With a 260-page script and a budget of $10 million, this was set to be a 165-minute Road Show picture with an intermission for comfort. It was to be the “Big One” for Billy Wilder. The shooting schedule ran for six months and resulted in a rough-cut that came in at three hours and 20 minutes. The film was originally structured as a series of very specifically structured linked episodes, each with a particular title and theme. The opening sequence was to feature Watson’s grandson in London claiming his inherited dispatch box from Cox & Co. and there was also a flashback to Holmes’ Oxford days to explain his distrust of women. All were shot, but deleted from the final print. So what happened? Well, it appears that United Artists suffered a number of major film flops in 1969 that pretty much scuppered the road show format for Wilder’s massive project. Studio execs ordered the film to be cut to fill a regular theatrical running time, whittling it down to a 125-minute version. The episodic format made the pruning process relatively simple, so cut were the opening sequence, the Oxford flashback and two full episodes entitled “The Dreadful Business of the Naked Honeymooners” at 15 minutes and “The Curious Case of the Upside Down Room” at 30 minutes. We can only hope that the full footage can one day be restored, although a full print is not currently thought to exist.
In the early days of television, when the “kitchen sink” school of realism held sway, we always reached a point where we “explained” the character. Around two-thirds of the way through, someone articulated the psychological truth that made the character the person he was. Chayefsky and I used to call this the “rubber-ducky” school of drama: “Someone once took his rubber ducky away from him, and that’s why he’s a deranged killer.” That was the fashion then, and with many producers and studios it still is.
I always try to eliminate the rubber-ducky explanations. A character should be clear from his present actions. And his behavior as the picture goes on should reveal the psychological motivations. If the writer has to state the reasons, something’s wrong in the way the character has been written. Dialogue is like anything else in movies. It can be a crutch, or when used well, it can enhance, deepen, and reveal.