They Might Be James Goldman

James GoldmanOn this day in 1917, actor Susan Hayward was born. Ed Yost, the inventor of the hot air balloon was born in 1919. And magician Harry Blackstone Jr was born in 1934.

Economist Thomas Sowell is 83. Musician Stanley Clarke is 52. And actor Vincent D’Onofrio is 54.

But the day belongs to playwright James Goldman, who was born on this day in 1927. He was the older brother of novelist and screenwriter William Goldman. He’s best known for the play and the filmed version of it, The Lion in Winter. But I most admire him for the film They Might Be Giants, which was also a play but it has never been published.

The film is extremely deep, but I fear that most people don’t understand it. It is basically a modern version of Don Quixote. But in this telling, instead of Quixote thinking he is a knight, he thinks he is Sherlock Holmes. His family thinks he is insane, so he becomes a patient of a psychiatrist, Dr Mildred Watson. Once learning of her last name, Holmes becomes convinced that she is his Dr Watson. As time goes on, Watson is pulled completely into Holmes’ fantasy. On its surface, the film is just a silly comedy. But it is really quite deep and poses all of the most important questions that humans ask. Here is the end of the film (which is about all I could find), which shows the final commitment of Watson to Holmes’ world. It doesn’t completely work on screen, but on the stage it would have been perfect:

Happy birthday James Goldman!

The human heart can see what is hidden to the eyes, and the heart knows things that the mind does not begin to understand.

6 thoughts on “They Might Be James Goldman

  1. Good post! I found it while trying to find out if there was ever a published script of the play. I just wanted to say that I completely agree with you about how much better the ending would work for the stage: the lights they see would, to me, be the house lights going up to signal the end of the play, as the audience finds itself transported from the magic of the play, back to real life again…just like the actors. On film, that transition doesn’t work…you’re still watching the ending line, the credits, etc. Oh well; I can always pretend, can’t I :)

  2. @Christian LeBlanc – I’ve checked the play licensers and it just isn’t available. That seems a shame because it would work well as a high school play. Of course, I just want to read the play. I don’t think the changes are all that big. It fits neatly into three acts: 1. Holmes’ room when Watson arrives; 2. Their "dinner" at Watson’s house; 3. In the park at night where Watson fully joins Holmes’ world. (That’s an interesting conclusion because Sancho Panza never does except Don Quixote’s world–he is confused at first and later pretend, but that’s about all.)

    Regardless, I’m glad someone else thinks about this film. I still think it is brilliant. I keep telling myself that I’m going to write to William Goldman and beg him to send me a copy of the play, which I’m sure he has. I’m sure he gets a lot of mail, but probably not about his brother.

  3. My mom and I saw it when it first came out and were disappointed in the ending. Obviously, Watson finally believing with Holmes that Moriarity will be coming out of the tunnel means she’s accepted him as Holmes. However, really wanted to see what DID come out of the tunnel and the realization that Moriarity only existed in Justin’s mind – which would ‘cure’ him, but make them realize they’re in love. Instead you’re up in the air – wondering how it will all end.

    • Yeah, I understand your disappointment. And I felt the same way for a long time. But finally, I came to the decision that it was essentially a postmodern piece of work. It doesn’t matter that Moriarity never comes out. In their minds, perhaps he does, Holmes fights him, and Moriarty flees because evil is never destroyed. Or maybe something else happens. Maybe Moriarty turns and flees at the appearance of Holmes. None of that matters because Moriarty does exist. As long as there is evil, Moriarty exists. But the one true thing — the one thing that matters — is their love. Why does Moriarty make “you proud”? Because it is not evil but standing up to it that matters. And now, Holmes and Watson are together, to fight evil. Note that throughout the film, Holmes does good — in the telephone office and the topiary garden.

      Of course, I take a very positive theme from it. Maybe in this world, insanity is the best we can hope for.

      But I’ve always felt that this would work much better on a stage than on the screen. It’s too real on the screen. And it’s not meant to be real. We are supposed to watch it as we would read The Lathe of Heaven. And that’s to say nothing of Don Quixote, which is what it really is — except for the tacked-on ending in Don Quixote Part 2. But ultimately, it is a love story of the deepest kind. I mean here, the love of the universe. Homles has created a universe. And Watson has joined him in it, because he was lonely in his universe and she was lonely in the universe. But don’t even think about them. Think about the man who thought he was Rudolph Valentino (Mr Small) and the nurse who decided he wasn’t insane. The psychiatrist Thomas Szasz must have loved the film, because it goes along with his theories. To him, it was ridiculous that “sanity” was determined statistically. If most people think this is so, it must be. That’s not very compelling. Is Mr Small (Oliver Clark) not really Rudolph Valentino? I’d be very much interested to see someone prove it. I’ll say this: Oliver Clark has made a lot more memorable films!

  4. I have a copy of the play from the Griffith & Prince offices. No, it was never published, and it’s terribly complicated- the film was somewhat simplified, if you can imagine.

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