the many masks of sherlock holmes

The first ever Sherlock Holmes film came out exactly 100 years ago – so I thought it was time for a little gander through the character’s (very, very long) filmic history. (Also, please be impressed with my restraint with the Benedict Cumberbatch pictures. *sigh*)

Obviously I’m not going to be able to talk about every single Sherlock Holmes adaptation there’s ever been – he is the most filmed and interpreted character in the world, for goodness’ sake! However, the plan is to write a series of posts over the next couple of months about a variety of the most famous (and my favourite) interpretations.

Obviously, we need to start at the beginning. Before 1916 there were a variety of radio and stage interpretations of Holmes – however, it was when William Gillette starred in over 1000 stagings of various Sherlock Holmes stories that it was decided to film him in 1916. It was a silent, black and white film that merged various Sherlock Holmes stories together, including A Scandal in Bohemia, and The Final Problem. (Because every Holmes interpretation needs an Irene Adler and a Moriarty. Fact.)

It was Gillette who really established  Sherlock Holmes as a deerstalker-wearing, calabash-pipe smoking figure. Although some of the original illustrations of the short stories did have Holmes wearing a deerstalker, it was by no means his defining image.

It was thought that this first filmic interpretation was lost – however, in 2014, a mis-labelled copy was found in the Cinémathèque archives. It has since been shown at various film events. While this isn’t a proper excerpt of the film, the clip below includes one of Gillette’s radio interpretations of Holmes, recorded when he was in his 80s. It also has various stills from what (I believe) is the film itself. It’s so interesting to me how this so doesn’t fit how Holmes is usually portrayed. He sounds like quite a gentleman to me – and therefore quite accurate to the stories and books!

What do you think of Gillette, then? Love him? Hate him? Let us know!


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