony (#358 Switch), and Cook (#237 The Princess Bride) all gain that most treasured lifetime achievement recognition of induction to the exclusive (up to 343 now!) Two-Timers acting guild, while Kingsley advances to the Three-Timers (#86!) following Iron Man 3 and #378 Sneakers. Spotlight!