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4.0 out of 5 stars

HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWERon 14 September 2010
Movies have been taking liberties with Conan Doyle's creation long before Guy Ritchie, with the Great Profile's 1922 silent take on the Great Detective, Sherlock Holmes (aka Moriarty), a modern-day version ill-advisedly rewriting the book in a manner that offended the purists while not coming up with anything new to appeal to the more casual moviegoer, then or now. Partially shot on location in London and opening with some striking overhead shots of the city, it's not as terrible as its reputation nor as good as it should be considering all the talent and money involved (Reginald Denny, Louis Wolheim and future gossip queen Hedda Hopper are in it as well). Revolving around a blackmail attempt and some love letters to a European Prince from the woman who killed herself when they were prevented from marrying, it's at times a talky script, always a problem in a silent film, with more of a taste for melodrama than sleuthing.

A very loose adaptation of William Gillette's play, it begins with Holmes and Watson as fellow university students, charting his first encounter with Moriarty (on learning the fate of various detectives who have tried to bring him to book, Holmes responds "Oh! - Well, of course, if you're as difficult to know as all that, I'd better be getting back to my microbes") that sets him on a life of fighting crime. But along the way we get Holmes rustically ruminating on human nature and, of all things, falling in love at first sight with Carol Dempster's innocent girl and spending much of the first half of the film in a daze. Or it could be plain disinterest as Barrymore hardly seems terribly engaged with his role, going through the motions of concentrating and staring into the far distance while making little impression. Not that he has much to work with, Holmes going by instinct rather than deductive reasoning - `It's easier for me to know Wells is guilty than to explain how I know it' he admits early in the game - while only briefly demonstrating his deductive reasoning in a scene with a clumsily shaved Roland Young's underemployed Watson. As for the domestic revelation in the last scene, it's enough to give the hardcore Holmes fans a fit, though it is rather obvious that Barrymore's real-life hatred for co-star Dempster led to him insisting on a stand in for her in their final clinch.

Holmes isn't the only one to get a bit of a makeover. Gustav Von Seyffertitz's scruffy Moriarty, introduced in the middle of a spider's web and operating from a torture dungeon in Limehouse, seems inspired more by Barrymore's Mr Hyde than Doyle while, aside from a paperboy in the unsatisfactorily perfunctory ending, the closest it gets to a Baker Street Irregular is William Powell in his first film as a thief who defects to Holmes' side and whose fate is left vague for much of the last part of the film by the still missing footage. Whereby hangs a tale.

The film was lost for decades until the negative of several cans of out of order sequences were found in George Eastman House in 1970, with Kevin Brownlow and William K. Everson screening them for director Albert Parker and basing the lengthy restoration (funded by Hugh Hefner and the National Parks Foundation among others over more than three decades) on his notes. Unfortunately things get rather confusing towards the end thanks to some still missing footage: where public screenings of the restoration filled in the gaps with stills and explanatory captions, Kino Video's extras-free DVD from 2008 makes no such concessions, with events around Holmes' second encounter with Moriarty particularly abrupt (a wounded man and a rejected proposition referred to in one title card literally come out of nowhere while another segment ends abruptly). One for the Barrymore and Holmes completists only, though it is amusing to note that even in 1922 films were making in-jokes about evil masterminds wasting time on elaborate death traps rather than simply killing their nemesis the easy way.
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on 17 April 2013
Don't be mistaken : this is a Barrymore movie, and Sherlock Holmes just the anecdote. Based on a theatrical play, this adventure has the interest of introducing Holmes and Watson in their youth, when they are both students and collaborate in solving a college incident which will have consequences in their future. One of the best scenes is when Holmes examines his own knowledge about life, yet it does not have continuity. Holmes deductive methods and abilities are only anecdotically mentioned although they are what made the character famous, so readers will be disappointed. This is my main criticism.
Being John Barrymore the leading actor you can expect romance and adventure and a glamorous hero. Well, I would have preferred more adventure and less romance being about Sherlock Holmes. The action follows the trend of the times, approaching earlier silent serials in an uncomplicated way. Moriarty, who is played by Gustav von Seiffertitz, looks as a really mean villain but one wonders why as quite more evil would be expected from him, resembling more a Dickens headmaster than the dangerous and intelligent head of a secret criminal system. If you have this in account, the film is just a nice picture if not specially true to the Conan Doyle spirit. As always poor Watson is undervalued and does not receive much attention, yet Roland Young fits quite well and could have offered much more. We meet a young William Powell in a secondary part. Carol Dempster is all right if not impressive as the lady in distress.
The image quality is quite good (thanks to a restored copy) and one can see it was made with generous means as the production design shows (see Moriarty's underground quarters or Baker Street apartments).
Yet as this movie was belived to be lost for many years it is a real pleasure to watch it and a luck to have it with us.
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on 30 January 2015
An outstanding example of early cinema that should appeal to any aficionado of the silent era, this 1922 film also proves its merit as a serious Holmesian adaptation. While there is no question liberties have been taken with characterization, a testament to the fact it was heavily based on William Gilette's infamous stage play, remarkably enough, those changes flow well with both the character and plot, so that this version of the Great Detective's exploits is actually not so Canonically dubious as this purist had originally imagined it might be.

Featuring possibly one of the most mesmerizing actors to fill the exalted role of Sherlock Holmes, John Barrymore's portrayal cannot be overlooked as mere fluff - true, the acting was above par, the plot strikingly complex, but he slips into the character so thoroughly, sans all those extraneous trappings not found in the stories, which would later become synonymous with Holmes due to the innumerable other actors who left their mark, even the love aspect becomes tolerable - if not believable. It is obvious Barrymore is deriving a monumental portion of his inspiration from Canon, because while there /is/ a love interest for him in the form of Alice Faulkner, his Holmes remains a thinker, his deductions and solutions deeply motivated in intellectualism. And make no mistake, while it does involve a romance, it is more of a background sub-plot, and this film is decidedly not a love-story.

On that account, though, being such an early example, Barrymore has mainly the books to gain insight from, and that is apparent in the way in which he plays a Sherlock Holmes under the spell of Cupid's arrow. His Holmes is obviously head over heels, but still manages to come off as tentatively innocent, quietly reserved about what must be an overwhelming emotion for one so accustomed to repressing them. He is blessedly free of theatricality, truly the "quiet thinker of Baker Street".

As a general rule, I normally find romance to be off-putting character assassination, but developing it as he did with the confines of how Holmes might react without losing his formidable acumen, Barrymore not only convinced me it could have happened in such a way, but also made it quite endearing. From a personal standpoint, he epitomized Sherlock Holmes for me that well. As did the film itself, its plot strikingly complex, with the entirety of it reminiscent of several Canon stories, possibly since I lost count of how many deductions and snippets of dialogue it paid homage to. And cleverly, too, with a Moriarty that was given a prominent presence and was possibly one of the most ominously creepy Napoleon of Crimes to grace the silver screen until Eric Porter epitomized the role.

Roland Young, unlike others who would shortly follow, portrays a capable, multifaceted Watson who is a schoolmate of Holmes' at Cambridge, as is Prince Alexis, who has been wrongly accused of theft and petitions the doctor for help. Watson, of course, petitions Holmes to look into the matter, where he sees Moriarty's hand, but is at the present unable to thwart the Professor. After the initial case is resolved - or rather, covered up by Moriarty - Holmes loses sympathy for the Prince regarding his ill treatment of his fiance, who also happens to be the sister of Alice Faulkner. There both his interest in her and that case will lie to rest until many years later, when he learns Moriarty is out to harm Miss Faulkner, who intends to use letters of her sister to blackmail the Prince (a la SCAN), letters he wants for his own nefarious purposes...

In summation; intricate plotting, a (apologies, but I must admit it) satisfying romance, competent Dr Watson, Barrymore's eccentric, cerebral Holmes who epitomizes the character, intelligent "dialogue" that did not require the complete cessation of neuronal activity, and one pretty impressive Moriarty, made for an extremely enjoyable silent film which is, from a personal standpoint, deserving of being ranked alongside other Holmesian classics. My only complaint is that Watson, while faithful to the man described in the original stories, his relationship with Holmes ringing true, was shamefully underused here. If that were not the case, I would be hard pressed to say this were not the greatest underrated film adaption. As it stands, its definitely one of the better ones, and really should be viewed by those who love the silents and serious Holmesians alike.
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on 29 December 2014
wonderful old movie
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