Sherlock Holmes’ most terrifying assignment

We’re in the mid-Holiday lull here and I’d rather not bore you me with rehashing the weekend box office or endless lists and Oscar speculation…though here’s a cool compilation of various awards guru’s thoughts, via Anne Thompson who happens to be one of them, for those who can’t get enough of that.

Instead, in recognition of the success of “Sherlock Holmes” over the weekend, I’m going to bore entertain you with a scene from what I think has to be the best of the near sub-genre of off-beat, “non-canonical” Holmes films, Billy Wilder’s 1970 “The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes.” Below, Robert Stephens as Holmes meets with a genius obsessed Russian ballerina and her manager, who is helping her with a highly personal matter. Can Holmes be of assistance?

Fun fact: that’s real life Russian expat ballerina Tamara Vladimirovna Tumanova playing the dancer, she really was 49 years old in this scene and was married to the great screenwriter Casey Robinson.

So, is Holmes telling the truth re, Tchaikovsky not being an isolated case? About him and Watson — not a chance, not in a mainstream movie in 1970, anyway. But what about himself? Well, for that you’re going to have to watch the whole flick, which is really quite a wonder. Both a darned good Billy Wilder comedy and a great, if episodic, Sherlock Holmes mystery drama.

The reason it remains obscure is that while Stephens is a very good Holmes and Colin Blakely is an entirely solid Watson, they weren’t exactly huge on that indefinable whatsis that makes for star power. If Wilder had gotten his original choices, Peter O’Toole as Holmes and Peter Sellers as Watson, you likely would have heard of this film by now, I think.

Come to think of it, Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law might have worked quite well here also. How sad no one every thinks to reshoot great screenplays since remakes nearly always use entirely new screenplays. In this case, the studio demanded a shorter version of Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond’s original script, forcing Wilder to thoroughly re-edit the film, so it would also be a kind of restoration.

  

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