Sherlock Holmes: ‘Holy Grail’ 1916 Film Discovered

A long-lost Sherlock Holmes film, first released in 1916, has been rediscovered at the Cinémathèque Française, and while it isn’t the first to put the inimitable super-sleuth on the silver screen, it represents the roots of modern depictions of Holmes.

Filmed in Chicago by Essanay studios, which are best remembered for a 1915 series of Charlie Chaplin shorts, Sherlock Holmes starred William Gillette as the fictional detective, as The Guardian points out. Gillette is famously associated with the stage version of Sherlock Holmes and while he did not originate the use of a deerstalker cap and curved pipe (Holmes having been depicted this way in an 1891 Sidney Paget illustration for The Strand), his performance did much to popularize the image. Directed by Arthur Berthelet, the film was adapted from Gillette’s four-act play, which he performed over 1,300 times in his life.

The film was discovered at Cinémathèque Française, a Paris-based archive that houses one of the world’s largest film collections. According to Céline Ruivo, director of the film collection, a nitrate negative of Sherlock Holmes was discovered by staff who were working to catalog 80,000 boxes of nitrates in the archive’s collection.

“It had been briefly catalogued in the past, but the document was incomplete,” She said. “One of our team found it mistakenly put with some other Sherlock Holmes films.”

The nitrate copy of the film features French subtitles and exists in small rolls, to be color tinted for the French market. According to CBS News, it is currently being digitally restored in Bologna, Italy along with assistance from the San Francisco silent film festival.

“William Gillette’s Sherlock Holmes has ranked among the Holy Grails of lost film,” said Robert Byrne, a film restorer, “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.”

One of the most enduring characters in fiction, Holmes occupies a unique place in cinema. Over 70 actors have portrayed the detective, with Robert Downey, Jr and Benedict Cumberbatch depicting Holmes for modern audiences. Sir Ian McKellen is set to take up the role, as The Inquisitr previously noted, playing an elderly version of the detective in Mr. Holmes, currently in production.

Fans of the legendary detective will finally get a chance to see the roots of Holmes’ cinematic legacy in Paris this January and at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival in May, when Sherlock Holmes will reopen, nearly a century after it was committed to film.

[Image via The Guardian]

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