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Film / Without a Clue

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Without a Clue is a 1988 comedy film, the premise of which is that Dr. Watson (Ben Kingsley) created the fictional character Sherlock Holmes so that he could solve crimes incognito. His published case journals were so popular that he was obliged to hire an out-of-work actor, Reginald Kincaid (Michael Caine), to play Holmes. However, Kincaid turned out to be a bumbling, gambling, womanizing drunkard who gladly took all the undeserved credit for solving crimes, and now their relationship is a very rocky one. Watson is just about ready to ditch Kincaid and strike it out on his own, but no-one will believe that Dr. Watson, the archetypical sidekick, is really a Great Detective, so the two have to get along for long enough to solve one last big case.


This film provides examples of:

  • Bad Boss: Moriarty abandons Sebastian to be arrested at the end.
  • Bat Deduction: A mysterious number is given, and Sherlock Holmes uses a few long and complicated leaps of logic to deduce that it means a specific warehouse. At the end Holmes and Watson explain to the person who left the clue how they figured it out, and then the victim reveals that the number was simply the address of the warehouse he was being held at.
  • Becoming the Mask: Reginald has to learn how to be at least somewhat of a detective to help save the day.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Lestrade and his men try nobly at the end, but end up failing miserably and having to dive for cover when the fake Leslie pulls a gun on them.
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  • Brick Joke: During Watson's argument with his editor Norman Greenhough, Wiggins bumps into the guy. The argument continues until Watson and Wiggins leaving. After they're gone, Greenhough realizes he can't find his pocketwatch. Cut to Watson and Wiggins at the paper mill. When Watson asks what time it burned down, Wiggins takes out Greenhough's watch and says it burned down at 4:00.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Kincaid's production of 'The Shadow Of Death' allows him to finish the case, although it was for totally the wrong reasons.
  • Diagonal Cut: Played for Laughs: Kincaid takes a swing at some candles and seems to miss. However, their tops fall off later.
  • Did Not Think This Through: Kincaid, after falling onto the barge containing the villains' counterfeit money, pours alcohol from a lamp and threatens that there will be "an impromptu roasting" unless they surrender... without realizing that if he sets it ablaze, he'll catch fire, too. Lampshaded by Moriarty.
  • Did You Die?: Reginald does a variation where he folds it into his own telling.
  • The Dragon: Sebastian.
  • Fake Ultimate Hero: Reginald is just pretending to be a great detective.
  • Faking the Dead: Watson.
  • Femme Fatale: The fake Lesley Giles manages to hold much of the police at gunpoint.
  • Funny Background Event: While Lestrade is explaining the case to Watson, "Holmes" is in his room digging through his closet for a bottle of booze he stashed. We just see, through the open door, articles of clothing and item items being thrown around wildly like in a cartoon, thoroughly mystifying Lord Smithwick who is trying to pay attention to what Lestrade is saying.
  • Gone Horribly Right: Finally fed up with Kincaid's antics, Watson fires him and offers his services to the police. However, he discovers that he's done such a great job building up Holmes as the brilliant detective and himself as just the sidekick that no one will take him seriously and he needs Kincaid to make the act work.
    • Also, when Watson is believed dead, Kincaid realizes the police assume he can solve the crime all by himself and realizes just how much they've bought the act.
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars: Sebastian has a knife scar down one side of his face.
  • Gratuitous Laboratory Flasks: Many adaptations of Sherlock Holmes stories both in film and television will fill the background of Holmes' Baker Street flat with chemistry equipment. While this is true to the stories, in which Holmes would sometimes use them, in these adaptations, they're usually little more than set dressing. This tendency to overpopulate the flat with chemistry equipment was parodied here, when Reginald Kincaid (posing as Holmes) actually does do something with the chemicals - with hilariously explosive results.
  • Hidden Depths: After messing up for most of the movie, Holmes proves to be quite skilled at fencing at the showdown, holding his own against Moriarty.
  • Hypercompetent Sidekick: Watson, since Sherlock Holmes is actually an incompetent stooge that fronts for Watson, the true detective.
  • Knife Nut: Sebastian's preferred weapons are switchblades and throwing knives.
  • Losing a Shoe in the Struggle: Happens to a Mook Kincaid fights with.
  • Mood Whiplash: Occasionally. In particular, the rather gruesome murder of the dockworker who catches Moriarty's Mooks in the act, and the grisly discovery of Donald Ayers' body in the lake.
  • Narm: In-Universe, the reaction to Kincaid in The Shadow of Death.
    Kincaid The Shadow of Death. The gripping drama was the last play presented at the Orpheum. It closed after only one night, but not without garnering some praise. Harris in the Daily Telegram said, 'In an otherwise dismal evening, Reginald Kincaid provided some welcome laughs.'
    Wiggins: Laughs? You said it was a gripping drama!
    Kincaid: It's unimportant now, isn't it?
  • No Name Given: Lysette Anthony's character masquerades as Leslie Giles for most of the movie, but her real name is never revealed. The credits list her simply as Fake Leslie.
  • Produce Pelting: Reginald played the lead in King Lear once, but all we know is that he has "memories of rotten fruit".
  • Railing Kill: Sebastian sabotages the balcony railing of Holmes' hotel room, causing it to break when Holmes leans on it. Subverted in that he survives the attempt.
  • Red Herring: The Windermere events.
  • Right for the Wrong Reasons: Reginald and Watson see a number on a note, and think it's referring to a bible quote. It leads them to the right place, but that number was the address of that very place.
  • Screams Like a Little Girl: Holmes and Watson running away as the theater is about to explode.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Moriarty's Mooks prove entirely unwilling to die for their boss in the burning theater, and promptly exit stage left.
  • Secret Keeper: Mrs. Hudson and the Baker Street Irregulars know that Sherlock Holmes is just an actor and Dr. Watson is the real detective. Watson also tells his editor eventually, letting the audience hear the background. The only person who's figured it out on their own seems to be Professor Moriarty.
  • Sherlock Scan: Played with in so many ways. Even Reginald pulls one off, leading to the right conclusion if not the intended deduction.
  • Someone's Touching My Butt: Holmes is able to deduce the identity of the groper, because he did it. Then he does it again.
  • Staircase Tumble: Kincaid and one of Moriarty's Mooks while fighting in the Giles house.
  • Suicide as Comedy: After believing that Watson is dead, Kincaid tries to hang himself, and of course bungles it.
  • Sure, Let's Go with That: After realising they've both completely misunderstood the clue the printer left for them, Watson quietly tells Holmes not to worry; he'll change their deduction for the Strand story on the case.
  • Surrounded by Idiots: Professor Moriarty has a very low opinion of pretty much everyone around him.
    Moriarty: "How demeaning to be set upon by nitwits."
  • Take My Hand: Watson has to rescue Holmes as he dangles from a sabotaged balcony.
  • The Ditz: Holmes. Also Lestrade.
  • The Watson: Holmes again. At least, for most of the movie. Explicitly not Watson.
  • Wholesome Crossdresser: The real Leslie Giles.
  • Unsettling Gender Reveal
    Real Leslie: You're disappointed, aren't you?
  • Useful Book:
    Kincaid: "I have a Bible! It's at my bedside." [gets it out from under the leg of his bed that it was keeping from wobbling]


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