Friday, March 5, 2010

Private Life DVD

It was totally worth it for me to buy the DVD version of The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. The special features include Deleted Sequences from the film, as well as interviews, and still pictures from the set.

The film editor Ernest Walter tells many interesting facts about Wilder and the filming. He says that Billy Wilder's co-writer "Izzy" Diamond was often on set to correct the actors if they deviated from the scripted dialogue. About twenty minutes into Walter's interview, he tells about an intriguing cut scene: the ballet director Nikolai Rogozhin comes to Baker Street to give Holmes the Stradivarius violin, and to give flowers to Watson. The implication being that Rogozhin is gay as well, and is seeking to romance Watson while distracting Holmes from any possible jealousy. Walter thought it would be a funny and upbeat ending, if this were the final scene of the movie, but Wilder was dead set against it. I wish this extra scene was on the DVD, but they unfortunately didn't have it.

I've only found a version of this scene in the novelization of the movie by Michael and Mollie Hardwick, and who knows how accurate they are? Several times in the ballerina scenes they write Rogozhin as if he were a sinister and flaming queer, when I always saw him as reserved, stuffy, and ambiguous in the film. The Hardwicks' version says that Madame Petrova is now in Venice with Toulouse-Latrec, and she's generously giving Holmes the violin anyway, despite his not earning it. While Holmes is busy tuning and trying out the violin, Rogozhin presents a bouquet to Watson and whispers to him to meet him for a date at the Savoy Grill. Rogozhin leaves before Watson can reply, and then Watson supposedly breaks into a furious torrent of cussing while Holmes doesn't care one whit about him, just playing his violin. I was rather disappointed with how homophobic the book read, because I would have imagined that the film Watson would have blushed in embarrassment, then laughed it off, as he ultimately laughed off the whole gay rumor as ridiculous. But that's damn Sherlockians for you, overreacting to any gay stuff.

Anyway, onto the Deleted Sequences that they did include on the DVD. They don't actually have the film footage for all of the lost scenes, but they have many still shots, script pages, and some audio clips that let you piece together how the full-length movie would have been. Wilder intended the movie to open with a Prologue set in the present day. We would have seen Watson's grandson coming to the bank to get the tin dispatch box and to examine its contents. This makes more sense than how the movie credits show two anonymous bank guards going into the vaults to get the box, but never taking it somewhere else. They just put the box on a table and begin opening it up and unpacking it, with no regard for any Watson descendant who ought to be present.

The script pages for the Prologue also tell us what the photographs were. (The finished film only shows us one photo, of Watson sitting and Holmes standing posed behind him.) The script shows that the next photo was meant to be Holmes shirtless and in tights, in a boxing pose. (I think this would have resembled the boxing scene in the Russian TV series; see about 2.5 minutes into this video.) Holmes shirtless and pugilistic would have been interesting. The third photo was going to be Watson riding an elephant, during his war service. I'm not sure how historically accurate that would have been, but Billy Wilder may have just intended it as an amusing joke. The fourth and final picture was meant to be Mycroft holding the reins of the winning horse at Ascot. Why? Because he owns the horse, or he's a race official? I don't know. It doesn't say.

So that's certainly enlightening as a Deleted Sequence. However, even though this longer Prologue would have made more sense, I was not really interested in the Cox & Co. bankers, or in the idea that the modern Watson is a veterinarian living in Canada. One of the bankers is an old guy named Havelock-Smith, while the younger bank man is named Cassidy. I think Billy Wilder spent a little too much time joking about how Havelock-Smith is a huge fan of Holmes and how Cassidy is a fan of James Bond. I just don't care about fandom comparisons, especially if they delay getting to the meat of the story back in Victorian times. I was glad when we finally got to Watson's narration.

The next Deleted Sequence shows Holmes and Watson on the train in 1887, returning from their trip to Yorkshire. (The movie omits the train scene and instead puts the voiceover onto Holmes and Watson arriving at Baker Street while Mrs. Hudson greets them.) So while they're on a train, a man rushes into their compartment and asks if the seat next to Watson is taken. He is out of breath, and once he sits down he begins to mutter to himself in Italian and then falls asleep. Watson asks Holmes what he thinks, and Holmes reveals that the man is a singing teacher from Naples who was having an affair with a married lady, and who was now fleeing from the husband that discovered him. Watson is skeptical of this, but Holmes points out all the clues, like the man's tuning fork, his sprained ankle, his wearing bedroom slippers instead of shoes, and the hole in his hat showing that he's been shot at. Watson still doesn't believe Holmes, so Holmes decides to prove himself right. As the train goes into a darkened tunnel, Holmes slams the door open and begins to imitate the cuckolded husband, shouting at the Italian maestro, who cowers and begs for his life. He then jumps out the train window, (apparently just in time for them to leave the tunnel), and Watson is shocked by Holmes's heartless trick, because the maestro has obviously injured himself again. Holmes doesn't care, and just decides to go to sleep for the rest of the train ride. Watson broods, and we get a voiceover now about how moody, egocentric, and unbearable Holmes can be. This is when they finally do arrive at Baker Street and greet Mrs. Hudson.

Then we come to "The Curious Case of the Upside-Down Room," which I think was the most important of all the Deleted Sequences. Apparently after the movie scene where Holmes takes cocaine, several weeks go by, and Lestrade comes to Baker Street claiming that he's just visiting his "old friends." Holmes is in his room playing the violin, but Watson greets Lestrade warmly. He even pretends that Holmes has had plenty of work lately, like solving the case of six anarchist midgets plotting to assassinate the Russian Czar. (This of course refers to a part that wasn't cut in the film.) But Watson obviously feels nervous about his lie, and he says he can't discuss it. So Watson knocks on Holmes's door and asks him to come out (apparently because Holmes has locked himself in). Holmes stops playing and finally comes out, and we see a photo of Holmes looking particularly scruffy. He's wearing a long nightshirt and is barefoot, and he's got way more than a five o'clock shadow. Lestrade jokes about how he looks, but Holmes just tells him to explain what case he's here for.

So Lestrade describes to them a bizarre mystery. A piano tuner named Plimsoll rented out one of his rooms to a boarder, and when he came to collect the rent, he found the furniture missing and a dead body on the floor. However it turned out that the furniture wasn't gone, it was just now on the ceiling. That apparently intrigues Holmes enough to go get dressed, and they all go to the place in Hampstead. All the furniture is nailed to the ceiling, and near the corpse (an Asian man) are a bunch of random clues like a Chinese newspaper, a stuffed owl, and a playing card. (This is the 7 of diamonds that was seen in Watson's tin dispatch box.) Holmes examines the clues for a while, and then Mr. Plimsoll comes in to talk to Lestrade. Plimsoll is blind and was away from home when all the hammering took place, but he insists that the man that rented the rooms was an Englishman named Fowler, not a Chinese man who was English-educated. Apparently a switch has been made. Lestrade says the coroner will take the body away and they'll help take all the furniture down, but Plimsoll says he's going to leave it this way and charge people money to come see the upside-down room. After Plimsoll leaves, Holmes points out that the body has been dressed backwards by someone else. Lestrade suggests looking at the room upside-down, so Holmes and Watson make him stand on his head. Then they gather the clues and leave poor Lestrade stuck there.

Holmes and Watson return to Baker Street and see Mrs. Hudson playing a game of solitaire. But she hasn't won a game in a long time, and Holmes gives her the 7 of diamonds that was clearly taken from her deck. They go upstairs and Watson asks about the mysterious Mr. Fowler. Holmes eventually reveals that he's figured out the whole thing. There is no Mr. Fowler, and there was no murder. Watson was desperate to stop Holmes taking cocaine, so he concocted this whole mystery as a distraction. He posed as Mr. Fowler to rent the room, he bought random clues from nearby shops, and he borrowed a corpse from a hospital morgue. Watson tries to deny it, but Holmes points out that Watson took care not to speak at all while Plimsoll was in the room, because he knew that Plimsoll would recognize his voice.

"Damn you, Holmes!" Watson had hoped to keep Holmes occupied until Christmas. Holmes says it was a nice try, but he was only fooled for about ten minutes. Watson mutters, "Well, I daresay I'm not very bright."

"No, but you're most endearing. No one could ask for a better friend."

Watson scoffs at this and thinks that Holmes only lives with him to have access to cocaine. [Which is obviously not true, given that the drug is legal and Holmes is free to buy it himself at any chemist's shop.]

Holmes tells him not to underestimate his many other charms.

Watson angrily warns Holmes not to lock himself in his room again, and Holmes says that he won't until he gets a fresh needle. Really kind of a jerk, isn't he?

Anyway, the fight gets to the point that Watson declares to Mrs. Hudson that he is moving out. He asks her to pack his things, and he says he'll resume his medical practice. Holmes asks where he'll find anyone else willing to put up with his eccentric habits, but Watson insists on going. As a "farewell present", Watson disdainfully gives Holmes a fresh needle and three cocaine bottles. He sets them on the mantel of the fireplace, and then goes into his room to help pack.

Watson tells Mrs. Hudson that he'll go to a hotel for now. She just cries. "It's so sad. You and Mr. Holmes, after all these years..." Then she says that she knows how Watson feels, because "I went through a divorce myself." That is the best part of all, that she considers them to be married!

Watson doesn't react to this, just claiming that he'll be happier and better off without Holmes. No more chasing after criminals in the dead of night. Then they're interrupted by loud gun shots and they rush back to the sitting room.

Holmes is shooting the bottles on the mantel, and Mrs. Hudson yells about the pistol practice indoors. Watson, however, says he'll clean up the mess, and that Mrs. Hudson should go unpack for him, because he's staying. She is shocked and confused, but leaves them alone.

And then the sweetest part is hearing Watson's voice as he tells Holmes thank you for the gesture. "You've made me very happy."

Holmes answers kindly, saying that he's very fond of Watson and would do anything to keep him here. It's so touching, and yet the script pages reveal that Holmes has actually tricked Watson. The cocaine bottles are now hidden in his violin case, and Holmes only shot up some substitute bottles from his chemical laboratory.

So the scene ends on a bittersweet note, with Watson pouring tea for them and laughing about how Lestrade was probably still stuck standing on his head.

The rest of the Deleted Sequences are more minor. "The Adventure of the Dumbfounded Detective" is a flashback to Holmes's college life at Oxford, and we see a different backstory about his experience of women. The "Case of the Naked Honeymooners" takes place on a ship just as they are returning from Constantinople, where Holmes has solved a case for a sultan with a harem of 121 wives. (Holmes mentions the Constantinople case while on the train with Gabrielle Valladon.) They're amusing little pieces, but not truly necessary from a character point of view. At least, in my slashy opinion. But I do like having all these extra scenes to spend more time in that movie-verse.

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