Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Lost Sherlock Holmes Film Found!


Cinémathèque Française and San Francisco Silent Film Festival to Restore!

The silent film version of Sherlock Holmes starring William Gillette has been found! Long considered lost since its first release, the Gillette film is a vital missing link in the history of Holmes on screen. Directed by Arthur Berthelet and produced by Essanay Studios in 1916, it was discovered at the Cinémathèque Française a few weeks ago.

By the time the film was made, Gillette had been established as the world's foremost interpreter of Holmes on stage. He gave his face and manner to the detective and inspired the classic illustrations of Frederic Dorr Steele. Dynamic but calm, he played Holmes in the colorful attire-bent-stemmed briar, ornate dressing gown, and deerstalker cap-that has been identified ever since with the character. Just as durable was Gillette's distinctive bearing, preserved in the film: the charismatic, all-seeing detective who dominates scenes with his preternatural stillness.

Booth Tarkington famously wrote after seeing Gillette on stage, "I would rather see you play Sherlock Holmes than be a child again on Christmas morning." For the well-known Chicago bookman, Vincent Starrett, Gillette was beyond criticism. But perhaps the most telling accolade came from Arthur Conan Doyle himself, who had killed Holmes off and thought he was through with the character. After reading Gillette's adaptation for the stage, he said, "It's good to see the old chap back."

"Sir Arthur, you don't know the half of it," says Professor Russell Merritt, the supervising editor of the project and member of the Baker Street Irregulars. "At last we get to see for ourselves the actor who kept the first generation of Sherlockians spellbound. We can also see where the future Holmeses-Rathbone, Brett, Cumberbatch, and the rest-come from. As far as Holmes is concerned, there's not an actor dead or alive who hasn't consciously or intuitively played off Gillette."

The newly found Essanay production is not only Gillette's sole surviving appearance as Holmes. It is also the only film Gillette ever made, a unique opportunity to view the work of a major American actor in the legendary role that he wrote for himself. The film faithfully retains the play's famous set pieces-Holmes's encounter with Professor Moriarty, his daring escape from the Stepney Gas Chamber, and the tour-de-force deductions-and illustrates how Gillette wove bits from Conan Doyle's stories ranging from "A Scandal in Bohemia" to "The Final Problem,"into an original, innovative mystery play.

The film is being restored and will premiere in France in January 2015 and debut at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival in May 2015.

HT: Frank Price, Sue Trowbridge & More!


Vallery Feldman said...

This might convince me to attend the silent film festival. What a find!!

Priscilla said...

What a treasure! Although much silent film was overly dramatic, fine actors could do wonderful things with small gestures or looks that got lost with the talkies. Can't go so hope it is put on DVD!