The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes

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The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes
Private Life of Sherlock Holmes 1970.jpg
1970 film poster by Robert McGinnis
Directed byBilly Wilder
Produced byI. A. L. Diamond
Billy Wilder
Written byI. A. L. Diamond
Billy Wilder
StarringRobert Stephens
Geneviève Page
Colin Blakely
Christopher Lee
Music byMiklós Rózsa
CinematographyChristopher Challis
Edited byErnest Walter
Compton Films
The Mirisch Corporation
Phalanx Productions
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
  • 29 October 1970 (1970-10-29) (U.S.)
  • 3 December 1970 (1970-12-03) (UK)
Running time
125 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
Budget$10,000,000 (est.)

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes is a 1970 DeLuxe Color film in Panavision written and produced by Billy Wilder and I. A. L. Diamond, and directed by Wilder. The film offers an affectionate, slightly parodic look at Sherlock Holmes, and draws a distinction between the "real" Holmes and the character portrayed by Watson in his stories for The Strand magazine. It stars Robert Stephens as Holmes and Colin Blakely as Doctor Watson.

Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, the creators and writers of the BAFTA and Emmy Award-winning series Sherlock, credited The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes as a source of inspiration for their show.[1][2]


The film is divided into two separate, unequal stories. In the shorter of the two, Holmes is approached by a famous Russian ballerina, Madame Petrova (Tamara Toumanova), who proposes that they conceive a child together, one who she hopes will inherit her physique and his intellect. Holmes manages to extricate himself by claiming that Watson is his lover, much to the doctor's embarrassment. Back at 221B, Watson confronts Holmes about the reality of the ensuing rumours, and Holmes only states that Watson is "being presumptuous" by assuming Holmes has had relationships with women.

In the main plot, a Belgian woman, Gabrielle Valladon (Geneviève Page), is fished out of the River Thames and brought to Baker Street. She begs Holmes to find her missing engineer husband. The resulting investigation leads to a castle in Scotland. Along the way, they encounter a group of monks and some dwarfs, and Watson apparently sights the Loch Ness monster.

It turns out that Sherlock's brother Mycroft (Christopher Lee) is involved in building a pre-World War I submarine for the British Navy, with the assistance of Monsieur Valladon. When taken out for testing, it was disguised as a sea monster. The dwarfs were recruited as crewmen because they took up less space and needed less air. When they meet, Mycroft informs Sherlock that his client is actually a top German spy, Ilse von Hoffmanstal, sent to steal the submersible. The "monks" are German sailors.

Queen Victoria (Mollie Maureen) arrives for an inspection of the new weapon, but objects to its unsportsmanlike nature. She orders the exasperated Mycroft to destroy it, so he conveniently leaves it unguarded for the monks to take (rigging it to sink when it is submerged). Fräulein von Hoffmanstal is arrested, to be exchanged for her British counterpart.

In the final scene some months later, Sherlock receives a message from his brother, telling him that von Hoffmanstal had been arrested as a spy in Japan, and subsequently executed by firing squad. Heartbroken, the detective retreats to his room to seek solace in a 7% solution of cocaine.




Billy Wilder, a long time Holmesian[3] had long aspired to create a musical adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes stories.[3] After two failed attempts in 1955 and 1963,[3] he decided to embark on a non-musical screenplay with collaborator I. A. L. Diamond.[3]

Initially, Wilder planned to cast Peter O'Toole as Holmes and Peter Sellers as Watson.[4] Nicol Williamson, who went on to play Holmes in The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, was also considered for Holmes.[4] Rex Harrison pursued the role but Wilder wasn't interested.[4]

Christopher Lee took the role of Mycroft Holmes after George Sanders' failing health removed him from the role.[4]


Elaborate sets were built on the backlot at Pinewood Studios, including 150 yards of the Baker Street set, at a cost of £80,000.[4] The reproduction of the Diogenes Club stood until 1973 having been used in other films such as Hands of the Ripper and Carry On at Your Convenience.[4] The sets were designed by art director Alexandre Trauner.[3]

The scenes set in Scotland were filmed on location at Urquhart Castle on the banks of Loch Ness; Kilmartin Hall on Loch Meiklie; Nairn railway station. Somerset House in London and the London Coliseum were also used as locations. Castle Stuart and Eilean Donan Castle in Scotland and Broadway Tower in Worcestershire made fleeting appearances. [4]

Cut scenes[edit]

The film originally contained another two stories and a further flashback sequence showing Holmes in his university days.[5][6] These were all filmed, but later cut from the final release print at the studio's insistence.[5] One sequence, in which Holmes investigates the seemingly impossible case of a corpse found in an upside-down room (with furniture on the ceiling), was recovered and restored to the film's LaserDisc release.[6] (Holmes quickly deduces that Watson staged the whole thing in an attempt to pique Holmes' interest and drag his friend out of a deep depression.[4]) There is also a 12-minute sequence called "The Dreadful Business of the Naked Honeymooners", in which Watson insists on trying to solve murders aboard a ship by himself, only to later discover he has gone to the wrong cabin.[4]

Other cut scenes included a modern-day prologue and a visit from Inspector Lestrade asking for help in solving the Whitechapel Murders.[4][3]

Lost Loch Ness prop[edit]

A 30ft (9m) model of the Loch Ness Monster was built for the film in 1969. The model included a neck and two humps and was taken alongside a pier for filming of portions of the film. Billy Wilder did not want the humps and asked that they be removed, despite warnings that it would affect its buoyancy. As a result, the model sank. The model was rediscovered in April 2016 during a Scottish expedition to find the Loch Ness Monster.[7][8]


Director Billy Wilder has said he originally intended to portray Holmes explicitly as a repressed homosexual, stating, "I should have been more daring. I have this theory. I wanted to have Holmes homosexual and not admitting it to anyone, including maybe even himself. The burden of keeping it secret was the reason he took dope."[9] Holmes' personal interests and particularly his feelings for Watson remain ambiguous in the film, including but not limited to Holmes' admission that he is "not a whole-hearted admirer of womankind", the enjoyment he derives from implying to outsiders that he and Watson are lovers, and his statement that Watson is "being presumptuous" by assuming there have been women in his life, among others. Mark Gatiss called The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes "the film that changed his life" for this reason: "It's a fantastically melancholy film. The relationship between Sherlock and Watson is treated beautifully; Sherlock effectively falls in love with him in the film, but it's so desperately unspoken."[10]

Critical reception[edit]

Upon its U.S. release, Vincent Canby called it a "comparatively mild Billy Wilder and rather daring Sherlock Holmes, not a perfect mix, perhaps, but a fond and entertaining one".[11] Kim Newman, reviewing it in Empire magazine, described it as the "best Sherlock Holmes movie ever made" and "sorely underrated in the Wilder canon".[12] Roger Ebert was more critical, giving the film two-and-a-half stars out of four. He wrote that it is "disappointingly lacking in bite and sophistication", that it "begins promisingly enough" but that "before the movie is 20 minutes old, Wilder has settled for simply telling a Sherlock Holmes adventure".[13] Gene Siskel gave the film one-and-a-half stars out of four and called it "a conventional and not very well written mystery" that seemed as though "Wilder had enough of an idea for a television variety show skit but unfortunately saw fit to expand it into a movie".[14] Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times wrote that "the whole effect of the picture is a kind of affable blandness which, given the expectations you have of Billy Wilder, constitutes a disappointment".[15]

Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian, reviewing the film in 2002, wrote: "Billy Wilder's distinctive, irreverent slant on the world's greatest 'consulting detective' holds up reasonably well 32 years on; you wouldn't expect anything directed by Wilder and scripted by his long-time associate I. A. L. Diamond to be anything less than funny and watchable, and this is both".[16]

Home media[edit]

In 1994, Image Entertainment released the film on LaserDisc, in what was called Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, The: Special Edition; the release includes "The Dreadful Business of the Naked Honeymooners"; the sequence was subtitled because no audio was available.[17]

The Region 1 DVD release restored portions of cut scenes that consists of soundtracks and a series of stills. A Blu-ray was released 22 July 2014 by Kino Lorber. It includes deleted scenes and bonus material.


  1. ^ Michael Leader (21 July 2010). "Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss interview: Sherlock". Den of Geek. Retrieved 14 April 2016.
  2. ^ "How well do Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat know each other? We asked Steven's son Louis to find out. First up, what's their favourite film?". Sherlock channel. 18 November 2016. Retrieved 18 November 2016 – via YouTube.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Eyles, Allen (1986). Sherlock Holmes: A Centenary Celebration. Harper & Row. pp. 110–114. ISBN 0-06-015620-1.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Barnes, Alan (2011). Sherlock Holmes on Screen. Titan Books. pp. 142–147. ISBN 9780857687760.
  5. ^ a b Jonathan Coe (30 April 2005). "Detective Work". The Guardian. Retrieved 12 January 2015.
  6. ^ a b "DVD Savant Review: The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes". The Guardian. Retrieved 12 January 2015.
  7. ^ McKenzie, Steven (13 April 2016). "Film's Lost Nessie Monster Prop Found in Loch Ness". BBC. Retrieved 14 April 2016.
  8. ^ Daniel Victor (13 April 2016). "Loch Ness Monster Is Found! (Kind of. Not Really.)". The New York Times. Retrieved 14 April 2016.
  9. ^ Gemünden, Gerd (2008). A Foreign Affair: Billy Wilder's American Films. Brooklyn: Berghahn Books. p. 147. ISBN 978-1-78533-475-7.
  10. ^ Morgan, Eleanor (6 November 2010). "The film that changed my life: Mark Gatiss". The Guardian. Retrieved 19 October 2018.
  11. ^ Canby, Vincent (30 October 1970). "Wilder's 'Sherlock Holmes' Opens at the Music Hall". The New York Times. Retrieved 16 July 2015.
  12. ^ "Empire's The Private Life Of Sherlock Holmes Movie Review". Retrieved 12 January 2015.
  13. ^ Roger Ebert (23 February 1971). "The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes". Retrieved 12 January 2015.
  14. ^ Siskel, Gene (February 24, 1971). "Sherlock Holmes". Chicago Tribune. Section 2, p. 7.
  15. ^ Champlin, Charles (December 23, 1970). "'Holmes' Opens Run Today". Los Angeles Times. Part IV, p. 11.
  16. ^ Peter Bradshaw (6 December 2002). "The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes". The Guardian. Retrieved 12 January 2015.
  17. ^ "Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, The: Special Edition (1970) [ID7413MG]". LaserDisc Database. 5 December 2009. Retrieved 16 July 2015.

External links[edit]