THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES
In my humble estimate, THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES ($20) is one of the most brilliant of all writer/director/producer Billy Wilder’s cinematic works. Sadly, it is also one of Wilder’s most under appreciated gems, as well as being a film whose original scope would seem lost to time. As originally envisioned, THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES was to include four separate unknown "adventures" involving the legendary residents of 221B Baker Street. However, two of these segments were removed prior to the film’s release (to reduce the running time), and efforts in recent years to locate all the missing footage have proved less than successful. In its present form, THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES offers a Wilder-esque spin on the characters created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, yet it remains completely faithful to the spirit of Holmes and Watson. Wilder and co-writer I.A.L. Diamond’s meticulously crafted screenplay nails every aspect of the characters and settings, then it does one extraordinary and unexpected thing- it turns the world’s most famous consulting detective into human being.
THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES starts off in a London bank vault fifty years after the death of Dr. Watson (Colin Blakely), at which time, a strongbox containing memorabilia and several unpublished works is opened. Although Watson chronicled his adventures with Sherlock Holmes (Robert Stephens) during his lifetime, the personal nature of these particular exploits kept them from circulation until all involved parties were long dead. As the manuscript is read, the film flashes back to the time and places of the incidents themselves. The first, and decidedly more amusing of the two, finds Holmes and Watson being invited to a performance of the ballet, where the Russian prima ballerina has a most unusual and urgent need of the consulting detective’s services.
As for the second and more intricately involved story, it begins with a cabby arriving at the door of 221B Baker Street with an amnesiac woman that he fished out of the Thames. Holmes quickly deduces the woman’s identity as that of Gabrielle Valladon (Genevieve Page), who has come to London from Brussels in search of her missing husband. Holmes’ brother Mycroft (Christopher Lee) tries to warn him the case- claiming matters of national security. However, the consulting detective proves unwilling drop the matter, especially since someone has already tried to kill the very beautiful Madame Valladon. Eventually, the trail to the missing husband leads Holmes and Watson to Scotland’s Loch Ness, where they have an encounter with the strange beastie that inhabits that particular body of water. The cast of THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES also features Tamara Toumanova, Clive Revill, Irene Handl, Mollie Maureen and Stanley Holloway.
MGM Home Entertainment has made THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES available on DVD in a 2.35:1 wide screen presentation that has been enhanced for playback on 16:9 displays. This is a truly fine transfer that bests all preceding editions of the film, including the handsome widescreen Laserdisc edition from Image Entertainment. The picture is generally sharp and very nicely defined, although sequences that have been purposely fogged and filtered do appear softer. Colors are saturated at a realistic level and reflect a palette of early 1970’s film stocks and DeLuxe processing. Earthen tones and pastels tend to dominate, but here are occasions where strong reds and greens are rendered in an effective fashion. Blacks appear accurate and whites are pretty crisp looking. Shadow detail is more than respectable for a film that is more than three decades old. The film element used for the transfer is in very good condition, displaying only minor blemishes and only a slightly noticeable grain structure. Digital compression artifacts are usually well concealed, although the foggy sequence on Loch Ness is a tiny bit problematic.
THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES comes with a very nice sounding Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack. Through the mastering process, the track has been cleaned of noticeable audio anomalies and background hiss, leaving a clear, precise sound. Fidelity is good for a monaural track of this particular vintage and Miklós Rózsa’s wonderful score comes across in a very pleasant fashion when amplified. Dialogue is always completely intelligible and the actors’ voices have a good sense of presence. No other language tracks have been encoded onto the DVD, although English, Spanish and French subtitles are provided.
Music underscores the basic interactive menus, which feature access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a couple of extra features. Christopher Lee: Mr. Holmes, Mr. Wilder is a fifteen minute program featuring a new interview with actor Christopher Lee, who discusses working with Billy Wilder, portraying Mycroft Holmes in THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES and having the opportunity to play the consulting detective himself in other productions. Additionally, an Interview With Editor Ernest Walter runs twenty-eight minutes, during which time Mr. Walter discusses his career and work on THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES. Surviving portions of the film’s two deleted sequences and original prologue are also included amongst the supplements, as is a photo gallery and theatrical trailer.
THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES is one of Billy Wilder’s most brilliant and under appreciated works. If you have never had the opportunity to experience this wonderful film for yourself, then MGM’s fine widescreen DVD edition is certainly the way to go. If you are a fan, then this is a must own disc. Very highly recommended.
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