Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, The (1970)

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970), written, produced and directed by Billy Wilder.

This was a find I'd never seen before: a classic "unknown" Holmes story. It's probably not of interest to devotees of the more recent action-hero detective, but if you like the older style it is well presented here. It's low-key but the setting and characters are just as we have come to know them.

It opens with a slightly bawdy preface: when a retiring Russian ballerina coolly propositions the brainy detective, wanting him to father her child in exchange for a Stradivarius, Holmes begs off by intimating that he and Watson have been romantically involved for years. (I know that sounds like Wilder is trying to do a gay Holmes & Watson, but it's just a gag).

Watson, who has been happily cavorting with the other ballerinas, is outraged and scandalized. But it does start him thinking about Holmes and women: why is he so cranky on the topic? He likes being mysterious and won't answer a direct question. But we come to find that just as Holmes will never get over Irene Adler, so his anguish over their latest client will send him back to the needle.

After the opening it is more like a traditional Doyle story with many funny bits. They go to Loch Ness and Queen Victoria makes an appearance.

Robert Stephens and Colin Blakely are Holmes and Watson, both very natural in their roles.

Christopher Lee is brother Mycroft. The pretty client is Geneviève Page, last seen in Belle de Jour (1967) and El Cid (1961). When I first saw this I thought she looked like Francesca Annis.

The Miklos Rozsa score gives it a classic movie feel.

The DVD extras include some scenes that were removed from the original cut. We have subtitles but no audio for the flashback sequence, "The Dreadful Business of the Naked Honeymooners".

I posted some notes on the Doyle stories in my review of The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939)