Lost ‘Sherlock Holmes’ Film Discovered After Almost a Century

Sherlock Holmes William Gillette
San Francisco Silent Film Festival

A nearly 100-year-old silent film version of “Sherlock Holmes” starring famed Holmes thespian and American actor William Gillette has been discovered at the Cinémathèque Française, the French film archive announced Wednesday.

The rediscovered film is the only one Gillette ever appeared in, and is the actor’s only surviving appearance as the Baker Street detective, a role for which he was world-renowned in stage portrayals. It was Gillette who first donned the deerstalker hat that has remained popular through generations of Holmes performers, including Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC’s “Sherlock” (though Robert Downey Jr. ditched the iconic cap in Guy Ritchie’s recent franchise).

A nitrate dupe negative of the film, directed by Arthur Berthelet for Essanay Studios in 1916, was discovered in the vaults of the archive a few weeks ago, and is undergoing digital restoration by a partnership of the Cinémathèque Française and the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. The restored film will premiere at Toute la Mémoire du Monde, the film restoration festival of the Cinémathèque Française, in January 2015, and will see its U.S. debut at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival in May 2015.

Film restorer and SFSFF Board President Robert Byrne said of the discovery, “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.”

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  1. Sinton Stranger says:

    Would that I could fly to France to see it I’ll hope that it will be available so day soon on DVD or at least, be shown on TCM or in Los Angeles at some time soon! thank you for posting this wonderful news!!

  2. suemvan says:

    Reblogged this on Musings of a Writer II and commented:
    Wow, incredible find!

  3. Wow, that is soooooo cool. The Whitby Courthouse Theatre in Whitby, Ontario Canada is actually doing a performance of The Games Afoot (A play about William Gilette) so this is unbelievably helpful.

  4. Robert Cumming says:

    Thanks to Noonan and Karle for discovering and passing on this delightful discovery. Some sources refer to this but it has indeed been missing until now.

  5. wonder if this shot was done at Wm Gillette’s home above the Connecticut River. It is a replica of an imagined Shakespearean castle

  6. An excellent news!!!
    I am historian.invesigator and restaurateur from silent films,since 60 years;excuse my bad English!
    Enrique J. BOUCHARD (Buenos Aires,Argentina) maii:cinemuseoeb@hotmail.com
    WEB: http://www.cccine.com.ar

  7. Andy Essex says:

    Interesting that despite being nearly 100 years old, we can still view it. Wonder if you buried one of today’s digital prints, the technology would still be around to screen it next century?

  8. Damian Magee says:

    This is great news for Sherlock Holmes fan, also those are interested in film history. I shall add this news as part of my panel on Sherlock Holmes on screen. for Crimescene con in Perth, Western Australia on October 11th 2014.

  9. PETER JAY says:

    Is this Gillette the actor who built Gillette Castle on the Connecticut River?

    • Steven Burke says:

      Yes it is Peter, I’ve toured the castle in Ct, and there’s a replica of the sitting room at 221B Baker Street which is awesome to see.

  10. cigar, towelette? says:

    LOVE this report – can’t wait to watch this. Just one consideration – please, let’s agree to not include Robert Downey Jr whilst discussing classic portrayals of iconic literary detective Sir Sherlock Holmes.

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