DATELINE: Sherlock Takes a Bath!
When master auteur Billy Wilder (who gave us gems like Sunset Boulevard, Some Like It Hot, One Two Three) gives us his take on Sherlock Holmes, we are ready for something unusual. So, we overly anticipated watching his film The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes.
All that promise seems to go up in a cocaine dream as an overlong movie that could be half-an-hour shorter and more succinct, maintaining the early humor.
Wilder puts all your standard Holmes patter into the pot (Mrs. Hudson, Mycroft, and irritation with Dr. Watson’s stories). That stuff is quite amusing.
The first third of the film is filled with the kind of humor you expect from Wilder—sophisticated, sharp, and delightful. He raises the ugly specter that Holmes and Watson are consenting adults—and he makes more comprehensible, Holmes turning to his seven-percent solution.
Funny bits with the Russian ballet, and boring cases about midgets, make us think we are entering a funnier world than Conan Doyle envisioned.
Colin Blakely is a delightful Dr. Watson, and Robert Stephens protests too much about being a woman-hating fop. He plays Holmes with a tad flamboyance, disdaining deerstalker hats and women equally. He is more than a fop. We are almost in panty-waist territory.
Christopher Lee is around as a more peripatetic Mycroft, showing up in places other than the Diogenes.
Wilder cannot throw away a line. Midgets come back to haunt us, after one bad joke. And having Queen Victoria seem to resemble a Munchkin is over the top and under the height limit for small talk.
Throw in the Loch Ness monster of sorts, and you have something that would later be taken as gospel by the Robert Downey school of Sherlock acting and writing.
We wished the Private Life of Sherlock could have been taken for better, not for worse. We remain loyal in sickness and health, good and bad.