The Many Watsons – John Hillerman

The “Hands of a Murderer” combines three of the best film actors of the last 30 years. Edward Woodward plays Sherlock Holmes as both the intelligent detective and the caring brother and friend. There is assuredly a man under the façade. Woodward has been a favorite of mine since Breaker Morant, truly one of the great movies of the South African Wars. Anthony Andrews plays Professor Moriarty and really steals the movie (no pun intended). Andrews character is infinitely evil and you really do cheer for the good guys in this. Besides having played one of the best Scarlet Pimpernels ever, Andrews was in another exceptional film, The Lighthorsemen.  If you haven’t seen the Lighthorsemen you need to! The third outstanding member of the cast is John Hillerman who plays Watson. Most people associate Hillerman with one part, that of retired Sergeant Major Jonathan Higgins III on the TV show Magnum P.I.

Hands of the Murderer is somewhat a remake of “The Woman in Green”. Some

Anthony Andrews as Moriarty

parts will feel familiar, but overall, it’s its own movie. The opening has Moriarty escaping from the hangman’s noose right under the nose of poor Inspector Lestrade. While Holmes scours the countryside for his foe, Mycroft has his own problems, stolen state secrets. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the cases will be related. The plot courses through hypnotizing girlfriends, secret lairs, assassinations and a government official that just might be corrupt. Overall it is well paced and in the line of things Sherlockians should enjoy. Hillerman plays a fine Watson and while not dull, in a way much more realistic. He is very much the watcher. He and his “service revolver” are called on, but as in most Holmes movies Watson is a little slow on the uptake. I remember thinking “well, don’t let the bad guys separate, shoot!” But then I guess you couldn’t have the chase scene. The final chase is on a carriage and is a little flakey. (I’ve driven a team for years and those horses were 100% under control. It has always amazed me too that in the movies the pin holding the doubletree to the wagon tongue is always in upside down!) At any rate, this is a very enjoyable movie overall and Hillerman puts in an admirable performance as the doctor.

John Hillerman was born 20 December 1932 in Denison, Texas (or as we like to say here Baja Oklahoma). Hillerman’s dad was a gas station owner in Denison and he went to St. Xavier’s Academy before going to the University of Texas, Austin. In 1953 he went into the Air Force for four years. By 1957 he had done some amateur theater work and decided to go to New York when he left the service. 1959 saw his professional stage debut and by 1970 he had made the transition to film. Hillerman would make some 70 film appearances. Besides his most notable roll in Magnum he would appear in the movies “The Last Picture Show”, “High Plains Drifter” and  “Blazing Saddles” among others. His TV appearances were numerous also: Ellery Queen, One Day at a Time and The Betty White Show to name a few. The biggest surprise for everyone is the “English” accent. Since Hillerman was a Texican he had to fake the accent. He learned by listening to performances by Laurence Olivier. He is retired and living back in his home state of Texas.

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