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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