October 3, 2014

Long-lost Sherlock Holmes film uncovered


A Sherlock Holmes film has been rediscovered in France. © ostill / via Shutterstock

A Sherlock Holmes film has been rediscovered in France.
© ostill / via Shutterstock

A rare Sherlock Holmes film was uncovered by the Cinémathèque Française on Wednesday, Kevin Noonan reports for Variety. The movie stars American actor William Gillette, known for playing Holmes in theater, and it’s the only time he appeared in the role onscreen.

Adaptations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective are plentiful — he’s estimated to be the most prolific character in the history of cinema, at least per Wikipedia — from the first known film featuring him, Sherlock Holmes Baffled (running less than a minute) to the recent Guy Ritchie-directed movies starring Robert Downey, Jr., not to mention TV versions such as the BBC’s acclaimed Sherlock and CBS procedural Elementary.

The film starring Gillette, which dates back to 1916, is unique in that it was thought to have been lost until now, and it’s the only surviving record of his world-renowned performance. His take on Holmes was hugely influential; he was the first, Noonan writes, to don the deerstalker hat that’s become a key part of the iconic Sherlock Holmes look.

The Cinémathèque Française in Paris discovered a “nitrate dupe negative” of the film in their archives a few weeks ago, and it’s currently being restored by a partnership between the Cinémathèque Française and the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. Of the discovery, SFSFF board president Robert Byrne said:

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.

Once the movie has been restored, it will premiere for the audience at the Cinémathèque Française’s film festival, Toute la Mémoire du Monde in January 2015, with a US premiere at the SFSFF next May.


Nick Davies was a publicist at Melville House.