The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970) Directed By Billy Wilder
Nick:Sherlock Holmes was a great summer read when I was a child. It
The Private Lives of Sherlock Homes is one of those
films with a growing reputation, a mystery in itself,
one of the Holy Grail films that movie enthusiasts
re-evaluate, different prints turning up all over the
world at various screenings, always enhancing the
reputation, increasing the legend.
Billy Wilder's Holmes film was a disaster on release.
The film cost 10 million to make (huge sums in 1970)
and delivered 1 million at the box office. A troubled
production, Wilder's three-and-a-half-hour vision
was taken out of his hands and cut down to 2 hours.
His original principle players were to be Peter Sellers
as Watson and Peter O'Toole as Holmes. When O'Toole
dropped out he was replaced by Robert Stephens
(excellent) who portrays Holmes as though he were
infused with Oscar Wilde's genes. Stephens was a choice
that for some reason Wilder regretted casting.
The first third of the film pictures Holmes as initially
a closet homosexual, a suspect misogynist who takes
large amount's of cocaine to relieve his boredom.
Dr.Watson (a comic turn by Colin Blakely), feels a case
is needed to pull Holmes out of his druggy stupor.
Once a sexy and mysterious Gabrielle Valladon
(played by Geneviève Page) turns up at Baker Street,
apparently the victim of a murder attempt, a
web of intrigue unfolds and the film turns into a
formulaic search for Valladon's husband.
Initial resistance to the woman is strong from
Holmes but as the adventure reaches it's conclusion,
Holmes feelings towards Valladon become more than
platonic, the film reaching a moving climax.
This film I've watched many times and there are
new things to admire with each viewing. The look,
the performances, a strong supporting cast
(Christopher Lee, Irene Handle), a great score
from Miklós Rózsa, the slow pace and old style
of film making, great studio sets, dreamy
cinematography. Billy Wilder's subversive,
subtle and personal take on the famous detective
is a gem and probably his last masterpiece.
I'd rate this as high as Wilder's more celebrated
films like Some Like It Hot, Sunset Boulevard or The
Apartment. Once again, in its strange way, this film
represented Englishness to a girl who didn't know anything about it.
The life and culture was something foreign to me and sometimes so
scary that I was afraid to go to the outhouse of our summer cottage
after reading the stories.
This movie version from 1970 did not relate to my previous
experience with Sherlock. To me the message here was: Sherlock
is gay. The film presented him as a dandy who sometimes resorts
to binging on cocaine (to kill boredom). His relationship with
Doctor Watson is easily interpreted as that between two life
companions. Holmes hates women, mistrusts them and
is prone to ridiculing women for stereotypical feminine behavior.
There is a certain persistent vagueness in Holmes' characterization,
which has also been a typical way of portraying gay men
in cinema. Wrapped in ambiguous air, as Morrissey has been,
but later and in music.
The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes is an entertaining and
relatively early endeavor in discussing homosexuality in English
film. I think it shares this sensibility with
The Servant from 1963 (directed by Joseph Losey).