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When a young prince is accused of a crime that could embroil him in international scandal, debonair supersleuth Sherlock Holmes comes to his aid, and quickly discovers that behind the incident lurks a criminal mastermind eager to reduce Western civilization to anarchy. Adapted from the hugely popular stage version of Arthur Conan Doyle's stories (by William Gillette), 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). SHERLOCK HOLMES was mastered from a 35mm restoration by the George Eastman House Motion Picture Department, and is accompanied by a score by Ben Model, performed on the Miditzer Virtual Theatre Organ.
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Barrymore is a force on the silent screen. Watching his Holmes, I can see the impetus for Rathbone and Brett. Holmes in the hands of Barrymore is a smart man in search of wisdom. Solving crime is easy. The ephemeral qualities of emotion, especially female interactions, stay out of reach. I'm glad the movie was silent because the physical and emotional articulation of Holmes clearly stands out.
A note about Moriarty. Played to perfection by Gustav von Seyffertitz, here is Moriarty as he should be. An evil man with no pretensions of good. No need to clean him up and present him in a tux; Moriarty is comfortable - happy? - with his moral place in the world.
The movie is also notable for screen debuts by Roland Young (as Dr. Watson) and William Powell (as the character Forman Wells). Hedda Hopper also puts in a fine performance.
One disappointment is the organ score by Ben Model. The music is played on a virtual Midi instrument, the Miditizer Virtual Theatre Organ and has an odd, two-dimensional quality that is never really a part of the movie. The notes follow along the film's progress like some barely interested bystander. I would prefer an orchestral score or at least a real theater organ with a score tuned to the movies emotional context. Barrymore's performance could be made all the richer by the complexities of a string score.
Overall, well worth watching for fans of Holmes and silent films.
What might seem like a somewhat dull and plodding story to modern audiences is given extra appeal and zest by some of the stars, in particular of course, its famous star, John Barrymore. Although this role as Sherlock Holmes doesn't present many opportunities for Barrymore to shine and show off his usual charisma and talents, he does step into the part of Holmes quite well, even if it takes a little getting used to at first. A good villain is also important in stories like this one, and the sinister Moriarty is perfectly portrayed by the brilliant character actor, Gustav von Seyffertitz, who played an impressive array of varied characters, good and evil, throughout the silent era. Also thrown into the mix to attract a wider audience is Carol Dempster, famous for being D.W. Griffith's leading lady in a number of 1920s films, who plays a small but significant role as Sherlock's love interest, adding a twist not expected in the standard Sherlock Holmes mystery. Other viewers might find it of interest to see William Powell, perhaps best remembered for the Thin Man series of movies in the 1930s and 1940s, in his screen debut in "Sherlock Holmes" as Forman Wells, also playing a small yet important role in assisting Holmes.
The picture quality is overall quite good, though perhaps not as outstanding as many other silent films from the early 1920s issued on Kino, and the music is a very good organ score composed and played by Ben Model, who has performed many fine organ accompaniments to silent films. There are no bonus or special features on this DVD, and it is part of a four-DVD set by Kino of John Barrymore silent films, and as part of such a collection "Sherlock Holmes" is an important addition to highlight Barrymore's earlier and unusual roles. On its own, it would be of special interest for Sherlock Holmes enthusiasts in particular, and some knowledge of the original stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would no doubt help in appreciating this particular silent version.