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Sherlock Holmes (Robert Stephens) and Dr. Watson (Colin Blakely) get
involved in a very weird case involving a mysterious French woman
(Geneuieve Page), Sherlock's brother Mycroft (Christopher Lee),
midgets, Scotland, the Queen and the Loch Ness Monster! Believe it or
not they all come together. I originally saw this on TV back in the
late 70s but it was so heavily edited (for instance, the entire first
half hour was gone because it dealt with gay characters which was still
a taboo on TV back then) that I couldn't follow it and gave up. Now
it's back on uncut and I'm glad I'm finally able to see it.
A very strange movie but lots of fun. Some people think this is a spoof. It really isn't but there are some very funny moments--my favorite is at the beginning when Holmes blasts Watson for how he writes about his cases--"Watson, I've never said 'elementary my dear Watson' in my life!""Poetic license Holmes". There's also quite a few funny one liners mostly delivered with great relish by Stephens and it does deal with the sexual relations of Holmes and Watson (it was hinted that they were gay lovers). But it does involve a very serious case and the jokes stop towards the end.
Stephens is actually very good as Holmes--he won't make you forget Basil Rathbone but he's not bad. Colin Blakely isn't as big a buffoon as Nigel Bruce was but he tends to overact a little. Page is just terrible as the mystery woman--but then again, English is her second language. Lee, surprisingly, is kind of stiff as Mycroft. He's a very good actor--I'm surprised to see him so bad.
The movie is very lavish (probably because Billy Wilder was involved)...a lot of money and attention was given to sets and costumes, and they actually went on location to shoot the end in Scotland. The cinematography is just beautiful and the movie was never dull. It doesn't always mix the comedy with the drama successfully but it works more often than it misses. As most people know this was HEAVILY edited before it was released and the uncut version doesn't seem to exist anymore. That's too bad but what remains is not bad. Worth catching...a must see for Holmes fans.
As a Conan Doyle purist, I had not intended to watch this film when it
first appeared on UK TV some years ago. Curiosity overcame me and I
switched on at the sequence with Stephens and Genevieve Page on their
bicycle. I was immediately fascinated, particularly by the music, which
appears to have been specially written for this scene. Elsewhere, in
the film, the music is taken from Rozsa's 1956 violin concerto which,
unusually, was not written as film music but which partly inspired
Wilder to produce the film.
The acting is excellent, particularly by Stephens, slightly less so by Blakely although Watson is probably the most difficult Doylesian character to play. Clive Revill has also been praised for his part. Christopher Lee gives an early display of his impeccable technique. Genevieve Page is perfect in her role and the subtle nuances of her acting are a joy to behold. She also has a beautiful voice, with a wide vocal range.
There is also some brilliant casting. Stanley Holloway as a gravedigger is a witty reference to his playing of that part in Olivier's Hamlet, although his Scottish accent is not the most convincing. Irene Handl made an excellent Mrs Hudson. Frank Thornton was also a fine choice for the tiny part of receptionist at the Diogenes Club. Britons of a certain generation, had they been able to see the missing episodes, would have recognised Noel Johnson as the sea captain in the Naked Honeymooners episode. Johnson had a distinctive and powerful voice and became famous in 1948 as the BBC fictional radio detective Dick Barton.
It is, of course, sad that significant parts of the film have been lost. Nevertheless, In its shortened form, it works well for cinema presentation. Now that domestic DVD players are common, a full-length version would be perfectly acceptable, since viewers would have control over which parts, if any, they might want to skip through. Meanwhile, the German Spy episode in particular stands beautifully on its own. Wilder creates a wonderful feeling of the atmosphere of 1888. The outdoor scenes in Scotland also provide a nostalgic feeling for the year in which filming took place there; presumably 1969 for the 1970 release.
Billy Wilder's excellent 1970 film handles the whole subject of Sherlock
Holmes from a refreshingly different angle. As the title suggests, the film
is rather more concerned with characterisation than plot, which although
entertaining and original, is hardly an adequate stage to show off Holmes'
Instead, Wilder and Diamond start with the premise that "Watson's" stories for Strand Magazine were a little more lurid than the "reality" and use it to develop a more subtle characterisation than the "thinking machine" of the literary Holmes. Admittedly, the film probably concentrates on Holmes' celebrated cocaine habit more than it should, but all references are lifted straight from the book and in any case, Stephens does not dwell on it.
Stephens himself is quite simply excellent, giving Holmes' a depth of character not seen again until Jeremy Brett on the small screen. Stephens' performance leaves us with a slightly melancholy Holmes', a man who perhaps regrets that, unlike Watson, he has dedicated his life to pure reason and while the screenplay hints at Holmes' sexuality, Stephens deflects it masterfully, remaining ambivalent and gentile where a less accomplished actor would have been simply camp, and so uses the suggestion to wrap another layer of ambiguity about the character.
All in all, Wilder and Stephens combine to make a refreshingly accessible Holmes and the entertainment comes from the interplay of characters rather than pace of plot.
Of the films on Sherlock Holmes which have been made, this Billy Wilder
version is a masterful blend of drama and comedy. It also has excellent
score to match this marvelous film and its main character.
Robert Stephens has captured the mind set of Holmes with a bit of humor added. However, his performance seems slightly detracted with a touch of femininity, but works well within the framework of the film. Holmes, one of the best minds in England, also has a dark side.
Colin Blakely is a fun and delightful bumbling Dr. John Watson, as one might expect in a comic and light hearted film of this nature.
Who else to play Mycroft, but the very talented and marvelous actor, Christopher Lee, who is always a treat to watch.
Genevieve Page is an absolute beautiful and charming woman, making the perfect mystery woman, until her true identity is revealed. We discover a bit of Sherlock's past plans to have wed. But Ms. Page has become the only other woman that has managed to steel the affections of Sherlock's heart.
Over all, an excellent film and a must for any one who enjoys Sherlock Holmes. There is some silly and fun parts to this film, but it only adds to the color and favor of the film and characters. Keep in mind that this is not the PBS series in which you have an entirely different style of Holmes and Watson.
A tid bit for the true movie and Holmes' buffs who enjoy this film. The movie runs over 2 hours, but rumors exists that @50 minutes of the film were cut out before it was released. How marvelous it would be if the 50 minutes were found and added back to the film so we could see the full vision of what Billy Wilder wanted us to see. This leaves us with a real mystery as to what was left on a cutting room floor to be swept out. Or was it swept out? Perhaps as the film begins, the words of Dr. Watson are correct, "Somewhere in the vaults in a bank in London is a tin dispatch box with my name on it...". ???
Billy Wilder's take on the world's most famous detective is both painstakingly faithful and sardonically subversive to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's idiossyncratic creation. Presented as a case that loyal companion John Watson duly recorded but requested remain secret until long after his death, in which Holmes aids a Belgian woman find her missing husband, a mining engineer hired by an apparently non-existant English company, it makes clever use of the rulebook Conan Doyle set down while at the same time undermining it from within. The title and the plot may seem misleading at first - the first half hour especially seems at odds with what comes afterwards - but in fact if you're a Holmes fan you'll quickly realise that this is as close to romance as the detective would ever allow, and Wilder tells it through a masterful accumulation of small touches that only someone as meticulous as the man himself would notice. Script-wise, it's a cracking mystery in the best Doyle tradition, with all the time-honoured twists and turns present and correct. The acting is also up to Wilder's usual standards; Stephens and Blakely are an engaging duo as a bored Holmes and a bumbling Watson, and there's a hysterically funny supporting turn by the always underrated Revill as a Russian ballet impresario. Wilder's trademark pointed cynicism fits the English witticism particularly well, even if at times it all seems a bit too modern for the peaceful Victorian surroundings, but it is quite ironic to see him chiding Britain's stiff-upper-lip, old-fashioned morality when the film seems to be an "old timers' movie" entirely out of sync with its own time. Still, it's hard to find fault in such a thoroughly civilised and delightful entertainment.
This has always been one of my favorite movies. A good take on Holmes, a witty story, a bittersweet ending and music by Miklos Rozsa that sets the tone perfectly. When I saw it had become available on DVD I rushed out and bought it, without even checking to see the extras on the disc. The quality of the print is all right, but there are times it should have been better. The extras just kept getting better. Christopher Lee remembers his times playing Holmes in other films as well as Mycroft in this movie. Then there's the film editor who mentions parts of the movie I never heard of. Then the disc shows the deleted scenes in various forms and it's amazing what was cut. There is only one little bit I feel would have explained things in the movie better, but all the scenes are interesting. A must for people who love this film and want a wealth of information.
This film is sometimes described as a comedy, and while it has humorous
bits (a more sardonic and biting form of humour most of the time), it
has never really felt at home being classified as a comedy, in my
estimation. I do like the rapid-fire wit that Holmes seems to have here
(a bit more in abundance than in the canonical Conan Doyle stories),
but the Holmes presented here is a bit more dark and brooding, more
akin to the extra-canonical 'Seven Percent Solution' Holmes in many
Wilder was an extraordinary director and genius who sometimes gets carried away with his subject (in this regard, he is sometimes compared with Stanley Kubrick). His films are often of epic-proportions, even though they are not essentially 'epic' subjects. This film is reputed to have been nearly twice as long as the final cut version, but this may be apocryphal in that much of the raw footage never made it to final print and production. The restoration available on the disc currently available is, in fact, rather minimal - a few scenes and a few extras, but not much more than the original release of the film. This is disappointing to many fans, but in fact is more than most of us have had for a long time, as the somewhat choppy film was often mercilessly cut for television broadcast.
Holmes in this case is played by Robert Stephens, an unlikely Holmes in comparison to standards such as Rathbone, Brett, or Gillette, but still an interesting choice - quintessentially British, reserved but daring, brilliant yet flawed and faltering. Colin Blakely presents a stronger Watson than often portrayed before (this film, being made in 1970, presented this as a newer idea for Watson, one that has been picked up by many subsequent productions). Wilder has the actors play at various issues of Victorian sensibility and morality, including the implication (dismissed in the end) that Holmes might have a sexual identity issue. Christopher Lee, who himself plays Holmes in other productions, plays Holmes' smarter brother Mycroft here, to good effect.
The story line does have some inspiration from the canonical stories (the Bruce-Partington Plans, for one), and from Gillette's play (the strange case of Miss Faulkner, introducing an ending that allowed for a love interest for Holmes in the end), but for the most part takes the characters from Conan Doyle and runs far afield. Still, this is must-see film for any fan of Holmes, and any fan of Wilder, who saw this as one of his last great productions.
This film is Billy Wilder's lost masterpiece. The film is presented in a two hour and five minute version. If was originally intended to run over three hours, giving the viewer a larger look into the character of Sherlock Holmes. Even suffering a massive cut, Billy Wilders artistry shines in this film. Stephens is superb as Holmes, He portrays a man of brilliance, and wit who is deeply troubled. Watson is played quite well by Colin Blakely. I would one day like to see this film in its original 3 hr version. Maybe some studio has the lost footage. If this is so, the film could be reconstructed for an even better viewing experience.
One of fiction literature's most fascinating pairs of characters, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are depicted well here in this gem from Billy Wilder, which has a biting, clever and witty script, as well as superb production values. It was intended to be a plus three hours production however, and this intention can be seen in the sort of poor structure of the film. There are only two different segments that can be easily separated, and the two do not mesh all that well together, creating a film with one quarter laugh-out-loud comedy and three quarters gripping, but not all that funny, mystery. Still, it is an enjoyable ride as always from Wilder, and when it is amusing, it is highly entertaining. The music choices are great, the acting is good and other than the final 25 minutes or so, which are rather a drag, it all come across well even with a somewhat disjointed structure.
The difficulties in producing 'The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes' are
denoting for an aging director who refused to accept a change in the
film industry. Originally, this film was more than three hours long and
an anthology of Holmes' most tricky cases. Today's version is not that
complex and emotionally flatter. It was shortened at the instigation of
United Artists because other films with over-length of that time (like
'Star' (1968) by Robert Wise) flopped.
But, Wilder's film is still a little masterpiece, mainly due to the brilliant camera work of Christopher Challis with wonderful shots full of tender sensation and a certain wistfulness. Sadly without big success at the cash boxes which would have been more than deserved.
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