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Young Sherlock Holmes
Directed by Barry Levinson
Produced by Mark Johnson
Henry Winkler
Steven Spielberg (executive producer)
Written by Characters:
Arthur Conan Doyle
Chris Columbus
Starring Nicholas Rowe
Alan Cox
Anthony Higgins
Sophie Ward
Roger Ashton-Griffiths
Freddie Jones
Nigel Stock
Brian Oulton
Susan Fleetwood
Music by Bruce Broughton
Cinematography Stephen Goldblatt
Editing by Stu Linder
Studio Amblin Entertainment
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date(s) December 4, 1985
Running time 109 min.
Language English
Budget $18,000,000 (estimated)

Young Sherlock Holmes is a 1985 film directed by Barry Levinson, produced by Steven Spielberg and written by Chris Columbus. The movie depicts a young Sherlock Holmes and John Watson meeting and solving a mystery together at a boarding school, the first film by Amblin Entertainment to Receive a PG-13 rating in the United States.


Plot synopsis

Teenagers John Watson and Sherlock Holmes meet at the prestigious Brompton Academy. The reticent Watson and intellectual Holmes quickly become good friends as they begin their studies together. Watson also meets Holmes’s mentor Rupert T. Waxflatter, a retired schoolmaster and inventor working on a complete self-propelled, heavier-than-air aircraft. His niece, Elizabeth, is also Holmes’s close friend and love interest; Holmes competes for her affections with fellow student Dudley.

At the same time, two prominent men, Mr. Bobster and Rev. Nesbitt fall victim to a hallucinogen which drives them to their deaths. Noticing newspaper clippings of their deaths in Waxflatter’s office, Holmes starts to notice a connection between them. He takes his suspicions to investigator Mr. LeStrade, only to be rebuffed. Later, Holmes is expelled from the Academy due to Dudley’s machinations. Before he leaves, Holmes has one last match with his fencing instructor and equal Prof. Rathe; he only loses due to being distracted by Rathe’s ring. Meanwhile, the mysterious hooded figure responsible for the deaths poisons Waxflatter, driving him to suicide as he attacks imaginary gargoyles. His last words to Holmes are “Eh-Tar.”

Having been barred from attending Waxflatter’s funeral after being expelled from the school grounds, Holmes instead meets with Watson and Elizabeth to discuss the deaths that he determines to be murders. Piecing together the first clues: a jingling sound, a piece of cloth, and a blowpipe, the three of them discovers the existence of Rame Tep, an ancient cult of Osiris worshippers. The cult’s main weapons were blowpipes, which shot thorns dipped into a solution made up of various plant and root extracts. When this solution entered the bloodstream, it caused the victim to experience very realistic, nightmare-like hallucinations, driving them to their deaths. Their investigation then leads to a warehouse of Froggit and Froggit, a Wapping-area manufacturer; they then discover a modern-day revival of Rame Tep. When they interrupt the ceremonial sacrifice of a young girl, the three are attacked by the worshippers. Only through Holmes’s endurance and the intervention of a graveyard caretaker are the three able to survive the hallucinations.

The following morning, after being lectured by an angry Mr. LeStrade, Holmes, Elizabeth and Watson continue their investigation. At Waxflatter’s loft, Holmes and Watson discover a picture the previous three victims and a fourth man, Chester Cragwitch. Unfortunately, Prof Rathe and school nurse Mrs. Dribb catch them and separate them, preparing to expel them in the morning. But the three soon escape, and while Elizabeth returns to the loft to salvage her uncle’s work, the other two locate Mr. Cragwitch. He explains to them that in their youth, he and the other men discovered the underground pyramid of Rame Tep in Egypt. Their find led to an angry revolution by the local populace which was violently put down by the British Army; one boy, Eh Tar, who along with his sister lost their parents in the uprising, swore revenge. Having been poisoned by the hooded figure, Cragwitch suddenly attacks Holmes, who is saved by Mr. LeStrade.

As they return to campus, Holmes suddenly realizes that Prof. Rathe is Eh-Tar (it being Rathe backwards). He and Watson return just as the hooded figure, really Mrs. Dribb, leaves with Elizabeth. Using Waxflatter’s flying machine, they arrive at the Rame Tep warehouse just in time to prevent Rathe from sacrificing Elizabeth. As Rathe escapes with Elizabeth, Holmes battles Mrs. Dribb, which results in her fiery death. Meanwhile, Watson successfully thwarts Rathe’s escape by stopping his carriage. Rathe then tries to shoot Holmes, but Elizabeth takes the shot instead. Enraged, Holmes duels Rathe and manages to get the better of him; Rathe then falls through the frozen Thames to his doom. Holmes returns to Elizabeth’s side just before she dies.

Later, as he exchanges goodbyes with Watson, Holmes explains how he figured the identity of Rathe and Mrs. Dribb, who are actually Eh Tar and his sister. In the closing credits, Rathe is revealed to be alive; he checks himself in an inn as “Moriarty”, making him Holmes' arch-nemesis up to his adulthood.

References to the Holmes canon

  • Holmes has started learning to play the violin during the opening scenes, and is quite frustrated that he has not mastered the instrument even after three days of practice and wants to smash the violin because he fears it will drive him insane.
  • His pipe is originally bought by Watson to allow them to question an antique shop dealer; in the conclusion, Watson presents it to Holmes as a parting gift.
  • His Inverness cape originally belonged to Rathe, and is also his first trophy.
  • His deerstalker cap belonged to his mentor Waxflatter, who later dies. His niece, Elizabeth, gifts it to Holmes. Holmes refuses to wear it at first but due to Elizabeth's and Watson's persistence he puts it on, and by the end of the adventure Holmes has started to wear the cap regularly, to remember her. Holmes also picks up his trademark citation "Elementary, Watson. Elementary" from Waxflatter.
  • Holmes utilises a magnifying lens to catch the slightest details of anything he investigates.
  • Holmes mentions his brother, Mycroft, when preparing to leave the school.
  • Elizabeth's death, and Holmes' promise to wait until the day they are re-united, provides an explanation for Holmes' bachelor life.
  • In a drug-induced hallucination, Holmes' memory is cast back to a traumatic childhood scene in which his father blames him for uncovering an unspecified illicit affair committed by Mr. Holmes. This is meant to provide a reason for Holmes to take up the life of a detective.
  • Prof. Rathe is stated to have been Holmes' future nemesis as an adult detective; 'Professor James Moriarty'.

Riddle of the Bear

Holmes suggests a riddle to Watson, and Watson puzzles over it for much of the film.

"You are seated in a room with an all-southern view. Suddenly a bear walks past the window. What colour is the bear?"

The answer is white. The only room with an all-southern view would be at the North Pole, meaning that the bear in question must be a polar bear.


The film is notable for including the first fully computer-generated character, a knight composed of elements from a stained glass window. The effect was created by Lucasfilm's John Lasseter (now chief creative officer at Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney Animation Studios) before Pixar was sold the next year. Lasseter would go on to create Toy Story 10 years later.

In Britain the film was re-titled Young Sherlock Holmes and the Pyramid of Fear, a nod to 1984's Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.


1985 - Academy Award for Visual Effects (nominated)[1]


The film music was composed by Bruce Broughton who has a long-standing history of scoring orchestral film soundtracks. The music for the film was nominated for Grammy and also received a Saturn Award. Among the memorable themes are the suspenseful main title theme with the flute and string sections, the "Holmes Triumphant" theme which closed the film, and the "Waxing Elizabeth" piece which accompanied the scenes of the gruesome ceremonies of the Rame Tep. The film soundtrack was never mass produced on CD, but earlier audio tape and vinyl editions may be found online. A limited edition of the entire score on CD was released in 2003, though it is very difficult to obtain.

Illusionist David Copperfield used the music from the soundtrack for several segments of his David Copperfield: Orient Express television special, in which he levitated an entire train car from the famed Orient Express.


External links



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