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Sherlock Holmes Baffled

sherlock holmes baffled, sherlock holmes baffled 1900
Sherlock Holmes Baffled is a very short American silent film created in 1900 with cinematography by Arthur Marvin It is the earliest known film to feature Arthur Conan Doyle's detective character Sherlock Holmes, albeit in a form unlike that of later screen incarnations1 The inclusion of the character also makes it the first recorded detective film12 In the film, a thief who can appear and disappear at will steals a sack of items from Sherlock Holmes At each point, Holmes's attempts to thwart the intruder end in failure3

Originally shown in Mutoscope machines in arcades, Sherlock Holmes Baffled has a running time of 30 seconds Although produced in 1900, it was only registered in 1903, and a copyright notice stating this is seen on some prints3 The identities of the actors playing the first screen Holmes and his assailant are not recorded Assumed to be lost for many years, the film was rediscovered in 1968 as a paper print in the Library of Congress4


  • 1 Action
  • 2 Production
  • 3 Rediscovery
  • 4 Analysis
  • 5 See also
  • 6 References
  • 7 External links


Sherlock Holmes enters his drawing room to find it being burgled, but on confronting the villain is surprised when the latter disappears Holmes initially attempts to ignore the event by lighting a cigar, but upon the thief's reappearance, Holmes tries to reclaim the sack of stolen goods, drawing a pistol from his dressing gown pocket and firing it at the intruder, who vanishes After Holmes recovers his property, the bag vanishes from his hand into that of the thief, who promptly disappears through a window At this point the movie ends abruptly with Holmes looking "baffled"13


An 1899 trade advertisement for the Mutoscope

The film was produced by the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company and was intended to be shown on the Mutoscope, an early motion picture device, patented by Herman Casler in 18945 Like Thomas Edison's Kinetoscope the Mutoscope did not project on a screen, and provided viewing to only one person at a time Cheaper and simpler than the Kinetoscope, the system marketed by the American Mutoscope Company quickly dominated the coin-in-the-slot "peep-show" business6

The Mutoscope worked on the same principle as a flip book, with individual image frames printed onto flexible cards attached to a circular core which revolved with the turn of a user-operated hand crank7 The cards were lit by electric light bulbs inside the machine, a system devised by Arthur Marvin's brother, Henry, one of the founders of the Biograph company Earlier machines had relied on reflected natural light8

To avoid violating Edison's patents, Biograph cameras from 1895 to 1902 used a large-format film measuring 2-23/32 inches 68 mm wide, with an image area of 2 × 2½ inches, four times that of Edison's 35 mm format9 Biograph film was not ready-perforated; the camera itself punched a sprocket hole on each side of the frame as the film was exposed at 30 frames per second1011 Sherlock Holmes Baffled ran to 8656 metres in length, giving the film a running time of 30 seconds although in practice, due to the hand-cranked gearing of the Mutoscope this would have varied12

The director and cinematographer of Sherlock Holmes Baffled was Arthur W Marvin May 1859 – 18 January 1911, a staff cameraman for Biograph13 Marvin completed over 418 short films between 1897 and 1911, and was known for filming vaudeville entertainers He later became known as the cameraman for the early silent films of D W Griffith13 The identities of the first screen Holmes and his assailant are not recorded14

Biograph films before 1903 were mostly actualities documentary footage of actual persons, places and events, but Sherlock Holmes Baffled is an example of an early Biograph comedy narrative film, produced at the company's rooftop studio on Broadway in New York City3 According to Christopher Redmond's Sherlock Holmes Handbook, the film was shot on April 26, 190015 Julie McKuras states that the film was released in May of the same year3 Despite being in circulation, Sherlock Holmes Baffled was only registered on February 24, 1903, and this is the date seen on the film's copyright title card16 The occasionally suggested date of 1905 is probably due to confusion with a Vitagraph film titled Adventures of Sherlock Holmes; or, Held for Ransom 190517


The film was assumed to have been lost for many years until a paper copy was identified in 1968 in the Library of Congress Paper Print archive by Michael Pointer, a historian of Sherlock Holmes films4 Because motion pictures were not covered by copyright laws until 1912, paper prints were submitted by studios wishing to register their works These were made using light-sensitive paper of the same width and length as the film itself, and developed as though a still photograph Both the Edison Company and the Biograph Company submitted entire motion pictures as paper prints, and it is in this form that most of them survive18 The film has subsequently been transferred to 16 mm film in the Library of Congress collection19


Play media Complete 30 second Mutoscope film of Sherlock Holmes Baffled

The plot of Sherlock Holmes Baffled is unrelated to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's canonical Sherlock Holmes stories; it is likely that the character's name was used purely for its familiarity with the public20 Shot from a single point of view on a stage set, the intention of Sherlock Holmes Baffled was probably to act as a showcase for basic film trickery and film editing effects, particularly the stop trick first developed four years earlier in 1896 by French director Georges Méliès21

Sherlock Holmes Baffled marks the first in an observable trend of early film-makers to show the character as a figure of fun; in this case the somewhat louchely dressed Holmes is left "baffled" by a burglar, in contrast with the detective prowess displayed by his literary namesake3 William K Everson in his book The Detective in Film noted that Sherlock Holmes Baffled, in common with all other silent detective films "labored under the difficulty of not being able to conduct prolonged interrogations or oral deductions  the stress was on mystery or physical action rather than on literary-derived sleuthings"22 It was only in 1916 that William Gillette's Sherlock Holmes attempted a serious adaptation of Conan Doyle's character23 Michael Pointer has suggested that the appearance and costume of the anonymous actor in Sherlock Holmes Baffled is an imitation of Gillette's stage portrayal of Holmes24 Gillette's play Sherlock Holmes had made its Broadway debut at the Garrick Theater on November 6, 189925

Michael Pointer's report on the rediscovery of Sherlock Holmes Baffled in 1968 stated "it is an early trick film clearly made for viewing on a mutoscope or peepshow machine Although a tiny, trivial piece, it is historic as being the earliest known use of Sherlock Holmes in moving pictures"426 By extension of being the first Sherlock Holmes story, the inclusion of the character also makes it the first known example of a detective film12 It has been posited that Sherlock Holmes has become the most prolific screen character in the history of cinema15

See alsoedit

  • List of rediscovered films


  1. ^ a b c d Tuska, Jon 1978 The Detective in Hollywood New York: Doubleday p 1 ISBN 978-0-385-12093-7 
  2. ^ a b Harmon, Jim 2003 Radio Mystery and Adventure and Its Appearances in Film, Television and Other Media Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company p 176 ISBN 978-0-7864-1810-7 
  3. ^ a b c d e f McKuras, Julie December 2000 "100 Years Ago: Sherlock Holmes Baffled" PDF Friends of the Sherlock Holmes Collections Newsletter Minneapolis: Friends of the Sherlock Holmes Collections, University of Minnesota Libraries 4 4: 2 Retrieved 7 August 2010 
  4. ^ a b c Pointer, Michael Summer 1968 "Earliest Holmes film" Sherlock Holmes Journal The Sherlock Holmes Society of London 8 4: 138–140 
  5. ^ Spehr, Paul C 2000 "Unaltered to Date: Developing 35mm Film" In Fullerton, John; Widding, Astrid Söderbergh Moving Images: From Edison to the Webcam Sydney: John Libbey & Co p 17 ISBN 978-1-86462-054-2 
  6. ^ Slide, Anthony 1998 The New Historical Dictionary of the American Film Industry Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press p 22 ISBN 978-0-8108-3426-2 
  7. ^ Musser, Charles 1994 The Emergence of Cinema: The American Screen to 1907 Berkeley: University of California Press p 176 ISBN 978-0-520-08533-6 
  8. ^ Hendricks, Gordon 1964 Beginnings of the biograph: the story of the invention of the mutoscope and the biograph and their supplying camera Berkeley: Beginnings of the American Film, University of California Press p 60 
  9. ^ Bordwell, David; Staiger, Janet; Thompson, Kristin 1988 The Classical Hollywood cinema: Film Style & Mode of Production to 1960 London: Routledge p 265 ISBN 978-0-415-00383-4 
  10. ^ Bitzer, Billy Spring 1995 "The Biograph Camera" The Operating Cameraman Toluca Lake, California: Society of Camera Operators Archived from the original on 25 June 2008 Retrieved 30 November 2004 
  11. ^ Musser, Charles 1994 The Emergence of Cinema: The American Screen to 1907 Berkeley: University of California Press pp 303–313 ISBN 978-0-520-08533-6 
  12. ^ Doyle, Steven; Crowder, David A 2010 Sherlock Holmes for Dummies PDF Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons p 26 ISBN 978-0-470-48444-9 
  13. ^ a b Henderson, Robert M 1972 D W Griffith: His Life and Work Oxford: Oxford University Press p 36 ISBN 978-0-8240-5763-3 
  14. ^ Hardy, Phil 1997 The BFI Companion to Crime Berkeley: University of California Press p 168 ISBN 978-0-304-33215-1 
  15. ^ a b Redmond, Christopher 1993 A Sherlock Holmes Handbook Toronto: Dundern Press p 164 ISBN 978-1-55488-446-9 
  16. ^ Nollen, Scott Allen 1996 Sir Arthur Conan Doyle at the Cinema Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co p 249 ISBN 978-0-7864-0269-4 
  17. ^ "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes; or, Held for Ransom" British Film Institute Film & TV Database Retrieved 7 August 2010 
  18. ^ "The Paper Print Film Collection at the Library of Congress" Library of Congress Washington, DC Retrieved 30 January 2010 
  19. ^ "Mary Pickford Theater screening archive: Sherlock Holmes: Silent to Sound" Library of Congress Washington, DC January 18, 2000 Retrieved 9 August 2010 
  20. ^ Leitch, Thomas M 2007 Film Adaptation and its Discontents Baltimore: JHU Press p 260 ISBN 978-0-8018-8565-5 
  21. ^ Ezra, Elizabeth 2000 Georges Méliès: the birth of the auteur Manchester: Manchester University Press p 15 ISBN 978-0-7190-5396-2 
  22. ^ Everson, William K 1972 The Detective in Film Secaucus, New Jersey: Citadel Press p 4 ISBN 978-0-8065-0448-3 
  23. ^ Moody, Nickianne 2003 "Crime in Film and on TV" In Priestman, Martin The Cambridge Companion to Crime Fiction Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press p 228 ISBN 978-0-521-00871-6 
  24. ^ Pointer, Michael 1975 The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes London and Vancouver: Drake Publishers p 31 ISBN 978-0-87749-725-7 
  25. ^ Banham, Martin 1983 British and American playwrights Volume 5 1750-1920: Plays by William Gillette, Rosemary Cullen, Don B Wilmeth Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press p 30 ISBN 978-0-521-28431-8 
  26. ^ Klinger, Leslie S "The Search for Sherlock Holmes on the Screen" Baker Street Journal Zionsville, Indiana: Steven Doyle Retrieved 30 January 2010 

External linksedit

  • Sherlock Holmes Baffled on Internet Movie Database
  • Sherlock Holmes Baffled available for free download at Internet Archive

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