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Film / They Might Be Giants (1971)
aka: They Might Be Giants

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A 1971 comedy mystery film directed by Anthony Harvey and starring George C. Scott and Joanne Woodward. The screenplay was adapted by James Goldman from his own 1961 stage play.

Justin Playfair (Scott), a former judge in modern-day New York City, believes he is Sherlock Holmes since the death of his wife sent him into a severe paranoid psychosis. His psychiatrist, one Dr. Mildred Watson (Woodward), finds herself caught up in the scheme of Justin's brother to control his money by having him committed; meanwhile, a shadowy blackmailer in sunglasses wants to silence Justin. The film spoofs classic Holmesian tropes and ponders the popular themes of individual insanity vs. society's consensus reality.

Yes, the band named themselves after this story.

The film contains examples of:

  • Ambiguous Ending: Justin and Mildred stand in front of a tunnel where he claims Moriarty will appear "riding a horse, like a king." They stand over there until some lights on their backs suggest the police have caught up with them, but they don't care because there is a noise of horse hooves coming at them from the tunnel...
  • Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: Initially they are very antagonistic towards each other, he annoyed and fed up with her attempts to 'cure' him and her exasperated by his maniacal antics.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The police apparently catches Justin and Mildred, the blackmailer and Blevins are probably still active, and who knows what will come off the tunnel. However, the city crazies had the time of their lives, Daisy left Blevins and their loveless marriage, Justin and Mildred are together, and he is still the owner of his money, at least for now.
  • Clap Your Hands If You Believe: The story plays with the idea of how groups of individuals who have chosen to embrace a delusional reality can create their own consensus reality which just might, depending on how you interpret the ending, become real.
  • The Cuckoolander Was Right:
    • For all his apparent insanity about Holmes and Moriarty, the presence of the mysterious blackmailer shows that there is a genuine conspiracy against Justin after all. Some dialogue marking Justin as a former judge who "knows everything" about the mysterious man implies the latter is a criminal whom Playfair discovered before losing his mind.
    • Unless they are hallucinating or it is again some bizarre sort of coincidence, either of which is possible, Playfair's predictions about Moriarty might hold some true given the tunnel and the sound of hooves.
  • Cut-and-Paste Note: The blackmail demand Justin's brother receives at the start of the movie is composed of letters cut out of the newspaper.
  • Detective Drama: Played with. The main character thinks he's Holmes, but all the deductions he makes are patently ridiculous (even if the story allows them to be true), the clues he constantly searches for are more like the manias of a schizophrenic finding meaning and messages in completely unconnected and unintentional words, and he commits the cardinal sin of theorizing without data (he posits the existence of Moriarty without any evidence). However, the presence of the plotting brother and the shadowy blackmailer turns this into an interesting, if off-kilter, example.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Most of the people close to him call him Justin Playfair and he himself admits that "scarcely anyone" calls him Holmes, but most of the city crazies seem to know him as Sherlock Holmes.
  • Funny Schizophrenia: If you don't believe that Justin is right, his crazy antics come off this way, such as suspiciously observing pigeons with a magnifying glass.
  • Intimate Psychotherapy: The Doctor assigned to "cure" him of his alleged monomania later falls in love with him and embraces his delusions by taking on the persona of Watson.
  • I Reject Your Reality: Playfair loses his mind after the loss of his wife and believes he is Sherlock Holmes and fighting a conspiracy by Moriarty.
  • Left Hanging: Bordering No Ending. Neither the possible truth behind Moriarty nor the actual conspiration of the mysterious man are uncovered at the end.
  • Meaningful Name: Dr. Watson. Might also be a bit of 'nominative determinism' in that he seems to treat her as The Watson because she is "Dr. Watson".
  • Mind Screw: The ending leaves one wondering, 'what just happened?' Did the pair see Moriarty? Did they get run over by a car, smiling wide-eyed all the while? Or was that the spotlight of the police?
  • Milk Man Conspiracy: Justin/Holmes points to such disparate incidents in the newspapers as people dying from crossing the street, grandmas being raped and beaten, and excursion boats exploding as evidence of Moriarty's near omnipresent nefarious influence.
  • Misfit Mobilization Moment: The epic march near the end gathers together all of the city crazies as well as most of the people they've helped throughout the film, all marching in tandem alongside Justin/Holmes and Watson.
  • Napoleon Delusion: Playfair believes himself to be Sherlock Holmes.
    • And Mr. Small believes he is Rudolph Valentino.
  • "No" Means "Yes":
    Justin/Holmes: "Did you enjoy your first detective work?"
    Watson: "No."
    Justin/Holmes: "Come on, I know girls—no means yes."
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: The epic march near the end gathers together all of the city crazies as well as most of the people they've helped throughout the film, all marching in tandem alongside Justin/Holmes and Watson. Played for Laughs when he asks them, "Anyone who knows why we are here raise your hand." No one does.
  • "Shut Up!" Gunshot: Watson quells an incipient brawl in Times Square by firing a gun into the air. This gives her and Justin time to get into a taxi and get away.
  • Title Drop: Justin's speech in the taxi about why the Don Quixote spirit helped carry forward history and progress, by looking at things and thinking of what they might be—for example windmills because... They might be giants.
  • Windmill Crusader: Justin, hence the title.

Alternative Title(s): They Might Be Giants