Friday, December 05, 2003

In Lake Arrowhead, in addition to lots of Caitlin R. Kiernan, I also read the last Arthur Conan-Doyle Sherlock Holmes story that I had not read. The Adventure of the Retired Colourman didn't feel like the final Holmes story. Unlike the stories that closely preceded it, such as The Adventure of the Lion's Mane and His Last Bow, which were stories that featured significant nostalgic peculiarities, The Adventure of the Retired Colourman was a resoundingly good return to form, giving one of the more enjoyable tales of Holmes's powerful deductive techniques put to use.

Of course, I want more. So it was with no small amount of excitement that I last night anticipated watching Billy Wilder's The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes from 1970.

I knew that Billy Wilder was a brilliant film maker. You might remember me glowing about The Apartment, Double Indemnity, and Some Like It Hot. It was only a few weeks ago that I first learned about The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes and the idea that such a terrific director had made a Sherlock Holmes movie had me salivating like a waterfall.

The movie is not based on any of Arthur Conan-Doyle's stories. In fact, various descriptions that I read of the film seemed to indicate that the movie was primarily concerned with the idea that Holmes might have been homosexual and in love with Dr. Watson.

I was a little bothered by what this seemed to suggest. I worried (foolishly, as it turned out) that the movie would be a juvenile melodrama about some repressed passion in Holmes. That the movie would postulate that homosexuality was the entire reason for Holmes's distrust of women. This bothered me because, honestly, it seems absolutely boring and boorish. The concept seems to leap at an irksome presumption--oh, he doesn't like women! He must be gay!

I was always far more interested in the idea that Holmes was unlike any other person and that he was compelled by obsessions and passions outside the realm of simplistic, orthodox character studies.

Anyway . . . I decided that I would trust Wilder, who had not let me down in the past, and simply watch the damn movie and even look forward to it.

I was not disappointed, I'm happy to say.

It turns out to only be the juvenile individuals at Yahoo! movies and other places who think the movie is all about gay Holmes.

Wilder and co-writer I.A.L Diamond give a more complicated portrait of the sleuth that suggests an inner torment that is very, very quiet behind vigour for brilliantly solving extraordinary crimes. It's an intriguing and endearing view of the man in the midst of a story involving ballet, canaries, and the Loch Ness Monster.

The trademark wittiness of Wilder's dialogue is put to good effect here and I especially liked Watson who, played by Colin Blakely, came across as a sort of a mixture of Jack Lemmon, Colm Meaney, and a very enthusiastic puppy. It was simultaneously novel and, er, true enough to Conan-Doyle's Watson.

Robert Stephens played Holmes in a manner that was a little more laconic and sane than I'm used to Holmes being. But it was not really a departure from Conan-Doyle's Holmes, and worked well for the subject matter of the film. Of course, I still would rather have seen Jeremy Brett.

Christopher Lee's in the film as Sherlock's brother Mycroft and, as usual, the guy has great presence. Although I think Mycroft was written as a slightly more sinister character than Conan-Doyle originally intended. And I also wonder if Queen Victoria was really as simple-minded as she seemed in the movie.

Other than that, my only complaint about the movie is that Sherlock wasn't as smart as he usually is. I've never been able to reach solutions before Holmes in any of the Conan-Doyle stories, but I found myself deducing some things faster than Wilder's Holmes. Such as the straight tracks in the dust which at first confounded Holmes's but which I immediately recognised as wheelchair tracks. But I guess this just illustrates that Wilder's is a different kid of cleverness.

Apparently, Wilder and Diamond worked for twelve years on the screenplay and there really is a sense of respect for the original stories. The movie was originally supposed to be a three hour collection of four Holmes episodes, but unfortunately the studio saw fit to cut it down to only two stories (for a running time of about two hours) when test audiences found the movie to be too "episodic."

So, thanks to those bright folks, about a third of this brilliant film is entirely lost--it seems only some of the footage has survived, and only without its dialogue track and with blurred-out nudity (it was saved for a possible television version).

But, as it is, it is still very worth watching indeed.


I exhausted myself at the mall yester-day encountering unprecedented difficulty in Christmas shopping. For most of the people on my list, I could not even begin to conceive of what to buy for them. I did, amazingly enough, find a pair of sunglasses for myself. It's terribly difficult finding sunglasses that don't look revoltingly stupid but, astonishingly, there were several in a store at the mall for only two dollars!

They're large, and blessedly round. I suppose they look like goggles. Maybe a little silly but I'll take just about anything in place of those moronic, elongated gecko-eyed things proliferating the market. Oy. Doesn't anyone look at pictures of John Lennon and say "Hey, that looks great!" anymore?

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