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Monday, May 9, 2011

SHERLOCK HOLMES (1922)

John Barrymore stars in this early Sherlock Holmes silent feature, but don’t get your hopes up. Stitched together from ‘lost’ remnants found in the ‘70s, and given a clean up & score more recently, it’s a painfully stiff ‘filmization’ of William Gillette’s once popular Sherlock Holmes play. Filmed partially in England, there’s a remarkably fine cast (William Powell, Roland Young, Reginald Denny, Hedda Hopper, Louis Wolheim, Gustav von Seyffertitz and Carol Dempster, a favorite of D. W. Griffith whom Barrymore detested), but they all sink like stones under Albert Parker’s inert megging. Even with a constant flow of intertitles, notes & formal letters, you can barely make out a story. Perhaps the close-ups & inserts were lost in some other film can. But if you ever wanted to know what Barrymore looked like in his Hamlet glory days, look no further, it was his very next project. (And Louis Wolheim fans can see what he looked like as O’Neill’s THE HAIRY APE. Yikes, what a profile!) Truth is, Barrymore looks quite stunning and gives a unusually restrained perf. He’s 40, yet he almost gets away with a prologue set in his college days. Roland Young, who plays Watson, was close to a decade younger, yet looks almost decade older.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: It’s hard to believe that Fritz Lang’s phenomenal DR. MABUSE, another criminal mastermind story very much influenced by Conan Doyle, was made the very same year. As a quick lesson in the highs & lows of film history, film technique, film preservation & film restoration, circa 1922, these two films are tough to beat.

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