1890 and a document given to the Foreign Secretary (John Le Mesurier) which if it fell into the wrong hands could spark war for Britain, has been stolen by the rogue Moriarty (Leo McKern). Surely the only man capable of saving the day is Sherlock Holmes (Douglas Wilmer), but he has other ideas, and after pretending to leave the country on another case sends Sergeant Slacker (Marty Feldman) over to see his lesser known younger brother Sigerson (Gene Wilder) instead...
But Sigerson harbours a huge grudge against his elder sibling, so is reluctant to get involved in one of his cast-off cases - oh, wait, of course he'll take the mission because if he didn't we wouldn't have a movie. This was the brainchild of Wilder, who not only starred but wrote and directed the film as well, initially hoping that his good friend Mel Brooks would have taken the helm only to have to undertake the task himself. While a minor hit, it was not tremendously well-received at the time, with most of the grumbling concentrating on the fact that Wilder displayed no real aptitude for the world of Holmes.
But as the title says, this was not really a Sherlock (or "Sheer Luck" as Sigerson labels him) story, thereby freeing the creator to put anything he pleased into the movie, which was often how it played. Indeed, there was a marked reluctance to engage with any serious aspects of the mystery, which wasn't even a real mystery as we were well aware who was behind the theft and had to wait for our hero to catch up. For much of the time this resembled a series of revue sketches on a common theme of Victoriana, and Wilder was only too happy to have his cast break out into song whenever he thought it appropriate.
Or inappropriate, for that matter, as the work insisted on threatening to turn into a musical at the drop of a deerstalker (which Sigerson eschews in favour of a wide-brimmed felt hat). This did mean the Kangaroo Hop number would be stuck in your head for quite some time afterwards, but indicated the cheery, anything for fun mood to the movie that only occasionally needed to bother about anything as trivial as plot. When Madeline Kahn showed up as a music hall singer with a secret, it was the cue for some basic save the girl clichés, all conveyed with a sense of humour that was far from sincere about the perils depicted.
But everyone looked to be enjoying themselves (though Wilder later admitted the whole production had been a daunting experience), and if you were in the right frame of mind and willing to indulge the makers you would likely have a pretty good time with it. There were as many good laughs in this as you would have wanted, from the broad slapstick of the carriage chase where Wilder does battle with Roy Kinnear wielding huge shop signs, to the wordplay, both double (and single) entendres and straight ahead wit, with a dose of silliness. Dom DeLuise was also a welcome presence as a vain opera singer, and the supporting cast was dotted with fine British comic talent letting their hair down. Not everything here was a success, and too often proceedings descended into narrative near-chaos as a biting spoof of Arthur Conan Doyle's creation was beyond it, but it did make you chuckle. Music by John Morris.
With his striking blue eyes that could go from sensitive to crazed with ease, American actor Gene Wilder was a new sort of screen comic presence when he appeared in his film debut Bonnie and Clyde, a scene-stealer as the undertaker, and he quickly captured audience's interest. This led to him getting hired for Mel Brooks' directorial debut The Producers, where he suited the mayhem perfectly, and would go on to appear in two further Brooks classics, Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles.