The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970)

GP | 125 mins | Mystery | 29 October 1970

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HISTORY

The project originated in 1963, when Billy Wilder signed on to produce and direct for the American company, Mirisch Productions, Inc., and the British entity, Sir Nigel Films, which had an agreement with the estate of “Sherlock Holmes” creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Items in the 29 May 1963 Var and 31 May 1963 DV indicated that Peter O’Toole and Peter Sellers were the frontrunners to play “Sherlock Holmes” and “Dr. John H. Watson,” respectively. Once the two were firmed for the leading roles, Louis Jordan was cast as their co-star, according to the 25 Oct 1963 DV. Mirisch was set to finance the $6 million production, as stated in the 2 Jun 1964 DV.
       Billy Wilder was quoted in the 7 May 1969 Var as saying that his and I. A. L. Diamond’s screenplay was based on “four previously unpublished adventures of [Sherlock Holmes], purportedly written by Watson.” Wilder claimed they hadn’t been published due to the “personal and somewhat delicate matters” they centered around. He also explained that “the stories come to light when Dr. Watson’s grandson visits present-day London and opens a battered tin-dispatch box which has been lodged in the vaults of a bank for many years.”
       On 19 May 1965, Var announced the film had been put on hold so that Wilder could take advantage of Jack Lemmon’s availability for The Fortune Cookie (1966, see entry). However, an article in the 1 Aug 1965 NYT indicated that The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes had actually been postponed so that Wilder could “cast it properly.” ... More Less

The project originated in 1963, when Billy Wilder signed on to produce and direct for the American company, Mirisch Productions, Inc., and the British entity, Sir Nigel Films, which had an agreement with the estate of “Sherlock Holmes” creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Items in the 29 May 1963 Var and 31 May 1963 DV indicated that Peter O’Toole and Peter Sellers were the frontrunners to play “Sherlock Holmes” and “Dr. John H. Watson,” respectively. Once the two were firmed for the leading roles, Louis Jordan was cast as their co-star, according to the 25 Oct 1963 DV. Mirisch was set to finance the $6 million production, as stated in the 2 Jun 1964 DV.
       Billy Wilder was quoted in the 7 May 1969 Var as saying that his and I. A. L. Diamond’s screenplay was based on “four previously unpublished adventures of [Sherlock Holmes], purportedly written by Watson.” Wilder claimed they hadn’t been published due to the “personal and somewhat delicate matters” they centered around. He also explained that “the stories come to light when Dr. Watson’s grandson visits present-day London and opens a battered tin-dispatch box which has been lodged in the vaults of a bank for many years.”
       On 19 May 1965, Var announced the film had been put on hold so that Wilder could take advantage of Jack Lemmon’s availability for The Fortune Cookie (1966, see entry). However, an article in the 1 Aug 1965 NYT indicated that The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes had actually been postponed so that Wilder could “cast it properly.” Wilder later acknowledged in an 8 Jun 1969 LAT interview that he had had a falling out with both Peter Sellers, whom he had called “an unprofessional rat fink” after Sellers’s “unfriendly comments to the British press” following his experience on Wilder’s Kiss Me, Stupid (1964, see entry), and Peter O’Toole, who had made demands that Wilder wasn’t willing to accommodate. After resuming work on the project and securing the involvement of United Artists Corp., named as distributor in a 21 Jun 1967 Var news brief, Wilder cast Robert Stephens as Holmes and Colin Blakely as Watson. In the 8 Jun 1969 LAT, Wilder praised the virtues of casting lesser-known actors like Stephens and Blakely, claiming that bigger stars often detracted from a film’s “dramatic values.” He also stated that, after developing the project for so many years, he was “in no mood to be dictated to by an actor.”
       Principal photography began on 5 May 1969 at Pinewood Studios in London, England, as stated in the 7 May 1969 Var. Shooting also took place in Loch Ness, Scotland, which stood in for itself, the 21 May 1969 Var reported. Following two weeks on location at Loch Ness, filming was set to resume in London but was delayed when Robert Stephens collapsed from exhaustion and had to be hospitalized, the 6 Aug 1969 Var noted. The actor’s illness was the third such incident for Wilder, as pointed out in the 12 Aug 1969 DV, after Peter Sellers had been felled by a heart attack during the filming of Kiss Me, Stupid, and Walter Matthau had suffered a heart attack on The Fortune Cookie. Stephens’s absence caused the production to shut down for at least two weeks, as noted in a 20 Aug 1969 Var brief, and although the actor was able to resume his duties, he was forced to pull out of a future commitment on The Three Sisters (1969, see entry), according to the 14 Oct 1969 DV.
       Principal photography was completed by 25 Nov 1969, as stated in that day’s DV.
       The picture was set to be Wilder’s first “roadshow release,” with screenings to include intermissions, according to LAT. It opened on 29 Oct 1970 at New York City’s Radio City Music Hall, and nearly two months later, on 23 Dec 1970, at the Fox Wilshire Theatre in Beverly Hills, CA. A theatrical release in London, England, also occurred in Dec 1970. Critical reception was lackluster.
       John Williams was named as a cast member in a 6 Nov 1969 DV item. More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
31 May 1963
p. 3.
Daily Variety
25 Oct 1963
p. 9.
Daily Variety
2 Jun 1964
p. 1, 4.
Daily Variety
14 Oct 1969
p. 6.
Daily Variety
6 Nov 1969
p. 2.
Daily Variety
25 Nov 1969
p. 15.
Daily Variety
22 Oct 1970
p. 3, 6.
Los Angeles Times
7 Oct 1963
Section D, p. 15.
Los Angeles Times
8 Jun 1969
Section N, p. 1, 26, 67, 69.
Los Angeles Times
23 Dec 1970
Section G, p. 11.
New York Times
1 Aug 1965.
---
New York Times
12 Oct 1969
Section D, p. 15.
New York Times
30 Oct 1970
p. 26.
Variety
29 May 1963
p. 11.
Variety
19 May 1965
p. 4.
Variety
21 Jun 1967
p. 7.
Variety
24 Apr 1968
p. 28.
Variety
7 May 1969
p. 152.
Variety
21 May 1969
p. 37.
Variety
6 Aug 1969
p. 62.
Variety
12 Aug 1969
p. 2.
Variety
20 Aug 1969
p. 27.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
WRITERS
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATOR
Set dec
COSTUMES
MUSIC
Mus: score and concerto for violin and orch, opus
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
Spec eff
DANCE
Dances arr & ballet adv
MAKEUP
Makeup
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod supv
Prod mgr
Main titles
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the characters created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
DETAILS
Release Date:
29 October 1970
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 29 October 1970 at Radio City Music Hall
Los Angeles opening: 23 December 1970 at the Fox Wilshire Theatre
Production Date:
began 5 May 1969
Copyright Claimant:
Phalanx Productions
Copyright Date:
29 October 1970
Copyright Number:
LP38886
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
De Luxe
Widescreen/ratio
Panavision
Duration(in mins):
125
MPAA Rating:
GP
Countries:
United Kingdom, United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
22200
SYNOPSIS

Bored by a lack of interesting cases, detective Sherlock Holmes begins using cocaine, despite the disapproval of his biographer and friend, Dr. Watson. One evening the two associates receive complimentary tickets to a Russian ballet, after which the famous ballerina Petrova proposes that she and Holmes produce a child that will combine her beauty and his intellect. Holmes declines, implying that he and Watson are lovers, much to Watson's dismay. Later, as Holmes prepares to investigate the disappearance of a family of midgets, he finds a half-drowned, amnesiac woman at the door of his home. He takes her in and learns that she is Gabrielle Valladon and has come from Belgium in search of her husband. The detective takes the case and travels to Inverness, Scotland, where Holmes's mysterious brother Mycroft warns him not to pursue the case. Holmes nevertheless continues the investigation. When he and Watson take a small boat onto Loch Ness to observe some strange activity in a Scottish castle, their boat is overturned by what appears to be the Loch Ness monster, but Holmes and Watson manage to paddle ashore. Holmes is then summoned to the castle by Mycroft, who shows him a submarine to be manned by the missing midgets. Queen Victoria learns of the bizarre project and orders a halt to it. Mycroft informs his brother that Gabrielle is actually a German spy who duped him into locating the submarine. Dejected, Holmes returns home, and upon learning that Gabrielle has been executed by the Japanese for her espionage activities, he again turns to the use of ... +


Bored by a lack of interesting cases, detective Sherlock Holmes begins using cocaine, despite the disapproval of his biographer and friend, Dr. Watson. One evening the two associates receive complimentary tickets to a Russian ballet, after which the famous ballerina Petrova proposes that she and Holmes produce a child that will combine her beauty and his intellect. Holmes declines, implying that he and Watson are lovers, much to Watson's dismay. Later, as Holmes prepares to investigate the disappearance of a family of midgets, he finds a half-drowned, amnesiac woman at the door of his home. He takes her in and learns that she is Gabrielle Valladon and has come from Belgium in search of her husband. The detective takes the case and travels to Inverness, Scotland, where Holmes's mysterious brother Mycroft warns him not to pursue the case. Holmes nevertheless continues the investigation. When he and Watson take a small boat onto Loch Ness to observe some strange activity in a Scottish castle, their boat is overturned by what appears to be the Loch Ness monster, but Holmes and Watson manage to paddle ashore. Holmes is then summoned to the castle by Mycroft, who shows him a submarine to be manned by the missing midgets. Queen Victoria learns of the bizarre project and orders a halt to it. Mycroft informs his brother that Gabrielle is actually a German spy who duped him into locating the submarine. Dejected, Holmes returns home, and upon learning that Gabrielle has been executed by the Japanese for her espionage activities, he again turns to the use of cocaine. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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