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Some prefer movies based upon famous novels of Arthur Conan Doyle to follow the story lines of the famous novels on which they are based. This is an alternate approach because the plot is an entirely new fantasy case melding a classical ballet company, circus performers reported gone missing and a woman fished out of the Thames uncertain of who she is. There are unusual references to risqué subjects not generally approached in the classic murder mystery realm of Holmes. Should you be expecting a classic Sherlock movie this is not the case,. The photography, editing, pace of the movie and silliness of the humor add a Wilder depth many will enjoy but some will not.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Advocates for this film say the reason it stinks is that Wilder wasn't
able to make it according to his original vision. I'm not sure I buy
this. I've seen the magic that can result from restoring a film that's
been mutilated by stupid reediting, "The Wicker Man" being a prime
example. But Wilder himself is responsible for the current version of
"Private Life" we have now, and what there is of it is so terrible it's
just hard for me to imagine that he could have made a masterpiece out
of it by doubling its length.
The main problem to me with "Private Life" is that it feels like what it was, a big stodgy overproduced road show movie in the tradition of "Gone With The Wind" and "It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World." It was, in the lingo of the time, square. 1970 was a year when much more adventurous films like "Joe" and "M*A*S*H" and "Gimme Shelter" and "Little Big Man" were on offer to the sophisticated film-goer, and thought they have their own flaws their relative sophistication and freshness made the likes of "Private Life" look pretty stale and tawdry in comparison. Its squareness still makes me cringe, but this may be why younger viewers like Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat, the creators of "Sherlock," don't have the same problem; they're too young to know what square is.
Sherlock Holmes should be a role that's second nature to any reasonably skilled and intelligent British actor, and it's astounding to watch Robert Stephens of all people failing where so many very different talents, from Basil Rathbone and Peter Cushing to Benedict Cumberbatch and Ian Richardson, each found his own ingenious way into this iconic character. I put the blame for this solely on Wilder, as reportedly he treated Stephens so badly during the shoot that the actor suffered a breakdown, thus spawning the urban legend that playing Holmes drives people crazy, which in turn latched itself on to Jeremy Brett. News flash: it's unfortunately true that Brett had issues with the role of Holmes, but in general you cannot get bipolar disorder from acting.
And it's not just any Holmes. He's a dark heroin user who is quite
possibly gay or asexual, with contempt for the world, though he's still
as jolly and towards the middle of the film he is pretty much the same
character as Basil once played.
I liked this shift actually. By the sound of it you might think sloppy writing or something in that matter but believe me it's not. This film shows the character on both good and bad through the words of Dr. Watson.
It is quite clear that Watson idolized Holmes, it's even pointed out in the film itself and this more or less proves it. When he is on his worst Watson writes about his worst but when he is OK or normal Watson looks away from any bad behavior and once again returns to the character in his story. This is quite good writing. To imagine a factional characters view of an other fictional character.
The direction has never been better I'll point out that! The actors however are in my honorable opinion not as good as the Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce were and I have to say that it lacks their chemistry and they are both a little off a few times but as the story takes on they become quite good.
What you see is new, it's more or less reimagined though it's still in some way the very same. I love this film, even more than the classics. This is a masterpiece! Perhaps not a perfect masterpiece but by approach, direction, pictures, styles, darkness and familiar yet new humor this will be a good little treat for any S.H. fans.
And there is. This film is infamous for having much cut from it by Billy
Wilder himself. And while I appreciate his choices I am annoyed with the
fact that they are not featured as extras on this DVD. I'm not exactly
what the deleted scenes (or should that be plots) are but I can't shake
feeling that the first 30 minutes are completely redundant in relation to
the rest of the movie and perhaps it might not have been if the movie were
longer. Cutting a movie down to size is always a very tough thing to do.
Private Life of Sherlock Holmes suffers, but still manages to be
Complaints aside, I really do enjoy Wilder's bizarre approach to Sherlock Holmes. Robert Stephens plays him with more a touch more humor and pathos than most other actors and comes across as a mix between Alan Rickman and Rick Mayall. It's definitely the most pleasant I've seen Holmes. The mystery he gets involved in may be huge, though it's not exactly exciting. Wilder seems more interested in having every element of the story fall into place than give us something with a sense of urgency. And for a film over 2 hours long (it was meant to be 3) it's not cool to have every scene presented at its own pace. There has to be some compromise.
The photography is excellent. The 2.35:1 widescreen frame is used expertly and one can only imagine the horrors of this film being presented in pan and scan. The anamorphic picture looks fine for a 33 year old film and the Mono sound is completely adeqequate. Extras consist of a trailer, an interview with the editor, deleted sequences (not the all of them) and a photo gallery.
I chose this movie to watch almost at random, going only off of the title,
which seemed vaguely familiar. Besides, I'm a fan of the Sherlock Holmes
stories, so I figured it would be enjoyable.
When the opening credits came on, I realized why the title sounded familiar: the film was directed by the great Billy Wilder! A pleasant surprise to be sure, as I'm a fan of his work.
The movie was good, if a bit uneven. The feel is very episodic, and the plot changes gears several times, with a lot of sub-plots that seem to come out of nowhere. However, these weaknesses are made up by the sharp dialogue and the production values are high. The performances are spot-on as well, particularly Robert Stephens as Sherlock Holmes, Colin Blakely as Watson, and Christopher Lee.
I won't go into the plot, as this one is better enjoyed going in blind. Overall, I would recommend it to fans of the Sherlock Holmes stories and to Billy Wilder fans alike. Prior knowledge of the characters is helpful to get the `in-jokes,' but not completely necessary.
Until the advent of the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes series, this was an
important feature, as Colin Blakely makes an earnest attempt not to fall
into the trap of being a stupid Watson. Watson, a man who went through
medical school in Edinburgh in a very strict period, who was in the service
in Afghanistan and undoubtedly performed surgery under fire, who was no
doubt a good shot, a man of reasonable intelligence and steady nerve, and a
welcome man for Sherlock Holmes to have guarding his back, is too often
written off as a buffoon or (as with Nigel Bruce) a kindly old chap in the
early stages of Alzheimer's.
The early scenes of "Private Life" are important as Blakely tries to break the mold. Unfortunately, as the movie progresses, he becomes increasingly silly and more relegated to the background.
The movie itself isn't particularly interesting. It brings up some interesting ideas (such as the Diogenes Club being more than a stodgy anti-social organization), but it doesn't add much to the Holmes mythos.
The legendary deleted scenes are included in the dvd in various forms: some have picture but no sound; some have sound and no picture; some are only represented by a copy of the screenplay one has to read, with still photos intercut to give one a general idea of the action. It's easy to see why they were cut. Though they're all interesting vignettes, they don't add anything to the story. The prologue is an unnecessary intrusion (with references to another movie character that should have been veiled); "The Upside Down Room" is an interesting vignette that adds to Watson's character, but doesn't progress the story and should have been cut; the flashback of Holmes to his college days probably should have been included in the film; "The Naked Honeymooners", a fine vignette that is shown on film in subtitles, goes on too long, and good though it looks it's at right angles to the film because it makes Watson to be utterly stupid (he's a doctor who can't even tell if someone is dead!). All of these segments might've made an interesting short feature added to the movie (like "The Crimson Permanent Insurance" in Monty Python's "Meaning of Life") but only the college flashback would have fit in the movie, or even been of importance to it.
Colin Blakely makes a fine attempt at changing Watson's persona (the mold would not really be broken until the arrival of David Burke and Edward Hardwicke in the Jeremy Brett series), and Robert Stephens, a worthy actor, portrays Holmes both poignant and with a sense of humor. He probably is the saddest Holmes ever. Christopher Lee makes an interesting Mycroft. The film tries to create a happy confusion with old-looking boys, mysterious Trappists, white canaries, empty offices, naked women and the like, but the movie tends to drag and the mystery isn't really all that mysterious. Most of the movie is telegraphed long in advance.
A vital addition to any avid fan of Holmes (actually, more the fans of Watson), but perhaps unnecessary for anyone else, and probably utterly confusion to anyone who doesn't have a good grounding in Holmes.
(Also of interest, in an interview on the DVD we hear about an ending that should have been used, involving Clive Revill, proving that even someone with Billy Wilder's talent can be wrong)
The Case of Sherlock Holmes appropriately begins with a case, containing all
the familiar signifiers of the great detective. Wilder takes the mythic,
universal Holmes, and returns him to his origins in the fin de siecle 1880s
and 90s, the period of Messrs. Jekyll, Hyde and Gray. Like these, and most
Wilde heroes, Holmes is a split personality, damagingly torn between the
obligations of his reputation, and his personal desires. His inability to
be a man, a desiring body, turns him into a ghost, present in the world of
men, but unable to partake of it. The opening of the case containing Holmes
is mirrored by the later opening of a coffin, containing the man Holmes is
Played like a Wildean tragicomedy, the film also shows, in this celebration of the archetypal reasoner, the roots of the 20th century's barbarous anti-reason - the Boer War victims, Mycroft's scientific militarism, and the burial of the midgets all point to the two World Wars and concentration camps to come. Far and away Wilder's masterpiece.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I was excited to see Wilder's take on good old Holmes but after having just watched this film I'm very disappointed. If you're a huge fan like me and you've read the original stories as they were printed in the Strand Magazine then I'd stay away from this one. Gone is the sober, thoughtful Watson only to be replaced by a bumbling fool who never stops talking. Gone is the brilliant Holmes who misses nothing to be replaced by a literally clueless and pedestrian hack who misses pretty much all of the basic plot points. He's just as surprised by the mystery and its resolution as we are. Ice skates? Come on! Holmes would have known it was a wheelchair right away and he probably would have known the approximate weight of the woman in it just by looking at the tracks. I love how this Holmes yells at women and tells them to shut up. And the Holmes I know would not have missed the way in which the enemy agent signaled to the monks on the bridge. And what's with Lee's Mycroft? The subtlety isn't there and the character is all wrong. Save the Q schtick for James Bond. One last complaint: your typical American grandmother has more royalty about her than the petulant squirt in this movie. She looks like someone just off the back lot from a Western that they enlisted last-minute to play the Queen.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Receiving heavy cuts to its original longer, episodic format, The
Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (TPLoSH) as we see it today may not be
just what its creators intended. But as it is, its premise is still
ill-conceived. Sherlock Holmes as a semi-comedy? Why? The film doesn't
communicate a reason for this approach, or that there could be a
reason. By contrast, Without a Clue, which I saw many years ago,
subverts the Holmes formula for its premise, i.e. Holmes is just an
act, an actor following the cues of puppet-master and brilliant
detective Dr. Watson. (I haven't seen the Holmes comedy by the other
Wilder, Gene.) At any rate, TPLoSH's tone is too mild to be comic, but
not serious enough to be exciting and dramatic.
The opening scene in 221B is good, nicely summarizing Holmes and Watson and their traditional traits. I also enjoyed the nod to the Strand magazine, acknowledging where many of the stories debuted and continuing the illusion that the characters are real. Plus the "blame the illustrator" bit.
The story is divided into two parts. The first is little more than one joke with a very drawn-out setup, almost extraneous to the mystery. While Watson takes command at a backstage cast party, Holmes thinks to escape an awkward situation by fibbing that he and Watson are lovers. Word spreads, the ballet girls flee from Watson (in disgust?) while the ballet boys silently do otherwise, and Watson spazzes out about people thinking he's gay. This may have been daring and (to some folks) funny in 1970, but I doubt today's viewers will find it a laugh riot or sympathize with Watson acting like the world is ending, even if Watson is an 1800s man.
While TPLoSH spends too much time on this fluffy vignette, the second part, the bulk of the plot, is rooted in illogic, weak mystery, and general silliness. The mystery is handled in great anti-climactic fashion. Little by way of clues and detective work here. Then it all ends when Magic Mycroft simply pulls aside the curtain himself and reveals it all an abrupt finish unfit for Holmes the detective.
Mycroft's all-knowingness raises the questions: Why didn't he warn Sherlock about Gabrielle's identity when he first lectured him way back at the Diogenes Club? Wouldn't this have been in the government's interest, and prevented a lot of trouble? The film makes no effort to suggest that Mycroft learned the truth about her only after the Club meeting.
In fact, lots of stuff doesn't hold up to reason. Even if we go with the idea that Ilsa, the superspy who already knows the submarine exists, would recruit a naive Holmes just to help her follow the lead from a return address, we wonder If Ilsa wants to string Holmes along, why would she go to all the trouble of playing amnesiac and forcing Holmes to read obscure clues on her palm merely to determine her apparent identity, so the hunt may begin?
Mycroft's secret service must've suffered budget cuts if it has to employ an invalid, elderly peasant to raise canaries for its project. And would a German undercover agent investigating England's naval project "Jonah" have any reason to hold a bible open to the Book of Jonah for Watson to see while riding the train?
Would Holmes really fail to understand a widow's desire to cry after her husband's death, and casually, cruelly order her to stop? Would a trespassing sign in the United Kingdom spell "unauthorized" with a Z? Would Holmes, investigating a secret base crawling with people, loudly announce his findings to Watson and Gabrielle right there? Why *does* Watson walk around with his stethoscope hidden in his hat? Why not hide it in his luggage? Or is equipment that doctors use during appointments regularly kept on their person? Does Watson take it to plays? Museums? Could Queen Victoria really be such a political idiot that a military submarine project (somehow finished without her knowing about it) would offend her sense of sportsmanship and lead her to cancel the project? Would Mycroft and the navy really scuttle the whole submarine as a result?
Some amusing silliness comes from all the "Loch Ness monster" stuff, especially the sight of it going after boats. Holmes was an adventure hero, but not of the Saturday morning TV variety. Likewise, Holmes unsubtly spies on two suspicious porters revealing a crate in their possession with the words "Sulfuric Acid Corrosive" in blaring print. One wonders where the missing exclamation point was.
Even the supposed drama about Holmes' titular "private life" is underwhelming. Holmes, staunchly single and distant from women, gains a special attachment to Gabrielle. There was a deleted flashback to "explain" how a college-age Holmes formed his distant attitude, presumably serving to make his feelings for Gabrielle all the more moving. But Conan Doyle already explored this ground in A Scandal in Bohemia, one of the most famous Holmes stories, in which another formidable woman wins Holmes' approval and admiration.
I suppose Robert Stephens' acting fits the bill for the tone TPLoSH is attempting; his rather casual air would be out-of-place for Holmes elsewhere. However, that complexion and especially the wavy hair, together with his soft demeanor, purring accent, and tendency to joke, suggest someone more like Oscar Wilde than Sherlock Holmes. His pasty make-up is also distracting.
TPLoSH's Watson mainly serves as a frazzled, poor old dear, which gets old. I don't detect much of the intelligence some have seen in him.
Like some other works, this film presents the Diogenes Club as a front for a covert British intelligence agency, which is less interesting than Doyle's creation I think, and misses the point of the club. TPLoSH likewise ignores the club's peculiar rules for silence, showing us the heroes talking aloud in the main chamber. A no-no!
The side of Holmes and Watson that Arthur Conan Doyle never told us about is the focus of this offbeat film. There are pretty good performance from Stephens, Blakely, Page and Lee. The script by long-time collaborators Wilder and Diamond gets off to an intriguing start but kind of loses steam at the half-way point, with the plot becoming convoluted and somewhat silly as the action moves to Scotland. A more engaging mystery or a more humorous script would have helped. Wilder probably made more great films than any director but this is certainly not one of his better efforts although even sub-standard Wilder is worth watching.
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