IHOSE header

"I've found it! I've found it" [STUD]

There is one Sherlock Holmes film that legendary in its heritage: the 1916 Sherlock Holmes starring none other than William Gillette (1853 - 1937). This film is significant because it has long been lost. 

Gillette asked for and received permission from Arthur Conan Doyle to adapt material and use the character for a play in 1899. And from that time until the early 1930s, he played the role some 1,300 times. And yet the 1916 film is the only record that was made of Gillette's performance in the title role that dominated so much of his career.

Today the Cinémathèque Française announced that the original negative of the film has been located!

"a relic which is of great intrinsic value, but even of greater importance as an historical curiosity" [MUSG]

According to the Cinémathèque:
[This] is a complete nitrate duplicate that, to date, appears to be unique. Originally intended for the French operations, it contains duplicate French intertitles, and annotations of hues. The latter feature is still surprising because Essanay films have rarely been exploited in color in the United States. It seems therefore plausible that color version was created specifically for France. [The duplicate]  is currently being restored by the French Cinematheque digital and the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, an organization with which we have restored American films of our collections for 2 years now. This restoration is made ​​possible through the generous support of individuals who are passionate about Sherlock Holmes.

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival (SFSFF) also issued a press release, quoting the Baker Street Irregulars' own Russell Merritt, BSI ("The Trepoff Murder"):

"Sir Arthur, you don’t know the half of it," according to Merritt, who is acting as the supervising editor of the project. "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 film was made by Essanay Studios, which are best known for their 1915 Charlie Chaplin films. Founded in 1907 by George Spoor and Gilbert Anderson as the Peerless Film Company, the name was changed to Essanay ("S and A") and the Chicago outfit opened its California studio in 1912.


But it was the Chicago headquarters that was responsible for the very first American Sherlock Holmes film with Gillette reprising his immensely popular role. The plot takes inspiration from A Study in Scarlet, "A Scandal in Bohemia," "The Copper Beeches" and "The Final Problem" and involves Sherlock Holmes being consulted by a man who has a connection to the royal family. He wants to retrieve letters that he wrote to Alice Faulkner's sister. Alice intends to use the letters to blackmail him, and Alice is being held captive by a couple in the power of Professor Moriarty.

William Gillette as Sherlock Holmes in a 1916 studio still from the film

The film will be restored for viewing by European and American audiences, under the supervision of film restorer and SFSFF Board President Robert Byrne, who 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."

We have an exclusive interview with Byrne.

I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere: Who are you and what do you do?
Robert Byrne: I am an independent film preservationist and restorer, specializing in films of the silent era. I am also the president of the board of directors of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival.

IHOSE: How did you come to be involved in this discovery?
RB: In prior years we have partnered with the Cinematheque Francaise to restore two titles from their collection: THE HALF-BREED (1916) and THE GOOD BAD MAN (1916). We were very fortunate that when the materials for SHERLOCK HOLMES were identified earlier this year that the Cinematheque contacted us with the idea that we would work together on this project. We are thrilled and deeply honored to be working on them on this amazing project.

IHOSE: What's the significance of such a discovery?
RB: William Gillette’s SHERLOCK HOLMES has been sought for generations as one of the most important “lost” films of the silent era. To have these materials come to light, and in complete form, seems almost miraculous.

IHOSE: Why did it turn up now?
RB: There is a time for everything. Apparently Destiny decided that it was time for SHERLOCK HOLMES to return just in time for the film’s 100th anniversary.

IHOSE: Tell us more about the restoration process. 
RB: The Cinematheque Franciase and SF Silent Film Festival are collaborating on a complete restoration of the film, a project that has already been in progress since early summer. The restoration will include image repair and re-creation of the original color tinting. The final result will be new 35mm film preservation elements that will be preserved at the Cinematheque Franciase, and new 35mm film prints for theatrical exhibition. We will also create Digital Cinema Packages (DCP) for use in venues that do not support variable-speed 35mm projection.

IHOSE: Did we learn anything about the film that wasn't previously known?
RB: We are learning that it is a very good film! What a disappointment it would have been to have discovered the holy grail only to find that the acting was hammy and the settings were cheap. Quite the contrary! I predict that audiences are going to be mesmerized with the final result.

A still photo of William Gillette in 1916's Sherlock Holmes

The European premiere will take place at the Cinémathèque Française’s festival of film restoration, Toute la Mémoire du Monde, in January 2015. The American premiere will take place at the San Francisco Silent Film festival in May 2015.

We can only hope that we'll be able to see a screening of the film at From Gillette to Brett V: Sherlock Holmes Alive (our suggested title).

Of course, this still leaves the 1914 A Study in Scarlet to be found, for which the British Film Institute has asked assistance in locating...