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I'm a big fan of Sherlock Holmes, especially the classic films starring
Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce - and I'm also a big fan of Billy
Wilder, having rated all ten of his films that I saw prior to this one
in the very top tier of rankings. However, I just could not click with
this film; I can see why others like it a lot, but there's just too
much wrong with it for my liking. I go into Billy Wilder films with
high expectations, because the man was a genius; but I really don't
know what happened here. I realise that this is supposed to be satire,
and the idea behind the film is funny; but at the same time, it's just
not Sherlock Holmes. We are presented with a very camp and non-too
clever character, which Wilder tells us is Sherlock Holmes. Ignoring
the fact that Holmes would never ask Watson's permission to do
anything, we are meant to believe that is the a 'funny version' same
character that Rathbone portrayed so well all those years earlier. Like
I said, I know that this is satire and so you cant expect the film to
play out seriously - but for satire to work, it needs a grounding in
what it's making fun of; and really, the detective in this film could
be a completely original one, as he certainly isn't Sherlock Holmes!
Ignoring what I've just said, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes still offers a solid two hours of fun. But this is what really annoys me - the film has got the plotting spot on...if only the satire had been concentrated on a bit more, this could have been really good. The film follows Watson's memoirs of some of the less successful missions he has accompanied Holmes on, and we see the duo travelling to Scotland and meeting up with all manner of things from dwarfs (naturally), Christopher Lee and the Lock Ness Monster. The plot plays out well, and despite putting the focus on humour; there's a fair amount of mystery here too. The acting really got on my nerves, as nearly everyone has been miscast. Robert Stephens makes a terrible Sherlock Holmes, and accounts for a lot of the reason the satire doesn't work. Colin Blakely is amusing as Watson, but he's not the actor I'd have cast - and the only really likable casting in the film is Christopher Lee, but that's more for the fact that he's Christopher Lee than because of inspired casting. You would be forgiven, having read this far, for thinking that I don't like this film. That's not true, it was a good time and I enjoyed it - but I wouldn't recommend going into it with the high hopes that usually come with Wilder films.
Iconic director Billy Wilder takes on another icon, Sherlock Holmes.
And it started off with some fun jabs. There is a persistent rumor that
Dr Watson and Sherlock Holmes are a gay couple, and Dr Watson is not
From there, we dive into a Holmes mystery. The problem is the case gets more and more ridiculous. And there's nothing amazing with Holmes' deductions. It veers solidly into Scooby Doo territories with midgets, monks, and Loch Ness monster. Is it the grounds keeper? And do we pull off the mask?
The relationship between Dr Watson and Sherlock Holmes is OK but the doctor is always complaining. And Sherlock is a little too cold. The chemistry is not my favorite.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970) A European film on paper with a virtually all British cast and written and directed by Billy Wilder and filmed in the UK but it's very much a Hollywood studio product which means it comes with a large dollop of hokum in this case the premise that Holmes is not gay and beneath the crusty exterior of a misogynists beats a heart just ripe for plucking by the right gal. The first 25 minutes or so first lay the ground work by demolishing any notion that Holmes and Watson have a thing: Holmes is offered a Strad violin to make a baby with a Russian ballerina in a post performance visit to her dressing room and he first demurs with the excuse he is English but when this doesn't do it he plays the homo card and rings in Watson. Meantime, Watson is backstage doing the can-can with a bevy of beauteous dancers and when word is passed the girls drop off one by one and are replaced by male dancers throwing Watson into a tantrum as he screeches his denials. So the scene is played for yucks and homos are always good for a laugh in the Hollywood of the period. It's not about PC it just wasn't funny and was irrelevant to the story that follows. But it does introduce Watson as a stooge and fall guy for Holmes and in fact he does several pratfalls, that is when he's not screeching at Holmes for something or other. So the story finally begins with a beautiful woman that Holmes must travel to Scotland with as husband and wife for security and at the end when she disappears he is suitably stricken. A lot of other stuff happens that's all good clean fun Hollywood style and done with great craftsmanship and flair but it's the old kid's stuff that you've seen over and over.
This is a Sherlock Holmes movie in a different league to all the
others. Unfortunately it is a league shared with the likes of "Casino
Royale" and the Pink Panther series. Not quite as broad comedy perhaps
but approaching it; Wilder's Holmes does not, as did Clousseau, fall
into duck ponds or find himself walking around in women's clothing.
Perhaps he should have done in order to inject some purpose and humour
as a perpetually languid and rather flat Holmes (played by Robert
Stevens) who is not very clever, has lost the very thing that had made
the character interesting.
That cannot be said for a frantically energetic Watson played by Colin Blakely - an impressive performance at least in that he combined this energy with precision in the portrayal of Watson's joy, bafflement, or fury. Sad that Blakely never had roles that could fully demonstrate his talent in a worthwhile production.
Had Wilder and Diamond shown any interest in or respect for the original it could have led to an amusing parody such as "Without a Clue" where Watson was the real brains and Holmes a washed-up old actor hired in by Watson and given a script to memorise and speak.
It was as writer and director had heard of the Holmes stories but never read them and set about making a broad comedy for an audience who also had never read them. Difficult to guess what writer and director thought they were doing as a concept let alone what they were doing with $10m of other people's money.
The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes begins as a dicey pic by a director
who'd spent his career throwing dice. It magnetizes one's interest as
it opens by showing how dependent Holmes was on crime. There is great
mention of historical figures, as well as great raunchiness, what it
might've been considered at the time, especially considering the
material. There is even a very interesting historical insight into
homosexuality played for pratfall effect. And I once again pleasantly
find that Wilder and I share the same taste for voluptuous, sex-oozing
Disappointingly, it seems to only deal with the private life of Sherlock Holmes for the first twenty minutes. After setting us up for a fascinating speculative insight into "the real" Sherlock, it winds down into a rather silly mystery. It even begins to lose all hope as a good movie an hour and a half in but quickly picks itself up reasonably.
Its weaknesses do not derive inherently from its turn as a customary formula thriller but in its lack of conviction in being such. The use Miklos Rosza's loud, rich orchestral roller coaster is all wrong. His score is way too boisterous and charged for an English mystery. The Holmes character, snaking around with his magnifying glass and apparently having determined a murderer by calculating the measure to which the parsley had sunk into the butter on a hot summer day, is auspicious material for the kind of farcical dissection we expect from Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond. But they underdistance the opportunity and burn us out while Holmes toilsomely disentangles a mystery that includes midget acrobats, a missing husband, Trappist monks, the Loch Ness monster, dead canaries and a copper ring that has turned green. It takes Holmes longer to decide the case than it takes us, and Watson never gets it.
We crave the impression of sardonic amusement, though that alone needn't have been malignant. This disappointing early entry in the steampunk genre, which originally contained another two other plot strands, and a further flashback sequence showing Holmes in his university days, all of which unfortunately was cut, might have worked better if the case itself had been more dramatically intriguing: If, say, Wilder and Diamond had immersed Holmes in a story so replete with dilemmas, suspicions, catch-22s, cryptic narrative interlopers and jinxes that we were just as baffled as he was. It would be more of a reason for the case to have never reached the pages of Arthur Conan Doyle's series.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This has been called Billy Wilder's last Great film which seems a little unfair on three of the four - Avanti, The Front Page, Fedora - that followed it although I wouldn't argue that his last film, Buddy, Buddy, was also his worst. No one admires Wilder more than I do but I still find it difficult to work up much of a sweat about this entry. It is, of course, a racing certainty that the missing footage, something like one hour of screen time, would have enhanced my own enjoyment and complemented the things I had no quarrel with, i.e. the period 'feel' the attention to detail though against this I found it hard to accept Colin Blakely's 'bumbling' and slightly inept Watson though on the whole Robert Stephens caught the darker facets of Holmes' psyche admirably. Maybe it was the Boy's Own Paper element of submersibles and midgets to say nothing of Stanley Holloway's wayward Scottish accent clearly perfected at the Dick Van Dyke School Of Regional Accents that did for me. On the other hand no film in which Wilder had a hand however small is unrewarding (even Buddy, Buddy) and this is no exception.
Sat down to watch this because I love Billy Wilder films and I love Sherlock Holmes. Film is beautiful to watch and the score is excellent. As for the treatment of Holmes and Watson it's interesting but incomplete...as so many others have noted there is almost one full hour missing from this film. I'm sure that the portraits of the main characters are incomplete as well. Strictly for Holmes fans though not recommended ... it is tedious and I thought the person who mentioned Alan Rickman in connection with the actor playing Holmes was spot on. Alan Rickman is a villain in my book, if not that certainly not my idea of Sherlock Holmes. If this had been directed by Billy Smith instead of Billy Wilder I have to say I believe many of our snobby critical types would have dropped their rating by as much as five points.( If they ever would have watched the film at all.) To be credible in praise one must call a spade a spade.
This movie reminds me of nothing as much as 1998's 'The Avengers,' of all
things. Both attempt to revive familiar, popular and revered characters
while giving their movies a contemporary sensibility that would attract new
viewers. Neither film succeeded.
'Private Life...' works much better than 'The Avengers,' to be sure, but I'm afraid that is damning it with faint praise. In 1970, at least, audiences weren't as used to a steady diet of so-called "blockbusters" as they are today, so rather than calling on spectacular stunts and special effects to create sensation, this movie delves into areas of Holmes' and Watson's characters and private lives that have been heretofore only hinted at (i.e. Holmes' drug use, his sexuality, Watson's womanizing, etc.) The results are generally positive in the early going, but the weight of a cumbersome plot involving international espionage, the Loch Ness monster, mysterious monks, a group of dwarfs--even Queen Victoria shows up-- brings the movie crashing down in the second half. Watching the entire two hours is a most tedious task.
It's always a risky proposition trying to revive characters from someone else's literary classic, but there never seems to be any shortage of those willing to try. Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond give the Holmes fan something new to think about, but they miss out on the essence of what made him so special in the first place. This Sherlock Holmes (Robert Stephens, who along with Colin Blakely as Watson, does a good job under the circumstances) shows very little of the astounding deductive powers which have delighted readers for a hundred years. More than once in this film Holmes suggests to Watson that this adventure isn't worth his chronicling. The filmmakers should have taken the hint.
I like the fantasy of a superartist, someone who knows what they are
doing, someone who knows where the levers to my soul are.
But I know that's extremely rare, that most art that I see as art is the result of someone just following their own urges, intuitive or accidental. Its okay, I'll take my nourishment where I can get it, but I won't be surprised if the same person that served me emotional redemption then serves me useless trash.
Wilder knows how to make movies. He knows, I think, how to take something in his mind and put it on screen more or less intact.
The problem is that he is a pretty stupid man, and what happens to appear in his mind usually isn't all that interesting. "Sunset Blvd." is on my list of the most important films in existence. Sherlock Holmes, the phenomenon and his impact on the structure of narrative is one of my dearest insights.
Put the two together and you get something worth watching, no?
No. And it isn't because the picture was butchered by the studio. Its dreadful all the way from beginning to end in every dimension expect each shot is so perfectly framed you know a master is home, partly.
Its a difficult thing to begin with humor and try to weave something interesting around it. Much easier the other way. Its simply a matter of architecture: you need something substantial at the root. Its clear what the problem is here, that the man simply wanted to amuse. So we have a building balanced on top of meringue.
Sexual intrigue, a redhead, drugs, a new dreadful weapon of war, a secret society, serious sibling rivalry, homophobia, and all that before you get to what makes Holmes interesting, the manner of narrative.
Pass on this. Wilder was confused.
Ted's Evaluation -- 1 of 3: You can find something better to do with this part of your life.
For fans of the Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce-Holmes films, this might be
perfectly entertaining, perhaps even the best of them all. However, as a
fan of the literary Sherlock Holmes, I say don't waste your
I thought the story and the characters were predictable- well except Watson. That is, I couldn't have predicted an interpretation more annoyingly unlike the the author's version than Hollywood's original- Nigel Bruce as the blundering sidekick... until I saw Colin Blakely take it WAY over the top. Actually, until I saw this movie, I thought it was Holmes hitting the seven-percent solution, but now I'm not so sure. A 3/10 rating from me.
BTW, for good Billy Wilder films, just about every one from The Fortune Cookie backwards. For good Sherlock Holmes on film, dig up the Jeremy Brett, David Burke British TV series. Avoid all Hollywood versions at all costs.
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