TNB Night Owl–They Might Be Giants

They Might Be Giants poster, from me to her. Photo by Alien Motives

If you were to look at it on paper, THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS (1971) sounds like a horror movie: naive woman gets sucked into a man’s world of insanity. In reality it’s incredibly sweet and, in my not so humble opinion, one of the great love stories of the modern era.

Justin Playfair (George C. Scott) is a brilliant judge. After the death of his wife he escaped into a fantasy world where he believed himself to be Sherlock Holmes. Not “like” Holmes, but actually the detective, complete with cap, pipe, and coat. He lives with his brother and his wife. His brother has fallen into financial distress. He figures if he can get Justin declared insane he could have control over his finances…and use them to fix his own.

In theory it should be easy to get him rubber stamped as insane–he believes he’s Sherlock Holmes, after all. However, the psychiatrist in charge of his case (Joanne Woodward) becomes fascinated by his case–“a true classic!” If he could be cured it would prove her greatness as a doctor. At first Playfair wants nothing to do with her. Once he learns her name–Dr. Mildred Watson–he not only welcomes her into his world but immediately latches onto her as his long-sought sidekick. At first she follows him out of professional interest. As they trek through the streets of New York City in search of the elusive Moriarty both find they have finally found both an intellectual equal, and someone who can see past their social failings.

I’ve said it before but this would be a very different movie if it had a different cast. This is the purest example I can think of where no other actors would have fit the roles or had the chemistry of Scott and Woodward. In roles that could easily be caricature, they became beautifully real. The script is also filled with brilliant dialogue. There’s a reason it was featured in a previous Night Owl on memorable movie quotes.

(For trivia’s sake, this is the movie where the band They Might Be Giants got their name.)

I’ve described this to folks as “a love story for painfully flawed people.” And there’s a reason my husband bought me a poster from the movie for our anniversary. If you need something sweet for this Friday night, here you go:

Question of the night: what’s your favorite love story?

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