THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES

(1970)
With Robert Stephens, Colin Blakely, Geneviève Page, Christopher Lee
Co-Written and Directed by Billy Wilder
Reviewed by JB

"Holmes!  Scarlett Johansson... in Scotland!"    Billy Wilder had long wanted to make a Sherlock Holmes film, but struggled to find the right cast, the right story and the right writing partner.  In the end, he reunited with long-time collaborator I. A. L. Diamond and created a massive film containing several Holmes adventures and an intermission.  However, after a recent series of big-budget box office disasters, the studio was reluctant to release a three-hour period piece with little action, and Wilder himself had grown disenchanted with the film, which took several years to make.  In the end, he edited it down to a more manageable two-hour film centered on just one Holmes adventure.  Released with little fanfare, THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES did not light up the box office and quickly disappeared.

    What a shame, because THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES, in its final, truncated form, is a beautifully shot and marvelously entertaining film.  It may not stand with the likes of SUNSET BOULEVARD or THE APARTMENT as a quintessential Wilder film, but it does stand as one of the best and most original Sherlock Holmes films ever made. Robert Stephens puts his own personal stamp on the Holmes character, while Colin Blakely is an energetic, blustery delight as Watson (he reminds me very much of H. Marion Crane, who played Watson in the 1954 TV series).  The adventure, which features, among other things, missing midgets, Trappist monks, canaries and the Loch Ness monster, keeps you guessing until the final moments, and there is enough witty dialogue, a given in a movie written by Wilder and Diamond, to keep even non-Holmes enthusiasts entertained.  Although several stories and sequences were cut out of the film, there are only a few jarring cuts where it is obvious something has been removed (Holmes' absolute refusal to go to a ballet is immediately followed by a scene of Holmes at the ballet, with no explanation).

    It takes a while for the main adventure to get going.  In editing the film down to more acceptable proportions, Wilder chose to keep in an introductory episode in which it is suggested that Holmes may actually be gay.  Billy Wilder never shied away from including serious or controversial adult themes in his films, and in this opening sequence, Holmes, asked to father the child of a Russian ballet star, refuses, citing his relationship with Dr. Watson as the main reason for his refusal.  While a lie (there is no romantic or sexual relationship between the two and Watson is furious when he learns of Holmes' fabricated tale), Holmes never denies nor confirms his sexual preference, even when quizzed head on by Watson.  The lengthy sequence is seemingly superfluous - it never really leads anywhere, and has only a tangential relation with the rest of the film - but it is intriguing, even if the final moments of the film suggest that Holmes is at least bi-sexual. 4 - JB  

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THE SINGULAR ADVENTURE OF THE CHARACTER TRIFECTA

    Christopher Lee plays Sherlock's older brother Mycroft in this film.  In his career, he has also played Sherlock himself three times [Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Necklace (1962), Incident at Victoria Falls (1991), Sherlock Holmes and the Leading Lady (1992)] as well as Sir Henry Baskerville in the 1959 film version of The Hound of the Baskervilles. Somehow, nobody ever got around to casting him as Professor Moriarty.

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