Saturday, April 3, 2021

Make-do Sherlocks: The January Man

 The year was 1989. Sherlock Holmes was history's greatest detective. History's.

In 2021, the idea of a modern day Sherlock Holmes is no surprise. Benedict Cumberbatch, Jonny Lee Miller, we know what how a Sherlock Holmes existing in the modern day world. 

Back in 1989? Very few people believed Sherlock Holmes would work in the modern day. "Soldiers don't carry handkerchieves in their sleeves any more," they would say. "You don't get mud spatters from riding in hansom cabs." Sherlock Holmes was too tied to the Victorian era. And why not? Jeremy Brett was riding high on Canonical adaptations back then.

Despite Rathbone's W.W.II modern Sherlock, then long past, was so black-and-white old movie Sherlock that he might as well have been Victorian. So what were we getting instead of a modern Sherlock Holmes?

Nick Starkey in a movie called The January Man.

Not a regular cop? Check.

Brother in the government? Check.

A Watson whose main thing is a creative skill? Check.

In 1989, Kevin Kline's detective felt as much like a modern reincarnation of Sherlock Holmes as we were going to get. Only this time, he seemed to have a certain emotional intelligence as well as logical intelligence. Alan Rickman has been proposed as a capable Sherlock Holmes many times, but in The January Man, his Watson is a very unique, yet perfect match for his Bohemian Sherlock.

"We don't need Sherlock Holmes after all," his brother states at a turning point in the movie, identifying that Nick Starkey is their Sherlock Holmes in this tale. The official force thinks they've solved it, as they always do. The villain is almost working a crime spree with a pattern that 1966 Batman would have loved. And this is far from a perfect movie.

A serial movie with a comedic climax? A modern day Sherlock who fistfights a blackface serial killer down every staircase in an apartment building. Critic Roger Ebert called it "one of the worst movies of all time." But, y'know, it has its charm. The cast is full of fabulous people. And it's best watched on Hulu or somewhere else that doesn't edit out the adult parts.

But in 1989, The January Man was as close as we got to a modern day Sherlock Holmes.

Because it was going to be nine more years until Zero Effect came out. And that's another story.

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