Watch the First Sherlock Holmes Movie (1900), the Arrival of the Most Popular Character in Cinema

According to Guinness World Records, the human literary character who pops up most often on screens big and small is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle‘s best known creation, Sherlock Holmes. (Hamlet is a distant second.)

The list of actors who’ve had a go include Benedict Cumberbatch, Robert Downey, Jr., Ian McKellen, Michael Caine, and Basil Rathbone.

John Cleese spoofed him on Comedy Playhouse.

John Gielgud’s celebrated voice brought Holmes to life opposite Ralph Richardson’s Dr. Watson in a 1954 radio series.

The fictional detective time warped onto Fantasy Island and the holodeck of the Starship Enterprise, in the respective form of Peter Lawford and Brett “Data” Spiner.

Although Holmes maintained that “the fair sex was (Watson’s) department,” the Soviet Union’s My Tenderly Loved Detective featured actress Yekaterina Vasilyeva as a female Sherlock named Shirley.

But no one has solved the mystery of 1900’s Sherlock Holmes Baffled, above, the very first filmed entertainment to feature the character. The director and cinematographer was Arthur W. Marvin, who went on to serve as cameraman for D. W. Griffith’s early silent films. The identity of his starring actor has unfortunately been lost to the ages.

The film itself was believed lost, too, until Michael Pointer, a historian specializing in Sherlock Holmesiana, unearthed a paper copy in a Library of Congress archive. A series of individual cards, it was intended to be viewed by Mutoscope, a single viewer, crank-operated peep show device, common in turn-of-the-century arcades.

No doubt audiences who paid a penny to watch this fairly plotless 30-second adventure were more impressed by the special effects than the anonymous actor playing the iconic detective.

To see how this mystery man’s performance measures up against other cinematic Sherlocks, check out these Holmes films found on the web. And find other great films in our collection, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, Documentaries & More:

  • The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes  – Free – The film is adapted from the 1899 play “Sherlock Holmes” by William Gillette, and stars Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce, Ida Lupino, George Zucco and Alan Marshal. (1939)
  • Dressed to Kill – Free – The last of 14 films starring Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes and Nigel Bruce as Doctor Watson. (1941)
  • Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon – Free – Sherlock Holmes rescues an inventor of a new bomb site before the Nazis can get him. (1943)
  • The Woman in Green – Free – Sherlock Holmes investigates when young women around London turn up murdered, each with a finger severed off. Scotland Yard suspects a madman, but Holmes believes the killings to be part of a diabolical plot. Stars Basil Rathbone as Holmes and Nigel Bruce as Dr. Watson. (1945)
  • Terror by Night – Free – Sherlock Holmes film, the thirteenth to star Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce and was directed by Roy William Neill. The story revolves around the theft of a famous diamond aboard a train. (1946)

Related Content:

Read the Lost Sherlock Holmes Story That Was Just Discovered in an Attic in Scotland

Hear The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, the Vintage Radio Drama Starring John Gielgud, Orson Welles & Ralph Richardson

Arthur Conan Doyle Names His 19 Favorite Sherlock Holmes Stories

Download the Complete Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle’s Masterpiece

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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