holmes in film – part 2!

So, originally I was going to do this series in some kind of order. However, I have scrapped that plan, simply because I have a lot of feelings about ‘The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes’. I’ll get back to our regularly scheduled stuff about the early movies/TV series at some point.

I have an unhealthy level of love for this film. It is not great quality. Severely edited by studios, the plot is jumpy at best. Even when unedited, the plot is…interesting. Midgets and spies and monsters are involved. After a good 45 minute interlude with ballet dancers. Yeah. Watson is the definition of a bumbling idiot. ‘The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes’ absolutely screams of camp. (Even compared to BBC’s ‘Sherlock’. I KNOW.)

However, this has had an enormous and lasting impression on the canon of Sherlock Holmes adaptations. I think that it really opened the door on adaptations that didn’t necessarily have to be pure homage. (In a different way than the Basil Rathbone adaptations, which I will come to in time!) ‘The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes’ is well-known for its unique portrayal of Mycroft as an uber-powerful politician, whose reasons for intervening are never simply out of laziness.


This film is also just pure fun. It is, I think, the one of the first Holmes adaptations that really plays with the character. He’s witty, he’s charming (when he wants to be), he’s a mad scientist. He hates the deerstalker! At the same time, though, I wouldn’t necessarily call the film irreverent. It includes all the classic references, and not in that in-your-face way that the Robert Downey Jr. films have. Also, it is littered with classic one-liners. The first time I watched it I was cackling my head off.

Which is weird, though, because I actually watched it because I had heard that it was absolutely heartbreaking. Mark Gatiss has said a lot about the undercurrent of despair that runs through the film. In my mind this is the best commentary he’s made:

I think it is pretty clear that this is the first Sherlock Holmes film that really pushed the interpretation that he is gay. It is played as a joke, but I don’t think that necessarily delegitimises the theory. There are various points where Billie Wilder looks into the camera with his big eyes and your heart can’t help but break.

This is a serious underrated Sherlock Holmes film, in my mind. Run with the crazy plot, and you can’t help but fall in love with Holmes as he pines and charms his way through life.

Check out the first post in this series!


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