Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, The (1970)

Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, The (1970)

“I don’t dislike women — I just mistrust them.”

Private detective Sherlock Holmes (Robert Stephens) and his housemate Dr. Watson (Colin Blakely) engage in a couple of misadventures, one involving a Russian ballerina (Tamara Toumanova) eager to have a baby, and one involving both an amnesiac woman (Genevieve Page) looking for her husband and Sherlock’s brother Mycroft (Christopher Lee).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Billy Wilder Films
  • Christopher Lee Films
  • Detectives and Private Eyes
  • Historical Drama
  • Sherlock Holmes Films

Billy Wilder originally intended for this gently comedic look at the more mysterious, “less successful” elements of Sherlock Holmes’ life — co-scripted by Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond — to be several hours long, covering one main and three additional episodes. Due to a number of circumstances, he eventually decided to cut it down in length and only include two stories. It wasn’t well-received upon release, but has developed a cult following over the years and was purportedly the inspiration for the more recent British miniseries Sherlock (2010-2017), starring Benedict Cumberbatch. Indeed, it remains an imperfect but worthy period-era piece which fans will surely enjoy — that is, as long as they accept the casting of Shakespearean actor Stephens in the title role (I think he’s well-suited).

The first storyline is meant to be an amusing probing into the possibility that Holmes and Watson were romantic partners; unfortunately, the “joke” is stretched too thin and too long, wearing out its welcome.

The second, lengthier story is much more intriguing, involving mistaken identities, beautiful Scottish landscapes, escaped midgets, a brotherhood of friars, secret scientific endeavors, and a sighting of the mysterious Loch Ness monster. We genuinely don’t know where it will all lead — plus we get to see Sherlock interacting with his equally (albeit differently) brilliant brother Mylock (Lee), shown below with Queen Victoria (Mollie Maureen).

This part is a much more satisfying peek into Holmes’ foibles, revealing a side of him Watson didn’t tend to write about. Wilder’s film isn’t must-see viewing, but is one of his better late-life outings, and worth a look.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Christopher Challis’s cinematography
  • Fine period detail
  • Miklós Rózsa’s score

Must See?
No, though of course it’s a must-see for Holmes fans. Listed as a Sleeper and a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.


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