The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes

Everyone will have a favourite Sherlock Holmes film or TV series, they come in all shapes and sizes with Holmes be played by a host of revered actors ranging from the inimitable Basil Rathbone to the very stylish Rupert Everett, the Victorian/Edwardian era with its swirling clouds of fog may not be cup of tea, you may prefer the modern versions such as the ones featuring the excellent Benedict Cumbernauld. Your choice like mine is a very personal thing and only you know why you like that particular Holmes film. The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes made in 1970, was written, produced and directed by the very great Billy Wilder, with a superb score by Miklos Rozsa, that perfectly captures the Victoria era, Wilder was given bumpy ride by the distributer the Mirisch Production Company, who edited the film mercilessly, nevertheless is the frozen northerner‘s favourite Sherlock Holmes film. Why I fell in love with this particular adaptation I have no idea, maybe its stems from one of the opening lines when Watson describes how Holmes has solved the perplexing murder of Admiral Abernathy by measuring how far the parsley had sank into the butter on a hot day, from then on I knew this was not going to be a typical Sherlock Holmes movie. Robert Stephens superb portrayal of the great man is akin to what I like to think Holmes would really have been like, Watson’s (Colin Blakeley’s best ever role) serialization of Holmes triumphs and conquests in The Strand magazine would have us believe that here indeed is the greatest mind in all England. However, as the film unravels Wilder reveals a darker side to our hero suggesting that if he is not indeed homosexual then he is most certainly bi-sexual, although it has said that no man or woman is ever going to come close to his real love, a seven per cent solution of cocaine. Wilder conveys the story in two parts, the first part involving the prima ballerina in the Imperial Russian ballet, the second part, an attack on the British Empire by German intelligence. These two plots slowly reveal flaws in the Holmes’s makeup, demonstrating that our hero is not quite the genius that Watson would seemingly have us believe. The supporting cast is ably led by Christopher Lee as his brother Mycroft and Geneveive Page as the mysterious Gabrielle Valladon, Irene Handl playing the part of the irascible Mrs Hudson, a performance of which is nothing short of brilliant. Part one would us believe that Holmes is averse to women, and the way that he disengages himself from the advances of Madame Petrova, hints a little bit about his sexual persuasion however, as the story unfolds Holmes is completely captivated by the seemingly widowed Gabrielle Valladon who is actually the top German spy Fraulein Elsa Von Hofmannsthal, a scenario that sees Holmes, utterly besotted by Teutonic temptress. Attempting to get the bottom of Monsieur Valladon’s death, they end up masquerading around the castles of Scotland as Mr and Mrs Ashdown with Watson as their dutiful valet, a plan that badly backfires on Holmes when he unwittingly leads them to the latest pride and joy of the Diogenes club, an underwater submersible, (a submarine to you and me) cleverly disguised as the Loch Ness monster. The plot continually twists and turns with Holmes completely unaware of the intentions of the Kaiser’s mole. Fortunately for Holmes his brother Mycroft has uncovered the real identity of Madame Valladon and the plot to steal the submersible, now that the integrity of the British Empire has been saved, Mycroft insists that Holmes must inform Fraulein Von Hofmannsthal that the game is up, the Fraulein bares her soul to Holmes stating that she knew all along that she could never outwit the brilliant Holmes, who plays along never revealing the fact that he has been completely outsmarted by the Prussian seductress. The scene at the end where Elsa Von Hofmannsthal bids Holmes Auf Wiedersehen using their umbrella to transmit a Morse code message is a stroke of genius. The film itself is often overlooked by Holmes fans maybe because there is a bit too much humour and perhaps because no one thought that Stephens and Blakely could pull it off so it well, but under the guidance of Wilder they have produced an often forgotten gem.

The Incomparable Blakely and Stephens

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