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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 2 February 2016
Billy Wilder’s film remains an intriguing curiosity nearly a half a century after it was made. Butchered at the behest of the studio (United Artists) and a commercial flop on its release, the released (and readily available) version comprises two rather incongruous tales – the first, a highly inventive piece of dark comedy (right up Wilder and his regular co-writer I A L Diamond’s street, I would say) in which Holmes’ 'ambiguous sexuality’ is used to deny prospective parentage for the offspring of Tamara Toumanova’s Russian ballet dancer, Madame Petrova, the second, an enjoyable 'boy’s own’ adventure yarn, taking our hero (à la Hitch’s The 39 Steps) to the remote Scottish Highlands, where a case of cunning espionage is revealed (inextricably entwined with the mythology of the Loch Ness monster). It is very easy to get caught up with the narrative twists and turns of our intrepid heroes’ high jinks – the film’s production values guarantee this, with Alexander Trauner’s lush Victorian sets, Christopher Challis’ evocative highland cinematography and Miklós Rózsa’s haunting musical themes – but there are also hints at something much more personal for Holmes (as the film’s title suggests) which Wilder, with his acute sense of pathos, barely scratches the surface of (perhaps a 'full uncut’ version of the film might have gone some way to bringing a more uniform whole to fruition).

That said, there is still much to admire in the released version, not least Stephens’ portrayal as the obsessive criminologist and maverick wit, delivering a series of ironic quips mixed with glimpses of the great man’s darker background (of drugs and sex). One of the film’s greatest points of fascination is the way Wilder distinguishes between the 'real, personal’ Holmes and the 'fictional incarnation’ created by Colin Blakely’s Watson, in the latter’s stories for The Strand Magazine. Elsewhere, Geneviève Page is good as the glamorous 'foreign interloper’, Gabrielle Valladon, who is seeking Holmes and Watson’s assistance in tracking down her missing husband, Christopher Lee delivers a suitably haughty brother Mycroft, with Foreign Office connections, and Stanley Holloway gives a typically reliable cameo as a highland grave-digger. There are many moments of great amusement, none more so than that of the (female then male) ballet dancers’ reactions to Watson’s 'secret’, plus Wilder’s tale makes original use of midgets and Trappist Monks, as well as giving us a contraption straight out of TV’s Stingray as the Brits’ surreptitious 'secret weapon’.

Much entertainment is to be had therefore, with just a hint of regret as to what might have been had Wilder been given full editorial control over the finished product.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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on 8 January 2012
Billy Wilder's classic 'take' on Sherlock Holmes had become something of an urban legend, which was widely discussed and whose invisibility was deeply lamented. This DVD, devoid of any extra-s and allegedly bereft of much footage, tries to fill in that void. Yes, the movie is absolutely brilliant. Sherlock Holmes is presented here with all his flaws, sardonic wit, brilliant deduction, and a rare failure. But it is the plot that is bound to stun you, as so many of the elements of the alternate-Holmes universe constructed by Kim Newman in his Diogenes Club adventures The Man from the Diogenes Club,The Secret Files of the Diogenes Club,Mysteries of the Diogenes Club can be traced back to this movie. Overall, if you ever decide to watch only one Sherlockian movie apart from the Granada series immortalised by Jeremy Brett (Sherlock Holmes - Complete Collection [DVD], this should be the one. Highly recommended.
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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.
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on 2 May 2016
This is a crossover film for Holmes and Wilder fans , im a Billy Wilder fan but not a Sherlock Holmes fan so i was a reluctant to see this plus it , on the face of it seamed a bit of an odd choice for a Wilder film. After doing a bit of research about it ,i was intrigued to find that the film was a huge flop on release , i know id never heard of it or seen it on T.V. but in spite of that the Holmes fans seamed to like it a lot, this needed checking out.

First lets start with the title , The PRIVATE Life of .... well it isn't really ,any more than any other Holmes story , so thats a bit odd, secondly there isn't much 'Wilder' in it , it looks like it could have been shot by anyone , although it has got a lovely look and feel to it .So you can see why i stayed away from it , the trailer doesn't help much ether .

Hears why all of those things mentioned seam oddly to add to the mystery , ironic that, the film was Wilders most expensive costing somewhere between $6-10m and shot in England with originally ,at different stages to have been a musical and /or a Laurel and Hardy film , wow !
What was shot though were four 'lost' Holmes adventures written by Wilder and Diamond that ran for about 3 hours, after a disastrous test screening where the audience walked out mostly , the studio cut two of the stories to make it 2 hours long , you can see remanence of the dropped stories in the opening credit sequence where the box is opened the picture of the girl in the pocket watch and the 7 of diamonds playing card are the clues to the missing deleted stories that survived the editing .
What is left of the film is very entertaining , remember i told you at the start that i wasn't a Sherlock Holmes fan , if it was dull i would have stopped watching , its not. The casting is as tight as a beer barrel and the performances seam very natural ,unlike a lot of Holmes/Watson pairings, this really works , which is amazing as you've never seen this line up anywhere else before. Also Wilder wanted to make Holmes homosexual but because he wasn't allowed to by the Doyle estate he sort of hinted at it without answering the question , cleaver, other interesting details show more of Holmes's cocaine usage , the new film classification system now allowed such things , so cutting edge film making for a film maker who'd lived through the whole ' no you can't show that' for decades , funny thing i noticed the other day, is the number of film that have a toilet flush in them since Psycho first did it in 1960 ive seen it in
Loita , most of Kubrick's films have a scene in a bathroom in fact, and i was just watching The Italian Job and that has one too , its like a secret 'im Spartacus' between film makers against the censor .

Its not a 5 star Wilder classic but it is a good film and Wilder himself said ''there are only two kinds of films , good films and bad films '' a lot of new films aren't as good as this yet its a forgotten film , its time to open the box that Dr Watson left in the bank vault !
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on 13 March 2011
Although this film wasn't quite what I expected - what with reading it was a Billy Wilder comedy - I really loved it. While there are some very funny moments, they are to release the tension during some beautiful and emotional scenes. They show a brilliant understanding of the books, even with being self-referential, and although Christopher Lee's Mycroft is not by the book, it works. It's not laugh out loud humour and there are moments where you feel like it could have been better, but it is still a beautiful film and well worth watching.
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on 8 January 2008
Excellent take on Holmes. The interplay between Holmes & Watson is delightful. It may flag slightly towards the end, but this has class written all over it.
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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.
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