Fans of Sherlock Holmes are used to marveling at the human mind at play. This movie adaptation of Nicholas Meyer's book of the same title operates on several levels: as a memoir, a mystery story, a psychological drama, and a satire on heroism. Producer-director Herbert Ross (The Owl and the Pussycat, Funny Lady, The Sunshine Boys) tries to weld these separate parts into a satisfying whole. His attempt is not successful. Yet even as a flawed piece of cinema, The Seven Per-Cent Solution is worth seeing.
Dr. John A. Watson (Robert Duvall), a loyal friend and chronicler of Sherlock Holmes (Nicol Williamson), is shocked to find the great sleuth a dangerous paranoid thanks to a cocaine addiction. Holmes is harassing Professor Moriarty (Laurence Olivier), his former mathematics tutor; he is convinced that Moriarty is the incarnation of evil. With the help of Holmes's brother (Charles Gray), Dr. Watson hatches and executes a plot to get Sherlock to Vienna for treatment by Dr. Sigmund Freud (Alan Arkin).
Through argument, hypnosis, and the use of drugs, Dr. Feud manages to cure Holmes of his addiction. Soon the good doctor and the detective are deeply involved in a project saving a damsel in distress (Vanessa Redgrave). The intellectual intrigue of the first part of the film is reduced to melodramatic and somewhat silly chase sequences by the end.
Herbert Ross effectively utilizes the environment of Vienna and elicits an absolutely dazzling performance from Nicol Williamson. This gifted and intense actor truly conveys the terrible side of Holmes's cocaine addiction; he is especially on target in his portrayal of the great investigator's ratiocination process. Alan Arkin provides a good and vigorous foil to Holmes. It is a delight to watch some of their more serious verbal exchanges. Vanessa Redgrave and Laurence Olivier are all too briefly used. The Seven Per-Cent Solution is recommended to those who occasionally enjoy their movies with a little cerebral spice added.