Regarded as the most prolific fictional character in film history, Baker Street London’s finest, Sherlock Holmes, continues to attract fans today with the recent Guy Ritchie / Robert Downey Jr / Jude Law duo of adventures catering for a modern audience and reminding everyone of the enduring qualities and attraction of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation, which first bowed 130 years ago with the original publication of the story A Study In Scarlet.
On occasion though, film-makers will use the source material as a start-off point to take the character in new directions. In 1975, the late Gene Wilder made his directorial debut with The Adventure Of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother, in which he also starred as a younger brother attempting to steal Holmes’ glory and in 1988, Michael Caine played a dumb actor employed as Holmes by Ben Kingsley’s Watson, who solves crimes whilst working in his day job as a doctor in Without A Clue.
Billy Wilder ushered in the 1970s with The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, which has now become available through Eureka Entertainment as part of The Masters of Cinema Series and is released in January 2018. Scripted with long-term collaborator I.A.L. Diamond, who also wrote The Apartment and Some Like It Hot with Wilder and one of eleven projects they worked on, it is part-parody and part-traditional adventure. It was presented by the Mirisch Corporation, responsible for the likes of classics like The Great Escape.
Robert Stephens is Holmes and Colin Blakely is Watson. Their highly energetic and dovetailing partnership is tested at the film’s outset when Holmes is summoned to be the would-be father of a retiring ballet dancer, providing a very funny sequence of misunderstandings.
However, the real adventure begins when a woman, Gabrielle Valladon (Genevieve Page) is delivered by cab to the Holmes residence. She is out to find her missing husband and asks Holmes to help her. The trail leads to Scotland, where the mystery of her husband’s disappearance is merely part of a bigger case…
Shot at Pinewood Studios and in Inverness, Scotland, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes represents a lost opportunity. The title suggests that we would get far more enlightenment about the character and revelation and the classic tales would be referred to more extensively as a sideline to an all-new adventure for the duo.
That said, the first half an hour is gloriously funny and well executed and the film looks terrific in its CinemaScope framing, courtesy of Christopher Challis, who shot Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968). The Blu-ray transfer also retains the glory of classic cinema cue dots indicating the original reel changes.
The pity is that Wilder and Diamond didn’t stick to the ballet dancer plot and capitalised on the potential that this story held, instead opting for the familiarity of a standard Holmes adventure.
The film is still enjoyable enough, with good support from Christopher Lee as Holmes’ brother Mycroft and a criminally brief appearance by Irene Handl as Mrs. Hudson and it is the performances throughout that maintain the interest.
Extras: fifty-minute presentation of deleted sequences / fifteen-minute Christopher Lee interview
THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES (1970) / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: BILLY WILDER / SCREENPLAY: BILLY WILDER, I.A.L. DIAMOND / STARRING: ROBERT STEPHENS, COLIN BLAKELY, GENEVIÈVE PAGE, CHRISTOPHER LEE / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW