A Study in Scarlet, the initial Holmes story that introduces us to "the world's only consulting detective" and his trusty friend Dr Watson, was adapted into a film in 1914 by a British concern called the Samuelson Film Manufacturing Company - a name long since forgotten among the many businesses that attempted to get involved in the new and lucrative moving picture business at the turn of the last century. James Bragington, who worked at Samuelson's (but not actually as an actor!), was chosen for his resemblance to Holmes (as described in the books) and by all accounts made a remarkably good fist of it - aided by some on-the-job training and the slightly florid acting style demanded by silent movies of that era. Filming took place at locations including Cheddar Gorge. The director, George Pearson, would go on to make 1923's Love, Life and Laughter, another previously lost film whose rediscovery earlier this year was also featured on this blog.
James Bragington as Sherlock Holmes
A Study in Scarlet (1914)
Cinémathèque Française discovers 1916 Sherlock Holmes film
Until now, that is, with the wonderful news of the discovery of a French-subtitled copy of the Gillette film in the archives of the Cinémathèque Française in Paris. Once more giving hope in the search for the other 75 most wanted lost films, Sherlock Holmes had been mislabelled before it was consigned to Cinémathèque Française's shelves decades ago - a mistake that has only now come to light. With luck many more previously lost films may be rediscovered in like manner - incorrect labelling and private collections still being the most promising sources.
This find is doubly important not only for adding to and increasing our knowledge of the early years of Sherlock Holmes on film (prior to the great Basil Rathbone) but also because it is the only moving picture William Gillette ever did. We will now, therefore, be able to see for the first time in one hundred years his performance - widely lauded at the time, even by Conan Doyle himself - as the Great Detective and one generally considered to be generation-defining. It will be interesting to finally be able to compare him to Rathbone, Peter Cushing and Jeremy Brett.
Cinémathèque Française, in collaboration with the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, are currently undertaking what sounds like a thorough restoration of the fragile negatives - hopefully in time for a premiere at the former's own film festival in Paris during January 2015. Then, who knows, perhaps the BFI will get involved and oblige us with a limited release in the UK - perhaps even a DVD. I'm really hoping we get to see it somehow!