Without a Clue

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Without a Clue
Without a clue.jpg
Original film poster
Directed byThom Eberhardt
Produced byMarc Stirdivant
Written byLarry Strawther
Gary Murphy
Music byHenry Mancini
Distributed byOrion Pictures
Release date
Running time
107 min
CountryUnited Kingdom
Box office$8,539,181

Without a Clue is a 1988 British comedy film directed by Thom Eberhardt and starring Michael Caine and Ben Kingsley. It is based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's characters from the Sherlock Holmes stories but reverses the precedence of the characters in comedic style.


Sherlock Holmes is a fictional creation of Dr. John Watson who serves as the central character in a series of short stories published in The Strand Magazine. Watson uses the character to enable him to solve crimes incognito, so as not to disrupt his career as a doctor. He therefore decides to satisfy public demand to see Holmes in person by hiring unemployed actor Reginald Kincaid to play the part of the hero of his detective stories. Kincaid must rely on direction from Watson, memorizing the doctor's exacting, detailed instructions every step of the way.

After a major case, Kincaid oversteps his boundaries with Watson, who fires him. Watson wants to write the character off so as to start a new series about "The Crime Doctor", with Watson himself being recognized as the great detective, but the idea is received coldly. And with a new crime of arson at a paper warehouse to investigate, Watson finds that he is unable to get information on his own.

That crime then becomes a link in a major case when the British government seeks the aid of "Holmes" and will accept no one else. The mystery involves the theft of printing plates for £5 banknotes, with the printing supervisor, Peter Giles, having gone missing on the night of the robbery. The counterfeiting of these notes would cause the inevitable collapse of the British Empire's economy. Watson is therefore forced to retrieve "Holmes" from the pub to which he has retired.

Scotland Yard's Inspector Lestrade is jealous of "Holmes". Rather than relying on the regular police, therefore, Watson uses the twelve-year-old street urchin, Wiggins, the leader of a street gang that he calls "Baker Street Irregulars", to keep an eye on people and hunt out evidence. One line of enquiry leads Watson to the printer’s daughter Lesley, whom he and the womanising "Holmes" invite back to their quarters to recover from the shock of false evidence of her father’s death.

Watson and “Holmes” discover that Professor Moriarty is the mastermind behind the scheme and disturb him on the docks while receiving a consignment of printing ink. Watson is apparently killed while tracking him, forcing “Holmes” to solve the case on his own. The trail takes him to an abandoned theatre where the forgeries are being printed. There he discovers that Watson is still alive after all and the two team together to defeat Moriarty for good. In the process Lesley Giles is unmasked as Moriarty’s spy.

When they return to 221B Baker Street, “Holmes” announces to a reception committee of reporters that he is now retiring and gives full credit to the qualities of his partner Watson. For his part Watson assures the public that, far from this being so, the team of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson will continue their detective work from now on as friends.




Written by Gary Murphy and Larry Strawther, two devoted Sherlockians,[1] the film originally had the working titles The Imposter of Baker Street[2] and Sherlock and Me.[1] The script was filled with numerous Doyle references, some of which were excised from the final film to make it more accessible.[2] A reference from the real world that survived, however, was the character of Norman Greenhough, based on Herbert Greenhough Smith, editor of The Strand Magazine, whose faith in the Holmes/Watson characters brought fame and fortune to both writer and periodical.[2]


At the time of its release, the film was poorly reviewed.[2] The film currently has a 60% score on Rotten Tomatoes.[3] Roger Ebert gave the film only two stars out of four on the grounds that the "amusing premise" that Holmes is in fact a third-rate actor hired by Watson to play the role is not enough to carry the film.[4] This was echoed by The Monthly Film Bulletin's judgment that "If this premise were to be workable, it would require the casting of an actor who could actually pass as the genuine Holmes. As it is, we are simply given a buffoon."[2] Dave Kehr, writing for the Chicago Tribune, agreed that a "Sherlock Holmes movie can be many things, but stupid isn`t one of them. Still, there`s no other way to consider Without a Clue, a mystery-comedy so klutzy that it tips one of its few surprises in the credit list."[5]

Vincent Canby writing for the New York Times stated that Without A Clue was "an appallingly witless sendup of the Sherlock Holmes-Dr. Watson stories".[6] Variety conceded that the film "generates a few laughs and smiles, but of a markedly mild nature and most of them provoked by the shrewdly judged antics of the two stars."[2] For Harvey O'Brien, however, though the film seems "more like a television production", the choice of actors for the main characters convincingly addresses "the artificiality of the Holmes mythos" and "presents a unique redemption of the Watson figure".[7]

The movie won the 1989 Special Jury Prize at the Festival du Film Policier de Cognac.[8]


  1. ^ a b Mills, Nancy (3 April 1988). "A Highly Irregular Turn on Baker Street". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 15 December 2018.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Barnes, Alan (2011). Sherlock Holmes on Screen. Titan Books. pp. 298–301. ISBN 9780857687760.
  3. ^ "Without A Clue". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 17 March 2011.
  4. ^ Roger Ebert (21 October 1988). "Without A Clue". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 17 March 2011.
  5. ^ Kehr, Dave (21 October 1988). "`WITHOUT CLUE` MYSTERY WITH FEW SURPRISES, SILLY GAGS". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 15 December 2018.
  6. ^ Vincent Canby (21 October 1988). "Without A Clue (1988) Review/Film; The Case Of an Identity Crisis". New York Times. Retrieved 17 March 2011.
  7. ^ Harvey O'Brien, "The Curious Case of the Kingdom of Shadows: the transmogification of Sherlock Holmes in the cinematic imagination" in Sherlock Holmes and Conan Doyle: Multi-Media Afterlives, Palgrave Macmillan 2013, p.77
  8. ^ The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

External links[edit]