Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

"Private Life of Sherlock" is mysterious red herring

Cleveland Press January 16, 1971

"The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes" is playing at local theaters. Mystery melodrama; adults, teens. In the cast are Robert Stevens, Colin Blakely, Genevieve Page, Stanley Holloway, Christopher Lee. Running time: 125 minutes.

"The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes" is part Conan Doyle, part Ian Fleming and mostly Billy Wilder.

The title and the scenes of Holmes with a woman in his arms suggests something that Wilder never fully delivers. This, he suggests, is the untold story-this is Holmes the man.

In mystery story tradition the suggestion proves to be a red herring and "The Private Life of Sherlock Homes" settles down into an old fashioned, handsomely and professionally done motion picture.

Producer-director-writer Billy Wilder and his co-writer I.A.L. Diamond have taken Doyle's characters and handled them with more affection than reverence.

THE PURISTS among Sherlockians will have a little to complain of for this Holmes is rather less than astute and he is bested by a woman spy. The mystery is more mystery to him than it is to the audience.

Robert Stevens plays Holmes with a dash and humor not usually attributed to the great man and also with a touch of effeteness.

Colin Blakely's Dr. Watson is rather broadly done with more than a trace of slapstick. Genevieve Page pretty well takes the acting honors with her portrayal of the mystery woman in distress. Stanley Holloway and Clive Revill show up brightly in brief parts.

There is an opening sequence of 30 minutes or so which is totally irrelevant and unnecessary to the rest of the story and is pure Wilder. Holmes and Watson are invited to the Russian ballet, are afterwards approached in mysterious fashion by the head Russian and taken backstage to meet the company's prima ballerina.

HOLMES' MISSION it seems is to sire a son by the lady. Others were approached but Tolstoy was too old, Nietzsche too German the Tchaikovsky a catastrophe. Holmes gets out of the predicament by suggesting that he too shares Tchaikovsky's peculiarity where women are concerned. Watson, implicated, is outraged.

Watson's worries cease with the presence of Miss Page's damsel in distress, a woman to whom Holmes is obviously attracted.

What follows is pure melodrama rather than puzzle with elements that tantalize rather than satisfy -- the Loch Ness monster, canaries that turn white in death, missing midgets and Trappist monks. One longs for what Doyle might have done with all that.

Since most of us Holmes' buffs have read more than once the great stories, there is a satisfaction in having something new. Certainly the atmosphere, the sets, the costumes are as handsome as one could hope for. There is a chance to enter the confines of 221B Baker St., to go through London by hansom and from there to head for the scenic hills of Scotland.

THERE ARE inside jokes for us to share -- Holmes donning deerstalker cap and inverness cape and complaining to Watson about the impossible costume his stories have forced him to wear. Watson's retort is that this is the fault of the illustrator for Strand magazine.

Sherlock's brother Mycroft Holmes instead of being stout and sedentary is slim and active and the Diogenes Club is the 19th Century forerunner of James Bond's headquarters.

Enough of all that. The picture has enough virtues and the flaws are sufficiently interesting for trivia enthusiasts that "The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes" is worth dropping in on for a relaxing two hours.