A long sought after, presumed lost, silent film adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic Sherlock Holmes has been discovered at the Cinémathèque Française, the archive has announced. Archivists discovered a nitrate dupe negative of the film just a few weeks ago and are working at restoring it in conjunction with the San Francisco Silent Film Festival.
Originally released in 1916, the film, titled simply Sherlock Holmes, starred William Gillette, considered the world’s foremost Sherlockian stage actor of the time, with even Doyle giving his stamp of approval to the performer. It was Gillette who is credited as adding the distinctive deerstalker cap to the character’s iconography.
Directed by Arthur Berthelet, the film is an adaptation of the stage play written by Gillette, which drew story elements from a number of Doyle’s Holmes stories including “A Scandal In Bohemia,” “The Cooper Beeches” and “The Final Solution.” The film is Gillette’s only film appearance and gives modern Holmes fans a chance to experience firsthand a performance that they could only have previously read about it period accounts.
The discovered negative contains the film’s full 7 reels, which translates to approximately 70 minutes, with French intertitles.
Gillette is not the first actor to play Holmes in a film though. That honor belongs to an anonymous actor who portrayed the Great Detective in a thirty-second long nickelodeon flicker produced in 1900 by American Mutoscope & Biograph,
In a press release, film restorer (and San Francisco Silent Film Festival Board President) Robert Byrne stated –
It’s an amazing privilege to work with these reels that have been lost for generations. William Gillette’s Sherlock Holmes has ranked among the holy grails of lost film and my first glimpse of the footage confirms Gillette’s magnetism. Audiences are going to be blown away when they see the real Sherlock Holmes on screen for the first time.
Audiences will get that chance to discover Gillette’s performance starting next January when the restored film premiers at the Cinémathèque Française’s film restoration festival Toute la Mémoire du Monde. It will have its US premier at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival in May 2015.