Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, The (1970): Billy Wilder’s Slightly Parodic Look at Holmes (the Legend and the Real Character)

Billy Wilder directed and co-wrote The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, starring Robert Stephens as Holmes and Colin Blakely as Doctor Watson.

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes
Private Life of Sherlock Holmes 1970.jpg

1970 film poster

The movie offers a slightly parodic, mildly amusing look at Holmes, by distinguishing between the “real” Holmes and the character portrayed by Watson in his stories for “The Strand” magazine.

Wilder had long wished to make a musical of the Sherlock Holmes stories. After two failed attempts, he decided to make a straight drama with frequent collaborator I. A. L. Diamond.

Initially, Wilder planned to cast Peter O’Toole as Holmes and Peter Sellers as Watson. Nicol Williamson, who played Holmes in The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, was also considered for Holmes.

Christopher Lee took the role of Mycroft Holmes after George Sanders dropped due to’ failing health.

The text is divided into two separate stories. In the shorter of the two, Holmes is approached by famous Russian ballerina, Madame Petrova (Tamara Toumanova), to conceive a child together, one who will get her physique and his intellect.

Holmes extricate himself, claiming that Watson is his lover, to the doctor’s embarrassment. Back at 221B, Watson confronts Holmes about the ensuing rumors, and Holmes states that Watson is “presumptuous” in assuming that Holmes had relationships with women.

Belgian Gabrielle Valladon (Geneviève Page), fished out of the River Thames, begs Holmes to find her missing engineer husband. The investigation leads to a castle in Scotland. Along the way, they encounter  some monks and dwarfs, and Watson sights the Loch Ness monster.

Sherlock’s brother Mycroft (Christopher Lee) is involved in building a pre-World War I submarine for the British Navy, assistance by Monsieur Valladon. When tested, it was disguised as sea monster.  Dwarfs are recruited as crewmen as they require less space–and 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) inspects the new weapon, but objects to its unsportsmanlike nature. She orders the exasperated Mycroft to destroy it, and he conveniently leaves it unguarded for the monks to take.

Fräulein von Hoffmanstal is then arrested, to be exchanged for her British counterpart.

In the final scene, Sherlock receives a message from his brother, noting that von Hoffmanstal had been arrested as a spy in Japan, and then executed by firing squad. Heartbroken, the detective retreats to his room to seek solace in a 7% solution of cocaine.

Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, the creators-writers of the Emmy Award-winning series Sherlock, credited The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes as inspiration for their show.

Michael and Mollie Hardwick authored a novelization of the film.

Robert Stephens as Sherlock Holmes
Colin Blakely as Dr. John H. Watson
Geneviève Page as Gabrielle Valladon/Ilse von Hoffmanstal
Christopher Lee as Mycroft Holmes
Irene Handl as Mrs. Hudson
Clive Revill as Rogozhin
Tamara Toumanova as Madame Petrova
Stanley Holloway as 1st Gravedigger
Mollie Maureen as Queen Victoria
Catherine Lacey as Old Woman
James Copeland as the guide
Jenny Hanley as a prostitute (scene deleted)
Peter Madden as Von Tirpitz
Michael Balfour as Cabby
Robert Cawdron as Hotel Manager
Alex McCrindle as Baggageman
Frank Thornton as Porter



Directed by Billy Wilder
Produced, written by I. A. L. Diamond and Billy Wilder
Music by Miklós Rózsa
Cinematography Christopher Challis
Edited by Ernest Walter

Production company: Compton Films, The Mirisch Corporation, Phalanx Productions

Distributed by United Artists

Release date October 29, 1970 (U.S.)
Running time: 125 minutes
Budget $10.o million


TCM showed the movie on Feb 6, 2021.