Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Strange Case of the End of Civilization as We Know It (1977)



After the death of diplomat Henry Gropinger (an obvious parody of Henry Kissinger), the evil Professor Moriarty holds the world hostage with a threat to the end of civilisation as we know it. Representatives from around the world (including Indiana Jones' actor Denholm Elliott) convene and decide to contact Sherlock Holmes' grandson (John Cleese) to deal with the problem. Holmes, along with an incredibly dimwitted Watson (Arthur Lowe), come up with a plan to lure Moriarty out of hiding by having a gathering of the world's greatest detectives.



Scattershot, but occasionally inspired, hour long feature from 1977 with John Cleese in fine form as the bumbling last surviving relative of Sherlock Holmes. Cleese gets plenty of oppotunities to show off the silly wordplay and physical comedy that was his trademark in Monty Python, but too often The Strange Case Of The End Of Civilization As We Know It lets down what could have been an inspired premise

Early scenes with Henry Kissinger and Gerald Ford impersonators play off some dated political humor, but the introduction of Cleese as Holmes (through a tremendously misguided fight scene) and, particularly, Arthur Lowe as an almost supernaturally dim (and possibly bionic) Watson soon liven things up. Lowe's Watson is a logical progression of Nigel Bruce's blustering Watson from the Basil Rathbone films, constantly pronouncing amazement at even the most obvious of Holmes discoveries with. In one of the film's highlights, he even manages to kill the police commissioner (with Holmes watching in disbelief) through some incredible ineptitude.


The scenes between Holmes and Watson work best in the film because they play to the strengths of the two leads. Cleese's barely contained rage at his partner's bungling is always amusing, while Lowe steals most of his scenes by seemingly being blissfully unaware of anything at all that is going on. As Holmes says, "he understands very little.". When it deviates from these strengths, particularly in some lengthy boardroom scenes which feature some borderline racist humor, the film suffers.

The final scenes, concerned with a meeting of the world's great detectives, is a showcase for some awful impressions (of Columbo, Poirot, Steve McGarrett, etc) and brings things to a grinding halt before the final reveal of Moriarty brings things to an amusing conclusion. The film is awfully disjointed, with some rather lame instances of drug humor obviously thrown in to be edgy, but serve as a distraction from some of the more amusing elements.


The White Star DVD presents the film in piss-poor fullscreen transfer obviously sourced from a VHS copy. The video is grainy, and there are even a few tracking problems in one scene. The audio is muffled, which makes some of the quicker dialogue exchanges difficult to make out.

The DVD features no special features. A shame, because it would be interesting to hear how this project came together.


Occasionally worthwhile but generally disappointing, The Strange Case Of The End Of Civilization As We Know It features enough amusing moments (thanks to Cleese and Lowe) to be deserving of a watch, but is too uneven to be strongly recommended.


Ash said...

As you say, the premise certainly sounds promising. Too bad the follow through just isn't there. Cleese's best stuff (Python, Fawlty Towers, Wanda) is great, but some of the other entries in his oeuvre come off as pretty tepid.

On the other hand, this film should certainly get a nod for its title. Good stuff.

Doug Tilley said...

I'm a big Cleese fan, and i'm usually happy to see him even in middling productions, but this film is most disappointing just because there was so much talent involved. A little more time on the script, and removing some of the fluff and drug references, would have made the whole thing much more enjoyable.

Honestly, Cleese as Sherlock Holmes would have gotten me to watch it.. And the idea isn't totally wasted, but it could have been so much more.