Thursday, January 17, 2013


1971, Anchor Bay #DV10986, DD-2.0/MA/LB/16:9, $24.98, 91m 4s, DVD-1

By John Charles
Originally published in Video Watchdog #62

Following the death of his wife, celebrated judge Justin Playfair (George C. Scott) suffered a nervous breakdown and now believes himself to be none other than Sherlock Holmes. His conniving brother, Blevins (Lester Rawlins), seeks to have Justin committed, on the grounds that he is not mentally fit to handle the family's rather sizeable estate. While Blevins' dotty wife (Rue McClanahan of FIVE MINUTES TO LOVE and, later, THE GOLDEN GIRLS TV series) is greatly amused by Justin's eccentricities and incredible deductive powers, no one actually believes him to be the legendary denizen of 21 Baker Street. A void in Justin's life is filled when he finally meets his Dr. Watson -- Dr. Mildred Watson (Joanne Woodward) that is. Ordered by her boss to sign the commitment papers, the dowdy, deeply ethical Mildred quickly becomes fascinated by Justin who, with his firmly held belief that all of the evil in the world is the work of Professor Moriarty, fits the profile of a classic paranoid. Against her better judgement, Mildred finds herself swept along into Justin's latest case and is soon falling for this brilliant, insufferable, and singular man.

Made by Paul Newman's production company, THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS reunited screenwriter James Goldman (adapting his own play) and director Anthony Harvey, who had previously collaborated on the costume drama, THE LION IN WINTER (1968). A gently humorous study of loneliness and personal identity, GIANTS gives George C. Scott a chance to play a more humane character than usual, while a deglamorized Joanne Woodward embodies a woman so disappointed by her lot in life that she submerges herself in her work, dodging reality to almost the same degree as her new patient. Both are wonderful (Scott, in particular, beautifully communicates Justin's great intelligence, the poignancy of his plight, and the strange, focussed bliss Justin radiates during his happiest moments) and the movie is also blessed with a marvellous collection of character actors in supporting parts (including Jack Gilford, James Tolkan, Al Lewis, Paul Benedict, M. Emmet Walsh, and F. Murray Abraham). The script cleverly evokes Don Quixote (from the title on down) and shows great warmth for its collection of misfits, all of whom dwell in a New York City that now seems as much a part of another world as they do.

THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS is one of several movies from its period that Universal altered for television showings, in this case, increasing the running time from 88m to 98m. Clocking in at 91m (not 98m, as listed on the keep case), Anchor Bay's anamorphic DVD falls in between. The movie was re-cut, against Harvey's wishes, for its original theatrical release, eliminating a sequence showing Scott tearing down Wall Street and eventually collapsing in a heap. A second scene, which climaxes with a comic melee in a supermarket, was also shortened to the point where it made little sense. In the 80s, the studio restored the supermarket footage and it appears intact on the DVD (though the music added to the bit was not what Harvey wanted and is not the work of the film's composer, John Barry). The frame measures 1.80:1 and the opening credits are windowboxed. The image is a little dull and drab (a conceptual decision on the part of Harvey) but textures and shadow detail come through sufficiently. Unfortunately, the DVD suffers from some distracting smearing and displacement (noticeable mostly in close-ups and in some backgrounds, like walls), evidently due in part to the limited contrasts on display. Harvey and film archivist Robert A. Harris (who was not involved with the production of the movie but is a great admirer of it) provide a commentary, touching upon topics like Harvey's early work as an editor for The Boulting Brothers and Stanley Kubrick, Scott and Woodward's contrasting acting styles, and the difficulties the production experienced stealing shots on the streets of New York City. The talk is sporadic and not as focused as it could be (THE LION IN WINTER gets almost as much time as this picture) but the various anecdotes are interesting and the track is ultimately worthwhile. The DVD (encoded and authored by Crest National) also includes talent bios, as well as a theatrical trailer and 8m promotional featurette, which both prove conclusively that Universal did not have a clue how to sell this offbeat little charmer. Also available on VHS for $14.98.

[This release went out-of-print a decade ago and Universal has yet to put the movie back on to the market]

1 comment:

  1. I love this movie but for years I couldn't find it anywhere. FINALLY, Netflix got it going and I watched it wondering if I'd like it as much as I did years ago.

    I did.

    I still can't figure out the ending, but I'm guessing it doesn't matter. I am a big fan of George C. Scott and this is one of my favorite of his roles. Joanne Newman is wonderful too.

    Thanks for writing about it.

    PS I wrote about it on my blog last year thrilled to be able to share my views on this - one of my favorite movies.