I'm being completely honest when I say this was a film I really didn't want to like when I watched it for the first time nearly nine or ten years ago. One of the biggest things that bugged me was the fact they cast Christopher Lee as Mycroft.
Not a jab at the great Christopher Lee. As a matter of fact he was really good as Sherlock Holmes in the three productions he appeared in.
But it's one of my pet peeves with many Sherlock Holmes productions is when they cast an actor who is physically similar to Sherlock as Mycroft because the character is supposed to be the polar opposite to Sherlock physically.
My other pet peeve is when they use "Forget everything you know about Sherlock Holmes" because you know it's going to be a stinker.
I think my other worry when I prepared myself to view it is they were going to try and give Holmes some sort of sexual relationship or have him fall in love.
As a purist I feel Holmes is just disinterested in the opposite sex. Any sort of relationship, male or female, would interfere with him being the best at what he does.
In short, he has no time for love.
I was really ready to hate The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes when I originally bought my VHS copy and popped it into the machine. And just the opposite happened. I absolutely fell in love with the film and it is now possibly my favorite Holmes film.
Although Robert Stephens didn't look the part of the traditional Sherlock Holmes, he won me over in his performance.
A bit of a confession bu some of his mannerisms I borrowed when I was adapting William Gillette's play into a graphic novel. Most notably the peculiar way he held his hands not so much on his hips but on his ribcage.
Colin Blakely's performance as Dr. Watson may not be completely the capable man Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote in the novels and short stories. But he isn't the bumbling old duffer the poor old Doc has been maligned with over the years.
In this film, Watson is more of a ladies man and he also makes his objection towards Holmes's addictions to a seven-per-cent solution of cocaine very clear.
Although this is not the first time "the needle" is mentioned in a Holmes film. That distinction goes to the final scene in Basil Rathbone's film The Hound of the Baskervilles. However, I think this may be both the first time both Holmes's recreational use of the drug as well as the name of the drug itself, is made perfectly clear.
I might be wrong. But apart from this film I think Rathbone's Hound is the only other film before this.
I was even won over by Christopher Lee's performance. Despite not having the physical presence of actors like Robert Morley, Charles Grey or most recently Stephen Fry did as Mycroft, I thoroughly enjoyed his interpretation of the character. He and Robert Stephen's spar off each other really well in their scenes together.
It should be mentioned that The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes was not the happiest of memories for the late Robert Stephens. Apparently between the rigorous production and Billy Wilder's insistence that Stephens needs to lose weight to look "thin as a razor" that Stephens himself actually tried to persuade his good friend Jeremy Brett out of accepting the part when he was set to play Holmes himself in the long-running Granada series stating that: "It will ruin your life".
I've enjoyed the film even more since I purchased it on DVD several years back. Having seen it in letterbox format there is so much I have missed in scenes that were cut out because many VHS copies format movies to fit your screen.
And you really do miss out on so much the director originally intended on.
Another shame is the fact that there are a few deleted scenes that were intended for the film. One that still exists on film (although the audio seems to be missing) is the Affair of the Naked Passengers" which Holmes leaves it up to Watson to deduce how a honeymooning couple was murdered on a ocean liner they are returning from Constantinople on.
With disastrous results.
It's too bad these scenes were cut because it would have added to the Four Movement Symphony of adventures Watson felt were too outrageous to publish Billy Wilder intended.
The movie we end up with is two stories from Watson's unpublished archives. The first being Holmes is approached by a famous Russian ballerina, Madame Petrova who wishes to have a child with her. Holmes manages to extricate himself by claiming that Watson is his lover, much to the doctor's embarrassment.
The second and main story Gabrielle Valadon (Geneviève Page) is fished out of the River Thames and brought to Baker Street. She begs Holmes to find her missing engineer husband.
I showed the movie to my wife Syd for the first time last night and she pretty much deduced the storyline with Gabrielle Valadon and the German spies disguised as Trappist Monks and the Loch Ness Monster not even half-way through the movie.
I don't think this should discourage you from watching the movie. There are enough good scenes and genuinely funny lines to make up for any shortcomings.
I highly recommend you check out this film just as long as you do not take it too seriously and just enjoy it. You might find, like myself, you may even like it.