Sherlock Holmes

Commentaries on film, video and television productions based on the character created by Arthur Conan Doyle:

Sherlock Holmes (1922)
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Director Albert Parker; writer Earle Browne, Marion Fairfax, William Gillette; featuring John Barrymore, Roland Young, Gustav von Seyffertitz, Carol Dempster

Early failed Sherlock Holmes (1929–1933)
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Four films, variably featuring Clive Brook, Reginald Owen, Warburton Gamble, Raymnd Massey, Athole Stewart, Lyn Harding

The Wontner Sherlock Holmes (1931–1937)
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Five films featuring Arthur Wontner, Ian Fleming (1931–32, 1935–1937), Ian Hunter (1932)

The Rathbone Sherlock Holmes (1939–1946)
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Fourteen films featuring Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1954–1955)
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Also called Sherlock Holmes
Television series featuring Ronald Howard, Howard Marion-Crawford, Archie Duncan

The Cushing Sherlock Holmes (1959–1984)
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Sherlock Holmes films and television series, variably featuring Peter Cushing, Andrι Morell, Christopher Lee, Douglas Wilmer, Nigel Stock, John Mills

The Lee Sherlock Holmes (1962-1992)
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Sherlock Holmes films, variably featuring Christopher Lee, Thorley Walters, Patrick Macnee, Morgan Fairchild

A Study in Terror (1965)
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Director James Hill; writer Donald Ford, Derek Ford; featuring John Neville, Donald Houston, Anthony Quayle, Judi Dench

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970)
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Director Billy Wilder; writer Billy Wilder, I.A.L. Diamond; featuring Robert Stephens, Colin Blakely, Christopher Lee, Genevieve Page

The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (1976)
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Director Herbert Ross; writer Nicholas Meyer; featuring Nicol Williamson, Robert Duvall, Alan Arkin, Vennesssa Redgrave, Laurence Olivier, Charles Gray

The Sherlock Holmes spoofs (1975–2002)
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Two films and four television movies, variably featuring Gene Wilder, Madeleine Kahn, Marty Feldman, Michael Caine, Ben Kingsley, Matt Frewer, Kenneth Welsh

Murder by Decree (1979)
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Director Bob Clark; writer John Hopkins; featuring Christopher Plummer, James Mason, Anthony Quayle, John Gielgud, Donald Sutherland, Genevieve Bujold

The Brett Sherlock Holmes (1984–1994)
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Also called The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Television series featuring Jeremy Brett, David Burke (1984–1985), Edward Hardwicke (1986–1994)

The Downey Sherlock Holmes (2009–2011)
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Film series, directed by Guy Ritchie, featuring Robert Downy Jr., Jude Law

Sherlock (2010–2017)
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Television series, featuring Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman

Sherlock Holmes

COMMENTARY | TEXT | MOVIES

Stephens and Blakely

Robert Stephens as Holmes peers through the curtains, while Colin Blakely as a randy Wtson looks on.

Uncensored Sherlock

Arthur Conan Doyle had been clear-eyed in describing his protagonist's shortcomings. He suffered ennui, he took serious drugs, he was poorly read and abysmally ignorant in fields unrelated to detection, he often treated people badly, and he was curiously disengaged from sexual interests.

But for most of his film life Sherlock Holmes's private demons were passed over. Often portrayals seemed to go out of their way to soften the man's characteristics. That's how movie heroes were treated.

But cinema had changed by the late 1960s and in the age of the anti-hero screenwriters could turn to Holmes's imperfections as grist for their dramas.

Sherlock as you've never seen him before

Billy Wilder's The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes was much anticipated by fans who perhaps expected a reboot of a Holmes franchise similar to the Rathbone-Bruce series. Peter O'Toole and Peter Sellers were rumoured to be sought as the leads. (Can you imagine?)

But what director Wilder delivered in 1970, based on his ten-years-in-the-writing script, was a very clever, sophisticated and somewhat risquι look at a Sherlock Holmes the public had never seen before.

Fifty years after Watson's death, a trunk is opened in a bank vault to reveal the Holmes stories whose sensitive nature had kept Watson from publishing them. Four of these stories were to follow in Wilder's original Sherlock symphony that ran three to four hours as filmed. However, the great director ended up cutting out half the episodes to present theatres with a more palatable two-hour film.

Stephens as Holmes

Stephens's human Holmes.

Even so, it works. They may not have been the first choices, but Robert Stephens and Colin Blakely are wonderful as Holmes and Watson—that is, as the uncensored Holmes and Watson depicted in this film. Holmes's drug use is open, Watson's womanizing is gloried in, and the seemingly infallible detective actually screws up occasionally.

Moreover, they're just more human—regular guys of their time, albeit with unique talents (in some ways, precursors to the 2009 Downey-Law concoction.)

Christopher Lee is almost unrecognizable as Sherlock's older—and smarter—brother Mycroft. Lee's really left his Dracula days behind now, sporting a bald pate, a pencil-thin mustache, a brisk working manner and a light touch of sardonic humour, as Mycroft works behind the scenes for the British empire while his better publicized sibling blunders about, turning up state secrets and apparent murder.

The tone of The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes is both tongue-in-cheek and serious, as Wilder films can be. The script has fun with Holmes chiding Watson for presenting him in his published stories as being taller than he is, playing violin better than he does, and wearing the ridiculous deerstalker outfit that the public now expects him to be seen in around London.

It's not quite Doyle's conception, even warts and all. And yet one is left feeling this is one of the more interesting instalments in Holmes's cinematic history.

Too bad we'll never see the original longer version, though some DVDs do include clips and script pages of the cut sections as extras, providing an extended look into Sherlock Holmes's private life.

The public has a right to know!

— Eric

COMMENTARY | TEXT | MOVIES

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The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes
(1970, DVD
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Related:

Author
Arthur Conan Doyle

Novel
The Adventures of Sherlock Hokmes

Novel
The Hound of the Baskervilles

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The Complete Holmes
Get at Amazon: USUK

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The Hound of the Baskervilles
Get at Amazon: USCanUK