on 16 September 2010
From the maker of The Apartment and Some Like It Hot, a film about Sherlock Holmes might seem a strange project. But Billy Wilder not only gave us the best of the post-Basil Rathbone movies about the Baker Street sleuth, he came close to making his best film ever. He might have succeeded but for the old story of studio interference. By all accounts, the film was originally intended to consist of four interwoven stories. But fears about excessive running time reduced that to two with one of them being more a diversion than a subplot. Even so, what remains is a thoroughly enjoyable experience filled with memorable performances, droll dialogue, atmospheric visuals and a brilliantly evocative musical score.
Miklos Rozsa's music is an integral part of the film. Primarily a reworking of the composer's Violin Concerto, Wilder reportedly loved the music so music that he constructed entire sequences to fit the music, rather than the other way around. And what music it is. The melody for solo violin taken from the concerto's second movement - which might, in another film, be called the love theme - is among the best and most beautiful music Rozsa ever wrote and adds immeasurably to the film's style and feel.
Even more important, of course, are the performances by Wilder's carefully assembled cast. As Sherlock Holmes, Robert Stephens is deliciously camp - even his makeup is more theatrical than cinematic. At first, he seems to be overdoing it, but it soon becomes apparent just how perfectly his performance suits - and dictates - the mood of the piece. Hardly a star name (Stephens was primarily a stage actor) it was probably a risk to cast him, but a risk that paid off with fantastic results. You will not forget Robert Stephen's Sherlock Holmes in a hurry.
Not content with a dazzling lead performance, Wilder surrounds Stephens with a solid supporting cast. Colin Blakeley is a perfect counterpoint as Dr Watson - more exasperated than bumbling, full of a medical man's common sense. As the woman who comes into Holmes's life, Genevieve Page is even more ravishing than usual, yet always makes the various shifts in her character totally believable. Christopher Lee cuts an imposing figure as Sherlock's smarter brother Mycroft, while the great Irene Handl fusses and sighes effectively as Holmes's landlady Mrs Hudson. Clive Revill provides a comic Russian while Stanley Holloway pops up as a gravedigger (just as he did in Olivier's Hamlet).
The complicated plot, which takes Holmes from London to Loch Ness, not only provides him the opportunity to (possibly) fall in love but also manages to squeeze in Russian ballerinas, German spies, circus dwarves, Trappist monks, Queen Victoria, an early submarine, and a certain Scottish monster. It's a hard film to take too seriously but, luckily, Wilder obviously had no intention of being overly serious. Conan Doyle purists will no doubt find much in the film to shake their heads about. But lovers of imaginative and witty films will revel in The Private Life Of Sherlock Holmes.
This film is sometimes described as a comedy, and while it has humourous 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 ways.
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 tale may be apocryphal in that the raw footage every made it to final print and production. The restoration available on this disc 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.
The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes is directed by Billy Wilder who co-writes the screenplay and story with I. A. L. Diamond. Based on characters created by Arthur Conan Doyle, it stars Robert Stephens, Geneviève Page, Colin Blakely, Christopher Lee & Irene Handl. Miklós Rózsa scores the music and cinematography is by Christopher Challis.
There were cases that Sherlock Holmes worked on that were deemed of a "scandalous nature" and not for public knowledge. But Dr. Watson made journals, and as Watson`s private deposit box is opened some 50 years later, one such journal now sheds light on one particular tricky case, and one that also delved deep into the private life of the greatest of sleuths.
Billy Wilder film`s rarely need an introduction, with a CV that contains Stalag 17, The Apartment, Sunset Boulevard and Some Like It Hot, his output, it`s safe to say, is mostly remembered and quite rightly is often praised. The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes is not forgotten by Wilder fans, but it most certainly is his most underrated. Originally made as a three hour movie, the film was taken from Wilder and snipped to a two hour picture. So where once there was a four story narrative, weaved together as an episodic humanisation of the "consultant detective", now sits a two story movie. That`s it`s still a fabulous movie is a towering credit to Wilder and his long time associate, I. A. L. Diamond. With Wilder declaring his displeasure at the final cut of the film, it promptly bombed at the box office. Further lending weight to its reputation as something of a stinker. But time has been kind to it, where the advent of various home format releases and internet discussion forums has seen its stock rise considerably. And rightly so.
Wilder deals an irreverent take on Sherlock Holmes, but one that is not disrespectful to the world created by Arthur Conan Doyle. It`s a loving recreation that simply portrays the man as a flawed, yet still genius like, human being: one with his own hang ups and insecurities. Once this has been established in the first third of the movie, and hopefully accepted by the audience, Wilder and co then take us into familiar "case to be solved" territory. Once a bedraggled Geneviève Page turns up at 221B, suffering from amnesia and clearly in need of help, we are whisked along with our intrepid duo on a journey involving canaries, midgets, Trappist monks, Queen Victoria and the Loch Ness Monster. With Sherlock`s mysterious brother, Mycroft (Lee), front, centre and very involved too. It may not be a mystery to appease purists of the Holmes literature, but it`s real good fun and contains one or two twists and revelations along the way.
Robert Stephens plays Holmes as fey yet articulate, intelligent yet complex, but always with a nod and a wink that surely pleased his knowing director. Colin Blakely is pure effervescence as Watson, excitable and exuberant and perfect comic foil for his more mannered partner. Lee is utterly splendid as the straight laced Mycroft, Page adds a simmering sexuality to the proceedings and Handl is joyously sarcastic as Housekeeper Mrs. Hudson. Look out, too, for celebrated stage and screen actor Stanley Holloway as a gravedigger. Rózsa`s score is very upbeat, even for the more reflective moments, further evidence of Wilder having tongue nicely nestled in cheek, and the score sits snugly with Challis` pleasing photography around the Scottish Highlands. Major bonus here is the marvelous sets by Alexandre Trauner, particularly the recreation of Baker Street, for here be a sometimes forgotten cinema art at its grandest.
A crisp script is crisply executed by all involved, this film deserves the credit that is now finally coming its way. 8.5/10
on 8 June 2009
This has to be one of the best films about Sherlock Holmes ever made,looking at the character from a totally different point of view.You see a depth of character,which gives clues as to why, for example, he never married.The film at times is very satirical, but never tries to make Holmes a comical figure. There are superb performances by Robert Stephens as Holmes and Colin Blakely as Doctor Watson.The supporting cast are equally first rate. You can't go wrong with a film directed by Billy Wilder, with music by Miklos Rosa,who elevates the film at all times, with dramatic, romantic and beautifully written scores.The DVD picture and sound quality is excellent.
on 3 March 2008
A marvellously crafted and witty take on the legendary detective Sherlock Holmes for all fans of his. It is a slanted, almost subversive reading of him, giving us a real man, with real vices and defects, and a real sense of humour, and gives us a far from stodgy Dr. Watson, much more a real friend of his than in other versions. This is all intended to give us something new, something quite tantalising, and something quite rewarding. It utterly succeeds in this, and throws in an adventure dripping in that dark Victorian quality all Holmes adventures have. It is clearly made by a huge fan of his, and Wilder revels at the chance of giving Sherlock's mysterious brother a prominent role. Stephens as Holmes is sensational. The screenplay is sparklingly good, and the story itself is as well detailed and entertaining as any of the Conan Doyle tales. It is a magnificent piece of work that should disappoint no one with the faintest of interests in Sherlock Holmes. The DVD itself is fine, no extras but at this price, who can complain! A great addition to anyone's collection.
on 21 November 2014
If you have the MGM / UA Widescreen 2.35:1 version. Don,t bother buying the KINO blu-ray version.It is pure RUBBISH. I do not know where KINO sourced this version,bot it looks like a bad standard dvd version.i buy a lot bolu-ray films and my advice to people is DON,T buy these films.The Company in question and othrers,have made a market for US and GERMAN IMPORTS.They just slap blu-ray on a disc, and if your disc says 1080/60 DTS 2.0 MONO...There is no RESTORATION work,to PICTURE or SOUND being carried out on these films,sadley....Gerry Bolger.
A long-time dream project for Billy Wilder, beginning life as a musical, going through several years of rewrites and casting proposals - at one point even a vehicle for Peter O'Toole and Peter Sellers until the director found both impossible to make a deal with - before going into production as a hugely expensive $10m budgeted three-hour plus roadshow picture only to be cut down to little over two hours when exhibitors refused to book the uncut version, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes is something of a legend in itself. The whereabouts of all the elements for a full restoration has long defied the finest minds in film restoration, adding a layer of mystique and what-if? to the film's reputation.
The best way to watch The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes is to forget what could have been and marvel at what is left. For all its problems, even in the heavily cut version that was eventually released, this is one of Billy Wilder's greatest and certainly most heartfelt achievements - and a pretty good yarn as well, throwing missing dwarves, dead canaries, Trappist monks, Swan Lake, Sherlock's mysterious brother Mycroft, Queen Victoria and the Loch Ness Monster into the mix, as well as an amnesiac woman who rouses more than Holmes' professional curiosity, to tragic results.
Throughout, Wilder presents a much less self-assured vision of the great detective than had been seen before. In the opening scene he castigates Watson for the expectations the Doctor's stories in Strand Magazine have instilled in the public, and the film proceeds to ultimately explore that painful gap between expectations and reality with no mercy to the character's feelings but much compassion.
Where to Watson's spirit of adventure, all things are possible, to Holmes all things can be disassembled and found wanting. There's real pain, loneliness and despair behind his façade of dry wit. Robert Stephens' Holmes is a genuinely tragic figure, a victim of his own intellect whose descent into becoming a thinking machine is more an act of self-defence at his poor judgement in matters romantic. The final shots of him reaching for a shot of cocaine to hide a broken heart are one of the most haunting images of its era.
Colin Blakely's Watson too is a great creation. He is never mere comic relief or the all-too-familiar buffoonish stereotype but a fully realised figure pained by his inability to deal with his friend's drug use (and discomfort with being his unwitting supplier). There's a humanity, familiarity and genuine emotional interdependence to their partnership that most other screen pairings have missed, aided immensely by some remarkable writing. If there's such a thing as a script so sharp you could cut yourself on it, then parts of this could cause fatal injury. To quote every good line would mean typing out half of the script, and certainly the entire Bolshoi Ballet where Clive Revill's impresario makes an unusual business proposal to Holmes. But it's not all highbrow. Example: "Who's that at this hour?" "Maybe Mrs Hudson is entertaining?" "Really? I've never found her so."
But more than amusing dialogue, this is a film which has been clearly thought through in every detail - at one point, Holmes' is even glimpsed through a haze of smoke as boredom clogs his mind. Even though Wilder's visual imagination is limited, the film is sumptuous to look at, particularly in its proper widescreen ratio, but for many, the major impetus for buying this DVD will be the location of the soundtrack (but not the picture) for the original opening half-hour of the picture (including The Case of the Upside Down Room) and the picture (but not the sound) for The Dreadful Business of the Naked Honeymooners. Unfortunately you won't find them on this video or the PAL DVD - thanks to MGM/UA's old policy of dropping extras from special editions of back-catalog titles outside the USA that was in place when this disc came out, you won't even find the trailer!
If you have a multi-region DVD player, go for the Region 1 disc instead - the transfer is equally disappointing, but the extras package goes a long way to compensating!
As for the extras that can only be found on the Region 1 NTSC disc...
The weight of expectation that comes with what has thus far been located of the missing footage is, in truth, more than two of the episodes can bear. The real gem is The Curious Case of the Upside Down Room, less for the case itself but for what it tells us about the relationship between Holmes and Watson, precipitating a crisis that is only resolved by deceit on Holmes' part (Holmes' admission to Watson is very affecting). It's also the only deleted section that seems to serve a real purpose in the film's design. Neither the original opening scene in the train, more of a skit than anything of significance, or The Dreadful Business of the Naked Honeymooners advance the plot or illuminate the characters, being little more than overextended, very mildly amusing sketches.
The supplementary section is also mildly disappointing, not because of the effort put in by the producers of the original laserdisc who collated many of them: again, it's a case of decades of expectation working against it. The laserdisc included an early draft script that was intriguing - apparently almost everything was filmed - but it also contained some crudely misplaced elements. Mycroft's line about the last doctor who warned him about his gout falling on an orange peel and breaking his neck originally replaced the fruit with a very unconvincing use of the word 'turd,' while the original addenda to the ending, with Lestrade asking Watson if Holmes will help solve the Jack the Ripper case, seems particularly lame. However, for the NTSC DVD release only script and stills montages for the deleted scenes are included.
The stills archive is good, although it is a shame that it limits itself to purely colour shots. However, there is far too little of the pressbook for those who want to know more about the film. For some reason a panned-and-scanned version of the quite brilliant but spoiler-heavy trailer has been used, and a well-worn one at that (note to newcomers to the film: avoid it until you've seen it, as it gives away two major plot twists). A lengthy on-camera interview with editor Ernest Walter is also included, although be warned that he gets one detail wrong (it is indeed Jenny Hanley who played Holmes' university `sweetheart' in a lost flashback sequence), while, exclusive to the DVD, there's also a 15-minute interview with Christopher Lee. The isolated music track of Miklos Rozsa's superb score that was on the laserdisc is NOT included on the DVD (the track was problematic: with the masters long lost, a dubbing mix track was used with the volume varying wildly).
Picture quality on the DVD is somewhat disappointing, especially compared to the laserdisc - a bit soft and definitely in need of a remastering - but at least unlike this sometimes awkwardly panned-and-scanned video version it's in the right widescreen ratio.
on 24 August 2015
The bluray transfer was better than I was expecting after reading several reviews. The downside is that every so often print damage does become distracting, but these are few and far between - most of the time the image is almost free of specks and spots, and they are not really noticeable. I didn't notice any judder in the image.
Generally the film looks pleasingly crisp, much better than the DVD. The film was shot with a slight veil of romantic softness, so it will never look razor sharp - but there is plenty of detail. I was pleasantly surprised by how good the image quality is for the vast majority of the film. It could have been done better, no doubt about it - but if you are a fan of this film do not hesitate.
The film is notable for Colin Blakely's admirable Dr Watson, but mainly for Robert Stephens' rather camp portrayal of Holmes - his performance alone makes the film worth seeing and in its own way is quite remarkable. Christopher Lee pops up as Holmes' brother Mycroft, and the lavish production design is excellent. One just regrets the film was cut from well over three hours to just two.
on 10 January 2014
This film is a triumph. As both a parody of Holmes and the British way of life it is indispensable. The late Sir Robert Stevens portrays Homes and he does it very well, there is a warmth to the character that benefits the plot and Watson, played by Colin Blakely as a rather intense and patriotic type, is a perfect foil.
Essentially there is only one story as the film survives today, but that has so many twist and interesting turns it is quite sufficient.The action takes place both in London England ( as you'd expect ) and the area around Loch Ness in Scotland, with a cast of protagonists and antagonists running the gamut of characters from a diminutive Queen Victoria and a pompous Mycroft Holmes ( the latter played by Christopher Lee ) to Irene Handle as Holmes much put upon Landlady. The sets are evocative without being obtrusive. The film coincidentally puts forward a very plausible explanation for the Loch Ness Monster.
I think even Conan Doyle would have enjoyed this offering and I can truthfully say that from start to finish it's a story that holds the attention. Last but not least let me not forget the musical score. Beautifully matched to the storyline, the main theme violin obbligato manages to conjure up a lost age before ever a word has been spoken.That has to be the art of fine music.
on 13 July 2004
A none too brilliant DVD transfer of this wonderful film. The European release leaves out all the extras from the American one, while for this DVD a print with frequent blemishes and often unstable contrast has been used. Colours are rather indifferent. Fortunately, the film is presented in its widescreen format and in an acceptable mono transfer.
However, there is no way to access the chaptering from the menu while the transition between the DVD layers is handled in a very clumsy way.
Surely, they could have done better for a film of this artistic value.