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Film / Young Sherlock Holmes

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"The following story is original and is not specifically based on the exploits of Sherlock Holmes as described in the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle."
Opening Disclaimer

A 1985 mystery/adventure film directed by Barry Levinson, Executive produced by Steven Spielberg, produced by among others Henry Winkler (yes, that one.) and written by Chris Columbus, and based on the classic characters of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. An admittedly non-canonical What If? story, it depicts a young Sherlock Holmes and John Watson meeting and solving a mystery together at a boarding school.

It was the first film produced by Amblin Entertainment to receive a PG-13 rating, and notable for including the first fully computer-generated character: a knight composed of elements from a stained glass window. The effect was created by Lucasfilm's new computer graphics division headed by a then-up-and-coming John Lasseter, which would later become Pixar. The SFX earned the film an Academy Award nomination, but was beaten by Cocoon.

No connection to the Young Sherlock Holmes novels.

Young Sherlock Holmes provides examples of:

  • Action Prologue: The pre-title sequence involves Mrs. Dribb drugging Bentley Bobster by shooting him with a dart tipped with a hallucinogenic substance; this first causes Bobster to see his dinner as alive, and later believe that his room is set on fire, causing him to throw himself out of his window to "escape".
  • All There in the Stinger: The Stinger at the end shows Rathe (a.k.a. Eh-Tar) signing into a hotel in Switzerland. He signs the register as Moriarty.
  • Bait-and-Switch: During the credits, the viewer assumes it's Sherlock's carriage being driven through the snow. It's Moriarty's.
  • Bald of Evil: The Mooks, except for a thin ponytail dyed turquoise.
  • Belly Dancer: One is performing in the Egyptian tavern Holmes and Watson visit when seeking information on Rame-Tep.
  • Best Served Cold: Holmes gets his revenge on Dudley (his rival who framed Holmes for cheating) by slipping an unknown chemical into his drink, causing him to resemble an albino for the next several months.
  • Big Bad: Professor Rathe, real name Eh-Tar, is the mastermind behind the various hallucination-induced deaths occurring throughout the film. After surviving falling into freezing water, he renames himself Professor Moriarty and plagues Holmes for years to come.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Lestrade saves Holmes and Watson from a hallucinating Cragwitch.
  • Big Eater: Watson; he has a noticeable sweet tooth (which manifests in his physical appearance and his drug-induced hallucination) and he attempts to buy soup at a bar before Holmes attempts to ask the bartender for information.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The two heroes win the day, but Elizabeth dies and Sherlock is transferred to another school since he's still expelled, separating John from his best friend. However, John realizes that he has outgrown his childhood, he'll meet Sherlock again and this is only the first of many adventures with him.
    Watson: As I watched Holmes settle into his seat, a sudden feeling came over me - that I would most certainly be seeing him again. So ended my first adventure with Mister Sherlock Holmes. As I watched his carriage disappear into the distance, I realised that I had forgotten to thank him. He had taken a weak, frightened boy and made him into a courageous, strong man. My heart soared. I was filled with confidence. I was ready for whatever mystery or danger lay ahead. I was ready to take on the greatest and most exciting adventure of them all, and I knew it was bound to involve Sherlock Holmes.
  • Blatant Lies: "Sherlock Holmes, jealous? My dear, that word does not enter my vocabulary."
  • Blow Gun: An assassin uses a blowgun to shoot darts tipped with a hallucinogenic drug.
  • Boarding School: Where Holmes and Watson meet here.
  • Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: When Holmes and Watson go to the Egyptian pub, the bartender asks what he can get them: drink, food or women.
  • Break the Cutie: Played straight with Holmes, as he experiences expulsion from his school due to a Frame-Up, the death of one mentor, the murderous intentions of another, and the death of the girl he loved.
  • Buried Alive: After being shot with the hallucinogenic dart, Elizabeth has a hallucination where she is lying in a open grave and her uncle starts filling it in; shoveling the dirt on top of her.
  • Canon Discontinuity: This movie is NOT a part of the canon, and the movie makers say so.
  • Canon Character All Along: In The Stinger at the end, the Big Bad Rathe is revealed not to have died in his fight with Holmes. He checks into an inn by signing his name as "Moriarty", showing that he will become Holmes' nemesis in the years to come.
  • Casting Gag: Nigel Stock (Professor Waxflatter) previously played Dr. Watson in two Sherlock Holmes TV shows in the 1960s, opposite Douglas Wilmer and later Peter Cushing as Sherlock Holmes.
  • Celibate Hero: Not in the movie itself, but provides an explanation for why Sherlock would be one in his adult life: his teenage girlfriend was killed by an enemy on his first case, and he doesn't want to go through that again.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Professor Waxflatter's flying machine. We're shown several unsuccessful attempts to make it work early in the movie as some sort of Running Gag that stops halfway through the film. Then Holmes uses it to gain up on Ehtar as he flees with Elizabeth.
  • Collapsing Lair: The pyramid at the climax; Holmes rigs the chandelier to the support beams and Watson brings the chandelier down, causing multiple support beams to collapse and setting the pyramid on fire.
  • Coming in Hot: Holmes doesn't know how to land Waxflatter's flying machine.
  • Crystalline Creature: After being hit by a hallucinogen-inducing dart, the cardinal sees the glass motif of a knight coming to life and walking forward to strike him down.
  • Determinator: Despite getting drugged by Mrs. Dribb, Cragwitch manages to fight the hallucinations off long enough to tell Holmes and Watson the whole story before succumbing and trying to strangle Holmes.
  • Died in Your Arms Tonight: Holmes holds Elizabeth in his arms as she expires after Taking the Bullet Eh-Tar intended for him.
  • Disney Villain Death: Rathe falls into a frozen river. He survives to become Moriarty.
  • Don't Think, Feel: Inverted during the climax. After Rathe has captured Elizabeth and is going to drown her in hot wax, Holmes and Watson start panicking about what to do, and they only get anywhere once they start taking things slower and observing their surroundings. In another inversion, Rathe also frequently chastises Holmes for using emotion rather than thinking things through.
  • Doomed by Canon: Elizabeth is not in the original Sherlock Holmes stories, so something has got to happen to her by the end of the film.
  • The Dreaded: The cult of Rame-tep; when Holmes attempts to ask about one of their Blow Guns, the man he asks starts screaming the cult's name, causing everyone else in the bar to draw weapons on Holmes and Watson.
  • Dying Clue: After stabbing himself, Waxflatter tells Holmes the name of the Big Bad: Eh-tar.
  • Everyone Is Armed: When Holmes and Watson show a Blow Gun to the proprietor of the Lower Nile Tavern, he starts screaming "Rame-Temp!" Cue everyone else in the bar drawing weapons on Holmes and Watson.
  • Everyone Went to School Together: Holmes and Watson go to school together. For more, see The Stinger.
  • The Eyes Have It: The scene where the knight in the stained-glass window leaps down to do combat with the poor priest. Notable because it is specifically later revealed, like other deaths in the film, to be caused by a hallucinogenic drug. What the priest saw was in fact all in his mind, but since it made him flee the church and run under the wheels of a moving carriage, he still ended up just as dead.
  • Fanservice: The first shot of the Arab-Egyptian bar is of the belly dancer's abdomen.
  • Fascinating Eyebrow: Moriarty gives one to the viewer during The Stinger.
  • Fire-Breathing Weapon: Bentley Bobster, the first victim of the Fright Death Trap, hallucinates that the gas lights in his room have come alive and are shooting fireballs at him.
  • Flanderization: This film does use the Flanderized version of Watson who's overweight and rather clueless, but it's somewhat justified by being Watson as a schoolboy, and by the climax, does prove to have a crafty side when he rescues Holmes and Elizabeth at once. Presumably he's got years (and a stint in the military) yet to grow into the more fit and savvy Watson the original was. And in the end, Watson narrates that this first adventure with Holmes IS part of what helped him go from a weak, easily frightened boy to a man.
  • Force Feeding: The sequence where John Watson hallucinates that his legs are bound with sausages and that pastries are trying to force him to eat them. On YouTube here.
  • Frame-Up: Holmes' rival Dudley forges Holmes' writing and frames him for cheating. As a result, Holmes is expelled.
  • Freudian Excuse: For both Holmes' detective career (see Troubled Backstory Flashback) and being a bachelor (his first love dies).
  • Fright Death Trap: The "Run to Your Doom" variety is used frequently. Several elder gentlemen who pissed off the wrong Egyptian cult as younger men are drugged with blow-darts, causing them to see terrifying hallucinations and run into traffic, leap out 3rd story windows, etc.
  • Gilligan Cut: While being told about Professor Waxflatter, Watson wonders why he is considered a lunatic. Cue Waxflatter trying to fly — again.
  • Gulliver Tie-Down: In Watson's hallucination, he's tripped and bound by a string of sausages, allowing a hoard of stop-motion Anthropomorphic Food pastries to force-feed one another to him.
  • Hairstyle Malfunction: Mrs Dribb is exposed as a member of the Egyptian cult when Elizabeth's dog Uncus bites her wig and pulls it off; exposing her bald head.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Holmes kills Mrs. Dribb by blowing one of the thorns from her blow gun into her mouth. This is not only painful, but likely causes her to experience the violent hallucinations; either way she sets herself on fire.
  • Hooks and Crooks: After losing his sword during his final fight against Holmes on the docks, Eh-Tar grabs a bale hook and attacks Holmes with it: managing to disarm him and nearly kill him with it.
  • Human Sacrifice: The cult of Rame-tep make mummies by wrapping up young girls, then coating them in hot wax. Elizabeth narrowly avoids this fate.
  • "I Know You're in There Somewhere" Fight: After Chester Cragwitch is affected by a hallucinogenic drug that causes violent and self-destructive actions, Holmes tries to talk him down by reminding him of his name and that he's a banker. It just works long enough for Cragwitch to tell the entire story before he tries to strangle Holmes, mistaking him for Eh-tar.
  • Inspector Lestrade: The Trope Namer shows up, though since its a prequel he's only a Detective-Sergeant. Lestrade is fairly amiable to Holmes and is said to have lent him books on criminology, although he's annoyed by Holmes' attempts to bring random cases to his attention and brushes him off until he get pricked by one of the hallucinogenic darts. At the end of the film, he's promoted to Inspector after getting the credit for the Cult's defeat.
  • In the Hood: The killer conceals their identity by wearing a large hooded cloak.
  • It Will Never Catch On: Two famous items associated with Holmes are featured here: the deerstalker cap and the curved pipe. Both are treated as ridiculous in-universe, particularly the pipe, which Watson has to buy so Holmes could get information. Holmes thinks the pipe in particular is ridiculous, while he inherits the cap from Waxflatter. At the end of the film he takes Rathe's Inverness coat as a trophy completing his iconic look.
  • Karma Houdini: The Stinger reveals that Rathe did not meet his Karmic Death and survived to live on as Moriarty. As a result it would take until "The Final Problem" for him to truly get his just desserts for killing innocents such as Elizabeth.
  • Kid Detective: The movie speculates on what might have happened if Holmes and Watson had first encountered each other as schoolboys rather than as adults as in canon. A certain amount of schoolboy detective work is unavoidable.
  • Living Drawing: A variation in the church scene, where it's the stained glass drawing of a knight which literally leaps out of its frame, although that was merely part of a hallucination.
  • The Lost Lenore: It's Elizabeth for Holmes.
  • Made of Iron: In the climax, Rathe. He is smashed in the head by debris, lands in hot wax, has his head covering set on fire, is thrown off a moving carriage and sinks in icy water. The stinger reveals he not only survives that, but will plague Holmes in years to come as Professor Moriarty.
  • Mad Scientist's Beautiful Daughter: Professor Waxflatter is more eccentric than mad, but his daughter Elizabeth is quite beautiful.
  • Mass "Oh, Crap!": When Holmes and Watson show a Blow Gun to the proprietor of an Arab-Egyptian bar, he starts screaming "Rame-Temp!" Cue everyone else in the bar drawing weapons on Holmes and Watson.
  • The Mourning After: In the denouement, Sherlock after Elizabeth dies, vowing he will never love again.
  • Mummy Wrap: The evil cult featured in the movie does this as part of a sacrificial rite to replace five mummified Egyptian princesses, who along with the treasures of their tomb were looted by the party of men who are now being picked off one by one.
  • Mushroom Samba: The peculiar way the victims are killed — each is hit with a blow dart dipped in drugs, and the resultant hallucinations drive them to their deaths as they try to flee them. Also happens to Holmes, Watson, Elizabeth and (offscreen) Lestrade.
  • Mythology Gag: Plenty of them. For instance, there's an in-passing reference to Mycroft Holmes when Sherlock is expelled and boarding the coach for home (only for Waxflatter's death to interrupt him) — he mentions that his brother will be informed of what's happened.
  • The Name Is Bond, James Bond: "Holmes. Sherlock Holmes."
  • Never Be Hurt Again: Holmes at the conclusion, still mourning the death of Elizabeth.
  • Noodle Incident: We never find out what hallucinations Lestrade had after pricking his finger on one of the thorns. All he tells Holmes is that he nearly hanged himself.
  • One-Gender School: Brompton Academy is an all-boys school. Elizabeth is not an actual student. She just lives on campus because she's the niece of Professor Waxflatter.
  • Oop North: Where Watson's from, as Holmes deduces from his shoes; Holmes has only encountered that type of shoe in the north of England.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: Cragwitch mentions that Eh Tar and his sister were living with their grandfather while their parents were killed.
  • Pistol-Whipping: Lestrade knocks out a drugged Chester Cragwitch to prevent him from strangling Holmes by hitting him over the back of the head with his pistol.
  • Police Are Useless: Apparently, no one notices a large crowd of bald people with ponytails, wearing robes, and carrying swords that are chasing three teenagers!
  • Raised Hand Ofsurvival: In Elizabeth's hallucination, hands rise up out of the ground in the cemetery, grab her and drag her down into a grave.
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning: When the gargoyle in the shop starts to animate, its eyes glow red.
  • The Rival: Dudley to Holmes, as both repeatedly try to outsmart each other and vie for Elizabeth's affections.
  • Running Gag: Watson's guesses about the color of a bear from a house with an all-southern view. It's white: a polar bear!
  • Sdrawkcab Alias: The villain Eh Tar uses the alias of Professor Rathe for his cover job at Brompton Academy. Watson even spells this out towards the end of the film as a "very important clue."
  • Sequel Hook: The Stinger reveals that one of the characters will eventually become Professor Moriarty. Shame that there was no sequel (beyond the books, of course)...
  • Serial Killer: It turns out that there are two, and connected ones at that — Mrs. Dribb is murdering several men involved in the desecration of a religious site and the subsequent destruction of her home village by the British Army when its residents protested, while her brother Rathe is murdering young girls as replacements for five sacred mummies that were damaged in the desecration.
  • Sherlock Scan: A school-aged Watson transfers to a new boarding school and meets Holmes for the first time. Holmes deduces Watson's name, home county, father's occupation, and Watson's love of writing and pastries. He only gets Watson's name wrong (he guesses James instead of John) because he only saw "J. Watson" on Watson's luggage and decided to go with a common name starting with J (John would have been his second guess). The mistake with the name is likely a reference to The Man with the Twisted Lip, in which Watson's wife refers to him as James, a mistake that has confounded Holmes scholars for decades.
  • Sibling Team: Rathe/Eh Tar and Mrs. Dribb are a villainous example.
  • Speech Impediment: Brompton Academy's chemistry professor has a noticeable stutter.
  • Spinoff Babies: This movie is a pastiche supposedly telling the early life of Holmes and Watson when they first met as teens — and apparently before Holmes figured out how to solve crimes by logical deduction. (Unlike most examples, it's actually quite good.)
  • The Stinger: The end credits are played over a sleigh going through a snow-covered forest. As the credits end, someone gets out of the sleigh and checks into the hotel. We see him signing in under the name Moriarty. As the camera pans up, Moriarty is revealed to be Ehtar/Rathe, the villain, who survived the fall into the river.
  • Sword Cane: Eh Tar/Rathe carries one, which he uses during the climax against Holmes.
  • Taking the Bullet: Poor, poor Elizabeth!
  • Those Magnificent Flying Machines: In this case it's a pedal-powered one that Professor Waxflatter attempts to use to fly. Holmes uses it later in the film to reach the other side of London.
  • Too Dumb to Live: No Holmes, it isn't smart to shout "Stop! She's alive!" in the middle of a Human Sacrifice ritual.
  • Tragic Keepsake: Waxflatter's hat for Holmes.
  • Troubled Backstory Flashback: Holmes' drugged hallucination starts out as one of these, with his father yelling at him while his mother weeps in the background. It's implied that Sherlock's snooping uncovered Holmes Sr.'s affair or other transgression, breaking his mother's heart and earning his father's wrath.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Waxflatter and his friends set out to build a hotel in Egypt, only to set off a series of events that destroyed Eh Tar's village and killed his parents. It gets all but one of them killed.
  • Villain Opening Scene: The pre-title sequence involves Mrs. Dribb drugging Bentley Bobster by shooting him with a dart tipped with a hallucinogenic substance; this first causes Bobster to see his dinner as alive, and later believe that his room is set on fire, causing him to throw himself out of his window to "escape".
  • Wham Line: Right after the Wham Shot: Rathe: "So my dear, you've discovered our little secret."
  • Wham Shot: Bald Mrs. Dribb, revealing them as one of the cultists.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Cragwitch's fate is unknown after being clubbed unconscious by Lestrade.
  • What If?: The movie begins with a disclaimer explaining that it's a "What If" story, and the end credits similarly start with an acknowledgement that it wouldn't fit in with the official Holmes canon.
  • Woman on Fire: Holmes kills Mrs. Dribb by blowing one of the thorns from her blow gun into her mouth. This is not only painful, but likely causes her to experience the violent hallucinations; either way she sets herself on fire.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: Eh Tar/Rathe and his sister Mrs. Dribb are mostly avenging a massacre perpetrated on their parents and childhood village.
  • Would Hurt a Child:
    • Eh Tar/Rathe is perfectly willing to douse young girls in hot wax in a Human Sacrifice ritual. He also guns down Elizabeth.
    • The bartender of the Egyptian pub (as well as most of the patrons) almost kill Holmes and Watson when they start asking too many questions about the Rame Tep.
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: Holmes and Watson have foiled Eh Tar/Rathe's plans by keeping Cragwitch alive, saving Elizabeth and destroying the cult's temple. Now the trio is walking back to school. Then Rathe appears and shoots Elizabeth.
  • You Killed My Father: Eh Tar and his sister Mrs. Dribb are motivated by the death of their parents in a raid by the British army.


Video Example(s):


Young Holmes and Watson Meet

Even as a schoolboy, Sherlock Holmes is able to figure out (almost) everything about the new student, John Watson.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (2 votes)

Example of:

Main / SherlockScan

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