The best I can determine, the only time that Colin Blakely ever played Dr. Watson in film was in the Billy Wilder 1970 movie “The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes”. The movie is, in a way, a little hard to get your mind around. It is not a spoof or a comedy yet is not completely drama. It does have some great dialogue:
Watson: They say twelve men have died for her.
Watson: Six committed suicide, four were killed in duels and one fell out of the gallery of the Vienna Opera House.
Holmes: That’s only eleven.
Watson: The man that fell from the gallery landed on top of another man in the orchestra.
Holmes: That makes an even dozen…In a messy sort of way.
The banter is continuous and the writing is excellent. Sherlock Holmes is played by Sir Robert Stephens and he is really good. He underplays the part in a way that makes Holmes very likeable. Colin Blakely is one of my favorite character actors. He played in two great Agatha Christie movies: Evil Under the Sun and Murder on the Orient Express. In both of these movies he is superb, unfortunately, he kind of overdoes the buffoon part as Watson. It’s good but not great.
The movie was originally supposed to be of epic length even requiring an intermission like Lawrence of Arabia. When it came out it had been cut to about 2 hours. With a 10 million dollar budget there was no scrimping on costumes, sets or locations. The original script called for four stories tied together in the movie. As it finally came out there were two. In the first Holmes is propositioned by a retiring Russian ballerina who wants him to father her child. Needless to say, Holmes is able to get out of the situation but Watson is not happy about how he achieves his end. This part of the story is probably Blakely’s best. Then there is a “Belgian” woman played by Genevieve Page who recruits Holmes to find her missing husband. The second story involves midgets, monks, German spies, the Loch Ness Monster, submarines, Mycroft and Queen Victoria. The story is excellent but as I said Blakely rather overplays the buffoon at this point. The location shots are beautiful as they really went to Loch Ness for filming.
One of the props was a full size monster that they floated in the lake, however, it never made it into the movie because it sank into the lake and was lost. The replacement monster in the movie was then filmed in a studio fish tank. The deleted scenes included “The Dreadful Business of the Naked Honeymooners” and “The Curious Case of the Upside Down Room”. Also deleted were a flashback of Holmes at Oxford and Blakely playing his own grandson at Cox Bank receiving the dispatch box.
I highly recommend this movie. If you haven’t seen it you need to. Blakely does a very credible job overall.
Colin Blakely was born in Northern Ireland on 23 September 1930 dying fairly young at 56 years of age on 7 May 1987. He would eventually appear in 78 movies and became one of the UKs best known character actors. He was also a very accomplished Shakespearean actor. I never cease to be amazed at how many Shakespearean actors become Holmes or Watson. Besides movies Blakely was heavily involved in TV as early as 1960. But what is really amazing is his extensive history on the legitimate stage which extends throughout his TV and film career.
At the age of 18 Blakely was working in his families sporting goods store then he moved on to the railroads. He began his theater work in an amateur repertoire company and his first paid job was in the Group Theatre in Belfast. He worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Old Vic, and the Royal Court as well as many other organizations. He was married to Margaret Whiting, a British actress and they had three children. He was also quite a sports fan and played rugby and football (soccer) for Northern Ireland. He was a very good, if not great Watson.