Count von Stalburg (Ludwig Kreiss) and Sir Edward Palmer (Hugh Thompson) are visiting Alice Faulkner (Marjorie Kay) at her hotel. Alice is in possession of some love letters written to her sister by a Prince whose family would find it embarrassing should they come out. Alice blames the Prince for her sister’s death and refuses to give them up.
In the room next door are James and Madge Larrabee (Mario Majeroni and Grace Reals). With them is a slimball named Sidney Prince (William Postance). The Larrabees are grifters that are looking for their next mark. They’ve zeroed in on Alice. The plan is to befriend the distraught girl and get their hands on the letters. With them they can blackmail the Prince and his wealthy family. The Larrabees rent an isolated house in outer London. James has Madge befriend Alice and invite her to stay with them. Alice agrees. Once she is in the Larrabee home they keep her captive and try to find where she hid the letters.
Meanwhile Count von Stalburg and Sir Edward Palmer go to Sherlock Holmes for help. They ask the detective to see if he can negotiate with Alice and get the letters back before the Prince’s marriage. Holmes agrees to take the case. He visits Alice at the Larrabee home and is smitten. Still he tricks her into revealing her hiding place. Feeling like a cad he then gives the letters back to her. While he is there he determines that the Larrabees are abusing Alice trying to force her into giving them the letters. He threatens the Larrabees and leaves. Now Alice is still stuck with the Larrabees and needs to find another hiding place for her letters. Nice going Sherlock.
Unable to force Alice to fork over the letters the Larrabees are forced to bring Professor Moriarty into the scheme. Moriarty and Holmes have met and now they are back to trying to one up each other. Moriarty devises a plan that he thinks will get him the letters and get rid of Holmes once and for all.
“Sherlock Holmes” was released in 1916 and was directed by Arthur Berthelet. It is a silent mystery film and an adaptation of the 1988 stage play that also starred William Gillette. The play and the movie are an amalgam of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories "A Scandal in Bohemia," "The Final Problem," and “A Study in Scarlet”.
The film had been a “lost film” for decades until in 2014 when a mislabeled nitrate negative was found of the French version of the film, complete with French intertitles, in the Cinémathèque's collection in Paris. The intertitles were translated back into English based on Gillette’s original manuscripts. Restoration was done by Robert Byrne and the restoration is fantastic. The actors in the film are the same ones that were in the play.
Gillette wrote the play and acted as Holmes on stage 1300 times. It is the first play authorized by Doyle. Reportedly, when Gillette asked Sir Conan Doyle if he could marry Holmes off the author replied "You may damn well kill him off if you wish". The 1916 film is the only preserved record of Gillette playing the detective.
Gillette was responsible for the standard dress associated with the Sherlock Holmes character, specifically the deerstalker hat, the dressing gown (or smoking jacket) and the use of a curved calabash pipe. One of the unusual aspects of this particular film is that Holmes falls in love with the damsel in distress. Gillette was about 63 when he made the film. A bit of a stretch as far as romantic leading men are concerned, especially when the leading lady is so young, but at the time Gillette was the definitive Sherlock Holmes. Plus it’s his movie so he can do what he wants.
Although there are some flaws in Gillette’s play turned movie, the film is still fun. After all, the play ran for seventeen years so they did something right. For the most part the film flaws are in the learning curve transferring the play to movie. That was standard in a lot of silent films since many of them were at one time plays and, with this new technology, experts were not yet plentiful.
I enjoyed the film a lot and I’m glad it was finally found.