VIDEO ARCHIVES WEEK: The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970)

VIDEO ARCHIVES NOTES: This movie was discussed on the December 6, 2022 episode of the Video Archives podcast and can be found on their site here.

Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, the creators and writers of Sherlock, credited this movie as a source of inspiration for their project. It attempts to tell the real story of Sherlock Holmes (Robert Stephens) and Dr. John Watson (Colin Blakely).

It is made up of two stories. In the first, a man named Rogozhin (Clive Revill) wants Holmes to have a child with ballerina Madame Petrova (Tamara Toumanova), but he tells her that he is in love with Watson. Whether or not that is true is left up to the viewer. In the second, Holmes rescues the drowning Gabrielle Valladon (Geneviève Page) and she asks him to save her husband, which leads him to Loch Ness, a place where he sees the legendary sea serpent and learns that his brother Mycroft (Christopher Lee) is creating a submarine for World War One. Queen Elizabeth says that the ship is unsporting, so Mycroft allows the Germans — posing as monks — to steal it and arrests Valladon, who is actually a German spy named lse von Hoffmanstal.

Director Billy Wilder said of the film, “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.” That said, Holmes does fall for the spy and is so moved by the revelation of her death that he disappears into his room to do cocaine.

When this came out on laserdisc, several deleted scenes — some not even filmed — were included. The first is a framing device that would have Dr. Watson’s grandson picking up a box full of his grandfather’s writing; a scene on a train that would take Holmes and Watson to 221B Baker Street; “The Curious Case of the Upside Down Room” in which Watson creates a case to get Holmes out of his drug haze; “The Adventure of the Dumbfounded Detective” of which only the script survives and Holmes discussing winning a race and a night with a sex worker. He had fallen for another girl and wanted to keep his purity, only to learn that the girl and prostitute were the same person, which is why he is emotionally uninvolved; “The Dreadful Business of the Naked Honeymooners,” a story where Holmes asked Watson to solve a case and two epilogue scenes where Holmes avoids being involved in the Jack the Ripper investigation and another that was similar to the end of Wilder’s Some Like It Hot.

The Loch Ness Monster in the film actually sank into the water and was lost for fifty years. The model was built by Wally Veevers with a neck and two humps. Wilder wanted no humps, which made the model too heavy. It sank and needed to be made all over again. In 2016, after sightings of Nessie in one section of the Loch, the lost model from the movie was brought back above the surface.

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