Robert Downey Jr’s portrayal of Sherlock Holmes just earned him a Golden Globe nomination as Best Actor (the new film opens Christmas Day). But, another famed actor brought it to the big screen first — John Barrymore.
Sherlock Holmes from 1922 was the most sought-after “lost” John Barrymore film. However, it is not only no longer lost— restored in recent years by George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film— but it is now available on DVD.
As a world leader in film preservation efforts, Eastman House has many stories to tell about the restoration of films once thought lost. However, the story behind Sherlock Holmes is particularly interesting.
A print of this important silent film was rediscovered in the 1970s by then-Eastman House film curator James Card. However, the film was not complete. In the 1990s a print containing the missing original intertitles was found within the Eastman House vaults, and a major restoration was undertaken.
Using the two prints, titles were digitally remastered and each frame restored. This project was funded by the National Film Preservation Foundation as part of a $1 million grant titled “Saving the Silents.” Sherlock Holmes is one of 19 titles from the George Eastman House collection restored by that funding.
The project took preservation staff at Eastman House two years to complete, with the premiere of the restored film taking place at Eastman House’s Dryden Theatre on Jan. 12, 2003. It has since been screened worldwide at film festivals and archives.
Silent films represent the work of America’s first filmmakers; yet fewer than 20 percent of all silent films survive today, since they were printed on highly flammable nitrate film stock and discarded after the advent of “talkies” in 1928. George Eastman House holds one of the largest silent film collections in the world. Other important restorations undertaken by George Eastman House in recent years include Snow White (1916), and The Lost World (1925), and The Big Parade(1925).
The restored Sherlock Holmes (Albert Parker, US 1922, 97 min.) is a faithful adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original story (the film was in fact fully endorsed by Doyle in 1922). The film stars screen idol Barrymore as Holmes, aided by the ubiquitous Dr. Watson, battles wits with sinister arch-nemesis Professor Moriarty.
Sherlock Holmes not only provided Barrymore with one of his most prestigious early roles, but also presented the screen debuts of two notable actors: William Powell (The Thin Man) and Roland Young (Topper). The DVD, available on Kino International, was mastered from Eastman House’s 35mm restoration, and is accompanied by a score by Ben Model, performed on the Miditzer Virtual Theatre Organ.
To purchase a copy of Sherlock Holmes on DVD, visit Kino International at www.kino.com/video/item.php?film_id=979
Edward (Ed) E. Stratmann, Associate Curator, Preservation
Hired by James Card in 1974, Ed has worked for all five Curators/Department heads of the Motion Picture Department. He started as a Curatorial Assistant, working with nitrate. Over the years he has been Film Technician, Vault Manager, Projectionist, in charge of the Study Center, and Assistant Curator. He took over Preservation in 1988. Ed received The AMIA Dan and Kathy Leab Award and The Pordenone Preservation Award, both in 1998. He is a founding member of AMIA and has served on the AMIA Board of Directors, as Secretary. Ed has been a member of SMPTE for over ten years and has been on the local board of Managers three times.
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