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.