20. The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970)
Billy Wilder’s The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes is, perhaps, the greatest Sherlock Holmes movie ever attempted, and not only does NOT deserve to be on any supposed “worst” list, but should be held as a shining example of how to leave Conan Doyle’s originals behind and still capture everything about a Sherlock Holmes mystery on film.
Billy Wilder plainly did his research prior to creating this movie, because it has everything . . . and more, actually. There is not only the mystery Sherlock Holmes has to solve (with several mysteries within that over-arching mystery), there is the mystery of Sherlock Holmes himself, which the viewer is invited to understand as the film unfolds.
So many parts of this film could have been a standalone Canonical tale -- the naked amnesiac, the miniature coffin, the freakin’ Loch Ness monster! Sherlock Holmes gets to the truths behind each, and along the way Robert Stephens humanizes Sherlock Holmes without losing anything of the character.
The comic moments are Jerry Seinfeld and George Costanza at their best, decades before Seinfeld aired. The opening scenes of the movie explore the idea of a gay relationship at Baker Street, again, decades before it was common to speak of in Sherlockian circles. And BBC Sherlock’s Emmy-award-nominated “A Scandal in Belgravia” practically glows with a love of Private Life, taking the sorrowful postscript to the movie’s adventure and turning that frown upside down.
Originally planned to be an epic motion picture with a run-time matching anything Tolkien-related, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes is a film achievement that has rarely been matched and, to this writer, never surpassed.
This movie doesn’t need a defense. It needs pistons and a rope to ascend to its rarified heights!