The silent film version of “Sherlock Homes” starring William Gillette was recently discovered at the Cinémathèque Française, the archive announced. Directed by Arthur Berthelet and produced by Essanay Studios in 1916, the film had been considered lost since its first release.
The newly found Essanay production is the last surviving remnant of Gillette’s performance as Holmes. It is also the only film performance by Gillette, who was widely acknowledged at the time as the world’s foremost interpreter of Holmes on stage. Of course, since that time, the role has been reprised by countless performers, including, most recently, Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC’s “Sherlock.”
A nitrate dupe negative of the film was discovered in the vaults of the archive a few weeks ago, and is now undergoing digital restoration by a partnership between the Cinémathèque Française and the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. Originally assembled for French distribution, the negative contains French flash titles and color annotations.
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.”
The restored film will premiere at Toute la Mémoire du Monde, the film restoration festival of the Cinémathèque Française, in January 2015, and the film will have its American premiere at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival in May 2015.