Sunday, January 24, 2010

The other movies of Sherlock Holmes - and bonus Billy Wilder

I often like to theme my movie viewing at home. . I tend to go on certain kinds of "kicks" - a Grace Kelly kick, an MGM musicals kick, a Scorsese kick (which I am permanently on) and so forth.

Sometimes these kicks happen organically. I didn't really mean to go on a Sherlock Holmes kick recently, but now I might as well be carrying around a pipe and playing a fiddle. I'm not really sharp at deductions unless it has to do with movies, but I am not gifted enough to find, say, the missing footage from The Magnificent Ambersons.

But I digress. My Holmes kick started when I watched the movie in theaters now. I found it passably entertaining, but really didn't think much of it.

Then came Disney's The Great Mouse Detective. I didn't mean to watch the movies so close together, but I had it in my Netflix queue because it was one of the few Disney animated features I had not seen, and it just happened to arrive not long after I saw the new Holmes. But I'm glad it did, because I found the film quite the delight. It's maybe a little shy on heart, and the songs are forgettable, but it's wonderfully clever in the way it synchs up the human Holmes with the mouse version. Two of the directors are Ron Clements and John Musker, who would later get credit for launching the Disney renaissance with The Little Mermaid, but Mouse Detective laid some very fine groundwork.

Since I was on a roll, I decided to make my next film a Holmes feature I had long wanted to see but had never gotten around to it: Billy Wilder's The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. And it's much more imaginative than the current Holmes could ever dream of being. (Billy Wilder trumping Guy Ritchie? Who knew?)

In a sense, it feels unlike most Wilder pics because of its British milieu, but it still bears Wilder's distinctive tone and voice as he and co-writer IAL Diamond concoct an "undiscovered" Holmes adventure that cuts into his legend. One of my favorite lines: "Some of us are cursed with memories like flypaper. Stuck there is a staggering amount of miscellaneous data, most of it useless."

Some would say that's true of my brain: But I think it better enables me to enjoy movies like that one.

Since I didn't have any more Holmes movies in my collection (or Netflix queue) I decided to go for another Wilder picture that was on TCM - The Major and the Minor, about the misadventures of Ginger Rogers when she tries to pass herself off as a 12-year-old so she can take a train trip home.

This was Wilder's directorial debut, but you'd never know it unless you were told - the movie bears none of the tentativeness of a typical first-timer. Wilder was assured right off the bat. The idea that Rogers could pass for a 12-year-old is preposterous - and Wilder knows it, getting great comic mileage out of it. The inclusion of a real teenager who sees right through Rogers' disguise off the bat gives the movie a sharp edge.

It's not one of the truly great Wilder movies, mainly because Ray Milland's male lead and love interest is a bland washout. But Rogers is an absolute hoot. When Wilder finds an excuse for her to do a little dance, it's comic gold.

Where will my movie viewing take me next? More Wilder? More Rogers? Whatever's coming from Netflix? Even I don't know just yet. But I'll post more when I do decide.

The Great Mouse Detective: B+
The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes:  A-
The Major and the Minor:  B+

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