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They Might Be Giants is a 1971 film based on the play of the same name (both written by James Goldman) starring George C. Scott and Joanne Woodward. Occasionally cited mistakenly as a Broadway play, it never in fact opened in the USA. It was directed in Londonmarker by Joan Littlewood in 1961, but Goldman believed he "never got the play right" and forbade further productions or publication of the script. Upon release of the film, however, he did authorize an illustrated paperback tie-in edition of the screenplay, published by Lancer Books.


Joanne Woodward and George C.
Justin Playfair (Scott) is a millionaire who retreats into fantasy after the death of his wife, imagining himself to be Sherlock Holmes, the legendary fictional detective. Complete with deerstalker hat, pipe and violin, he spends his days in a home-made criminal laboratory, constantly paranoid about plots hatched by his (Holmes's) arch-enemy, Professor Moriarty.

When his brother (Lester Rawlins) places Justin under observation in a mental institution, and conspires with his former business associate to get power of attorney, Justin attracts the attention of Dr Mildred Watson (Woodward), a psychiatrist who becomes fascinated by his case. After Justin demonstrates a knack for Holmesian deduction, the institution releases him, and Watson meets him at his home. Playfair is initially dismissive of Watson's attempts at psychoanalyzing him, but when he hears her name, he enthusiastically incorporates her into his life as Doctor Watson to his Holmes.

The duo then begin an enigmatic quest for Moriarty, with Playfair/Holmes following all manner of bizarre and (to Watson) unintelligible clues, and the two growing closer to each other in the process.

Defining quote

The title is an indirect reference to Don Quixote's famous exploit of tilting at windmills, believing them to be "monstrous giants". Despite the protest of his aide Sancho Panza and being soundly defeated at the hands of the "giants" (that is, being tossed away by a mill's sail after getting his lance caught up in it), Quixote maintains his belief that the mills are not buildings but giants. In reference to this, Playfair argues:

Of course, he carried it a bit too far.
He thought that every windmill was a giant.
That's insane.
But, thinking that they might be...
Well, all the best minds used to think the world was flat.
But, what if it isn't?
It might be round.
And bread mold might be medicine.
If we never looked at things and thought of what they might be, why, we'd all still be out there in the tall grass with the apes.

It has also been observed that the relationship between Playfair and Watson is very much like that between Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, with one appearing delusional in following his inscrutable motives, and the other seeing clearly, but following the "visionary" out of concern, and later implicit friendship. The relationship between Playfair and Watson takes this a step further by blossoming into a romance.

Critical views

The film opened to mixed reviews. Leonard Maltin was a notable critic to hold it in good esteem.

The film received a 70% positive rating from 10 reviews on the movie-review aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes.

In his review of the film , Vincent Canby of the New York Times described it as, "a mushy movie with occasional, isolated moments of legitimate comedy."

Popular culture

The Americanmarker alternative rock band They Might Be Giants took its name from the film.


  1. Rotten "They Might be Giants"
  2. York Times: "They Might Be Giants"

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