The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes

1970 film poster by Robert McGinnis
Directed by Billy Wilder
Produced by I. A. L. Diamond
Billy Wilder
Written by I. A. L. Diamond
Billy Wilder
Starring Robert Stephens
Geneviève Page
Colin Blakely
Christopher Lee
Music by Miklós Rózsa
Cinematography Christopher Challis
Edited by Ernest Walter
Compton Films
The Mirisch Corporation
Phalanx Productions
Distributed by United Artists
Release dates
  • 29 October 1970 (1970-10-29) (U.S.)
  • 3 December 1970 (1970-12-03) (UK)
Running time
125 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English
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 Emmy Award-winning and critically acclaimed series Sherlock, credited The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes as their very favourite movie, as well 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.

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 midgets, 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 midgets 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 drugs and his violin.



Cut scenes

The film originally contained another two separate stories, and a further flashback sequence showing Holmes in his university days.[3][4] These were all filmed, but later cut from the final release print at the studio's insistence.[3] One sequence, in which Holmes investigates the seemingly impossible case of a corpse found in an upside-down room (with furniture on the ceiling), has been recovered and restored to the film's laser disc release.[4] (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.) 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. Another scene features Colin Blakely as a descendant of Watson receiving the tin dispatch box from solicitors.

Critical reception

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."[5] Kim Newman, reviewing it in Empire magazine, described it as the "best Sherlock Holmes movie ever made" and "sorely underrated in the Wilder canon".[6] 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."[7] 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."[8]

Home video

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.[9]

The Region 1 DVD release restored portions of cut scenes, consisting of soundtracks and a series of stills.

A Blu-ray version was released 22 July 2014 by Kino Lorber. It includes deleted scenes and bonus material.

Lost Loch Ness prop

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.[10][11]


  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. 1 2 Jonathan Coe (30 April 2005). "Detective Work". The Guardian. Retrieved 12 January 2015.
  4. 1 2 "DVD Savant Review: The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes". Retrieved 12 January 2015.
  5. Canby, Vincent (30 October 1970). "Wilder's 'Sherlock Holmes' Opens at the Music Hall". The New York Times. Retrieved 2015-07-16.
  6. "Empire's The Private Life Of Sherlock Holmes Movie Review". Retrieved 12 January 2015.
  7. Peter Bradshaw (6 December 2002). "The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes". The Guardian. Retrieved 12 January 2015.
  8. Roger Ebert (23 February 1971). "The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes". Retrieved 12 January 2015.
  9. "Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, The: Special Edition (1970) [ID7413MG]". LaserDisc Database. 5 December 2009. Retrieved 2015-07-16.
  10. McKenzie, Steven (13 April 2016). "Film's Lost Nessie Monster Prop Found in Loch Ness", BBC. Retrieved 14 April 2016.
  11. Daniel Victor (13 April 2016). "Loch Ness Monster Is Found! (Kind of. Not Really.)". The New York Times. Retrieved 14 April 2016.

External links

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