"I'm often accused of being cold and unemotional and I admit to it. And yet in my own cold, unemotional way, I'm very fond of you, Watson." A great line, a pivotal line... And yet a line, like many others, that was unceremoniously cut.
Written by Billy Wilder and regular co-scribe IAL Diamond, this unique, altogether human take on Sherlock Holmes is a lost classic. In more ways than one. Scared by its hefty three-hour running time and jumble of sub-plots, United Artists lopped off 70 minutes. It flopped anyway.
The glory of Wilder's uncut epic is now just tantalising reverie like Welles' original The Magnificent Ambersons, but this truncated version is nonetheless special. The plot is hokum - gleefully so - Holmes (Robert Stephens) and Watson (Colin Blakely) seeking a missing husband amid midgets, monks and the Loch Ness Monster. But it's the spaces between the narrative dots that count. Here we find Wilder unswaddling layers of myth to reveal the pained cocaine addict and raging misogynist within, yet doing so with elegance and wit, warmth and affection.
Too long dismissed as the first of Wilder's fading `twilight' works, it's time for a reposition: Private Life is his last hurrah.