Which Actor Portrayed Sherlock Holmes The Most Times In Films? The Answer May Surprise You!

He has that rare quality, which can only be described as glamour, which compels you to watch an actor eagerly even when he is doing nothing. He has the brooding eye which excites expectation and he has also a quite unrivaled power of disguise. My only criticism of the films is that they introduce telephones, motorcars and other luxuries of which the Victorian Holmes never dreamed.

Those were the words used by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself to describe the actor whose name is the answer to the question in the headline above.

sh_ellie-norwood_ACDFrom 1921 to 1923, Stoll films actually produced a total of 45 silent short (approximately 30 minute) films and two feature-length films starring Eille Norwood as the famous detective. These silents were actually produced as three series of 15 films each year (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The Further Adventures…, and The Final Adventures…), and the two features (The Hound of the Baskervilles, and The Sign of Four) were released in 1921 and 1923, respectively.

The films proved to be incredibly popular not only with movie goers, but also with critics, especially since they (with perhaps the unfortunate exception of The Hound) tended to stay very close to the source material. Again, though, even Doyle enjoyed the Baskerville adaptation, stating that

On seeing him [Eille Norwood] in The Hound of the Baskervilles I thought I had never seen anything more masterly.

Unfortunately, it appears that only four of these short films are still extant today, and they only seem to have been released as part of a couple of low quality public-domain-Holmes devoted discs, meaning that they haven’t been given anything like the kind of loving restoration they deserve. Nonetheless, I’m embedding three of them below in order to give you at least a taste of one of the few adaptations of the canon that even the character’s creator lavished such praise upon:

The Dying Detective

The Devil’s Foot

The Man With the Twisted Lip

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Here’s The Earliest Known Appearance of Sherlock Holmes On Film – Sherlock Holmes Baffled (1900)

As we approach the return of the world’s greatest detective in one of his latest incarnations – the BBC’s Sherlock, which stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman as Doctor John Watson – it seems perhaps appropriate to take a look at his earliest film appearance, 1900’s Sherlock Holmes Baffled.

Mutoscope,_1899_(bis)This 30 second short was originally produced for penny arcade machines known as Mutoscopes, which were patented by Herman Casler in 1894 and marketed by the American Mutoscope Company. This particular film was produced by the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company in 1900, though its copyright was not actually registered until 1903.

For those unfamiliar with the concept, the Mutoscope was atually developed as a competitor to Thomas Edison’s Kinetoscope.The device can be seen in the picture at the right. The idea was that the viewer would drop their coin into a slot on the machine which would then turn on an internal light and by turning a small crank and looking into the viewfinder, the viewer could watch the associated film. In a way, it’s perhaps a bit misleading to call this a film per se, since it was not designed to be projected on a screen and actually consisted of individual image frames printed onto flexible cards attached to a circular core which revolved with the turn of a user-operated hand crank, however, since it was originally shot on film at a frame rate of 30 frames per second, the designation still stands. (Perhaps in cases like this, the more accurate term would simply be “motion picture”.)

As far as the actual film itself, according to Wikipedia, the director and cinematographer of Sherlock Holmes Baffled was Arthur W. Marvin (May 1859 – 18 January 1911), a staff cameraman for Biograph. The identities of the actors portraying Holmes and his adversary are unknown, and the film was assumed to be lost for many years, until it was rediscovered in 1968 as a paper print in the Library of Congress by Michael Pointer, a historian of Sherlock Holmes films. Again, quoting Wikipedia

Because motion pictures were not covered by copyright laws until 1912, paper prints were submitted by studios wishing to register their works. These were made using light-sensitive paper of the same width and length as the film itself, and developed as though a still photograph. Both the Edison Company and the Biograph Company submitted entire motion pictures as paper prints, and it is in this form that most of them survive. The film has subsequently been transferred to 16 mm film in the Library of Congress collection.

maxresdefaultObviously, due to its short running time, there is no actual development of either of the characters involved, and the film really seems to only exist for the purpose of showing early bits of camera trickery, especially the disappearance/reappearance of Holmes’ adversary. As far as the identification of the central character as Holmes, well, that basically comes from the film’s copyright title card and its marketing.

Nonetheless, the film does have a certain distinction in being the first identified film portrayal of the character and by extension, also the first detective film.

Anyway, here it is, the world’s first taste of Sherlock Holmes as a film character.

(BTW, I need to give a special shout out here to Fritzi over at Movies, Silently for initially bringing this wonderful short film to my attention. If you’re at all a fan of the silent film era you should definitely be checking out her terrific blog as she has an obvious love for the genre and is consistently posting a lot of great content there. So, thanks, Fritzi, for all you do.)

Site Info: I’ll Be Participating In the Classic Movie History Project Blogathon. Yay!

So I just got invited by Fritzi over at Movies, Silently to participate in the upcoming Classic Movie History Project Blogathon, which she is hosting along with the good folks at Silver Screenings and Once Upon a Screen. As she says in her announcement,

I firmly believe that there is a little bit of the historian in every classic movie fan. After all, we love films that were made before we were even a gleam in our father’s eye. Well, here’s our chance to collaborate on a project celebrating the history of motion pictures

Most movie blogathons center around actors, topics, genres or eras of film. This event is going to focus on individual years. Our range is 1915 to 1950. Participants will each focus on one individual year in the history of film. The event will be held January 12-14, 2014.

This one looks like its going to be a lot of fun. Rather than pick a year myself, I asked Fritzi to just assign me a year, and  the one she gave me was 1920 which is chock full of true classics of the silent era: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, The Golem, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Way Down East, The Mark of Zorro, Outside the Law, The Son of Tarzan, and lots more.

I haven’t decided yet exactly how I’m going to approach this, but I do know that I’m in for lots of fun silent film watching between now and the new year. Oh, and if you have any suggestions for not-to-be-missed films from 1920 or other things that I might want to look for or think about, I’d love to see your suggestions in the comments below. And of course, I’ll be giving you more details, and a link to the list of all the participating blogs, as the dates get closer.


31 Days of Halloween – 017: Nosferat-who?

October marches on, and so does our countdown to All Hallows Eve. This year, rather than trying to do a full 31 film reviews or something truly time-consuming like that, most of what I’m going to be posting are favorite trailers, short films, some full-length movies, and other items just to kind of help get everyone in the spirit of what really is one of my favorite holidays.

nos12David Kalat has posted a very interesting article over at the Movie Morlocks page at TCM. Me. Kalat is a well known author on the subject of horror and has also contributed to a number of commentaries on horror films on DVD and Blu-ray, including a commentary track that will be featured on the upcoming Masters of Cinema Blu-ray release of F.W. Murnau‘s celebrated 1922 film Nosferatu.

The article is actually an expansion of one of the ideas that he presents in the course of that commentary track: specifically that while Murnau, as director, obviously brought a lot to the making of the movie, he may be being given much more credit than he deserves in the creation and especially the look and feel of the film, and that much more of that acclaim should actually go to the man credited for art and costumes on the film, Albin Grau.

Kalat relates not only the “story behind the story” that highly influenced this version of the classic vampire tale, but presents a history of Grau that establishes his role in the film’s creation much more as what would today be credited as a “producer” instead of the “art designer” that most people think of him as – if they even think of him at all.

It’s a fascinating article and is filled with some great artwork, and is one that I would even say should be required reading for any fan of the film. The entire article can be found here.

And, just in case there is anyone who hasn’t actually seen the film, or if you simply want to watch this masterpiece again (and it really is one of those films that both deserves and rewards repeated viewings) here is a beautifully restored version:

So, in a case like this what do you think? Movies obviously are often the product of a shared vision, and it really does take more than one person to bring them to the screen. And all too often there are behind the scenes people who deserve much more credit than film history gives them. Do you know of any other stories like this? Let me know either in the comments below, or over on the Durnmoose Movies Facebook page which can be found here.

31 Days of Halloween – 016: The Unknown (1927)

October marches on, and so does our countdown to All Hallows Eve. This year, rather than trying to do a full 31 film reviews or something truly time-consuming like that, most of what I’m going to be posting are favorite trailers, short films, some full-length movies, and other items just to kind of help get everyone in the spirit of what really is one of my favorite holidays.

PosterunknownusxLet’s use the wayback machine for today’s Halloween countdown post and trek all the way back to the silent film era for Tod Browning‘s team-up with Lon Chaney Sr. for The Unknown. This little seen film may very well rank both as Browning’s creepiest movie and his strangest (and it’s certainly in a way his saddest), and that’s saying quite a bit when you’re talking about the man who directed not only Universal’s Dracula in 1931, but also the uniquely disturbing Freaks.

By the way, I should also note that alongside Chaney, the film also features a very young (and at times rather scantily-clad)  Joan Crawford as Chaney’s assistant and love interest, a role of which she was quoted as saying “It was then I became aware for the first time of the difference between standing in front of a camera, and acting.”.

I’ll be honest, I’m not a huge fan of this particular score, but it was the best option I could find.


So, what are your favorite silent horrors? Let me know either in the comments below, or over on the Durnmoose Movies Facebook page which can be found here.

31 Days of Halloween – 014: Tol’able Tingler

October marches on, and so does our countdown to All Hallows Eve. This year, rather than trying to do a full 31 film reviews or something truly time-consuming like that, most of what I’m going to be posting are favorite trailers, short films, some full-length movies, and other items just to kind of help get everyone in the spirit of what really is one of my favorite holidays.

Today’s feature in the countdown isn’t really a horror film in itself, but sort of a side-note. It’s a look at one of those “movie within a movie” moments.

Tol'able_David-PosterI recently had a chance to revisit the 1959 William Castle film The Tingler on the big screen thanks to a Vincent Price retrospective which is going on at our local “arthouse” theater. In the movie, Phillip Coolige plays the owner of a theater which only shows silent films. Presumably this set-up was used because it allowed Castle to take advantage of the public domain status of these films so that he wouldn’t have to pay for the rights and could have something to actually run on the screen for scenes shot in the theater. The film that he is running is noted on the marquee as being called Tol’able David, and i became intrigued as to whether this was a real movie or just something Castle created.

It turns out that Tol’able David is an actual silent from 1921, and was actually quite a hit back in its day. It was directed by Henry King, and stars Richard Barthelmess, Gladys Hulette, and Walter P. Lewis. Here’s the plot description from Wikipedia:

Young David Kinemon, son of West Virginia tenant farmers, longs to be treated like a man by his family and neighbors, especially Esther Hatburn, the pretty girl who lives with her grandfather on a nearby farm. However, he is continually reminded that he is still a boy, “tol’able” enough, but no man.

Annex - Cromwell, Richard (Tol'able David)_02He eventually gets a chance to prove himself when outlaw Iscah Hatburn and his sons Luke and “Little Buzzard,” distant cousins of the Kinemon’s Hatburn neighbors, move into the Hatburn farm, against the will of Esther and her grandfather. Esther initially tells David not to interfere, saying he’s no match for her cousins. Later, the cousins kill David’s pet dog and cripple his older brother while the latter is delivering mail and taking passengers to town in his “hack” wagon. David’s father sets out to administer vigilante justice on the Hatburn cousins (the sheriff doesn’t have the means to deal with the outlaws himself), but has a heart attack. David is determined to go after the Hatburns in his father’s place, but his mother talks him out of it, arguing that with his father dead and brother crippled, the household, including his brother’s wife and infant son, depends on him. The family is then turned out of the farm and are forced to move into a small house in town. David asks for his brother’s old job of driving the hack but is told he is too young. He does find work at the general store though. Later, when the hack’s regular driver is fired for drunkenness, David finally has a chance to drive the hack. He loses the mailbag near the Hatburn farm, where it is found by Luke. David goes to the Hatburn farm to demand the mailbag. He is refused and gets into an argument with the cousins, during which he is shot in the arm. David then shoots Iscah and the younger son and later, after a prolonged fight with the older brother (meant to recall the story of David and Goliath), emerges victorious. Esther flees for help and makes it to the village, telling that David has been killed. As a crowd prepares to go look for David, he although injured, arrives in the hack with the bag of mail. It is clear to all that David, no longer merely “tol’able,” is a real man and a hero.

Go ahead and take a look for yourself:

So, how about other “movie within a movie mpments? Any favorites?  Let me know either in the comments below, or over on the Durnmoose Movies Facebook page which can be found here.

Short Film Wednesday 007 – The Old Chair (2012)

If it seems too good to be true…

The Old Chair was directed by Drew Daywalt and stars AJ Bowen, Kaylee Score, Maria Olsen, and Jonica Patella It also features some pretty effective creature FX by Melissa Anchondo and Jeff Farley.