Victorian society thrills to the crime-solving adventures of the great Sherlock Holmes, unaware that he is in fact a fictional character created by the real sleuth - Dr Watson (Ben Kingsley) - as a cover for his own detecting abilities. When Scotland Yard request that Holmes help them with their latest, baffling case, Watson is forced to provide him, in the form of weak, drunken actor Reginald Kincaid (Michael Caine).
The basic joke of the would-be romp Without a Clue
is that Dr Watson (Ben Kingsley) is a detecting genius who has had to hide his light under a bushel by hiring an alcoholic ham actor Reginald Kincaid (Michael Caine) to pose as his imaginary alter ego Sherlock Holmes. He is now frustrated because the blundering idiot is hailed as an infallible hero while he is forever being pushed out of the picture. To really work, the film should have cast a leading man who gives the impression that he might make a good serious Holmes, but Caine is all too credible in his idiot act. In one of the best jokes Watson covers up a faux pas by complementing Holmes on his convincing disguise as a drunken lout, and so the laughs that should come in a flow only manage to trickle.
The actual plot is about forged bank-notes ruining the Empire but is constructed to allow for the usual excursion by picturesque steam train to a clue-ridden holiday destination and some dirty deeds down by the docks. The leads coast through their routines but the supporting cast has an appropriately rat-like and embittered Inspector Lestrade from Jeffrey Jones, a winsomely duplicitous Victorian heroine from Lysette Anthony and a rather good goateed sadist Professor Moriarty from Paul Freeman. It can't hold a magnifying glass to Billy Wilder's The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, but as a Holmesian footnote it edges a deerstalker or so ahead of Gene Wilder's The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother. It certainly beats the Peter Cook-Dudley Moore Hound of the Baskervilles and John Cleese in The Strange Case of the End of Civilisation as We Know It.--Kim Newman
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.