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Blu-ray Review: Sherlock Holmes (1922)

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The Film

Based on the stage production by William Gillette, which itself was based upon the characters of Arthur Conan Doyle, the 1922 Sherlock Holmes remains somewhat bound to its theatrical and literary pedigree. One of the first screen adaptations featuring the brilliant sleuth, Sherlock Holmes features a fine cast and a reasonably entertaining storyline, but its cinematic ambitions are modest. Director Albert Parker rarely overcomes the source material’s inherent staginess, and things tend to get bogged down in momentum-halting barrages of intertitles.

The legendary John Barrymore makes for an excellent Holmes though — a sly, observant detective with the ability to deduce the truth by merely paying attention. Barrymore’s understated performance lets us watch the wheels turning in his head as he wages a battle of the minds with the troll-like Professor Moriarty (Gustav von Seyffertitz), a madman with outsized criminal aspirations.

When Moriarty frames a young prince (Reginald Denny) in an attempt to gain access to his family fortune, Holmes is brought into the case by schoolmate Watson (Roland Young in his debut role). He turns one of Moriarty’s men (a wide-eyed William Powell in his first screen appearance as well) against him and foils the plot.

But Moriarty isn’t content to abandon his schemes, and when he sees an opportunity to blackmail the prince with his romantic overtures to a common woman, Holmes must intervene again. Meanwhile, Holmes falls in love with the sister (Carol Dempster) of the prince’s paramour, making way for a slightly softer characterization than one might have come to expect from Sherlock Holmes.

While this Sherlock is no masterpiece, it’s a film we can be grateful to have at all, as it was considered lost for decades. Originally rediscovered in the 1970s, the film was given a more extensive restoration in 2001 by the George Eastman House. It’s an impressive piece of reconstruction and restoration, and the Kino Blu-ray serves it quite well.

The Blu-ray Disc

Presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio in 1080p high definition, Kino’s Blu-ray transfer of Sherlock Holmes is very nice, with healthy amounts of detail and an intact grain structure visible beneath the film’s bevy of scratches and tram lines. While whites can occasionally get blown out, there’s excellent grayscale definition to be found throughout most of the film, and close-ups reveal beautiful textural details.

The transfer does feature a peculiarity — the top and the bottom of the frame is often encroached upon by a bouncing black bar that effectively serves to mask the image at varying heights throughout the film. I would guess some kind of print damage is responsible for this odd feature, but even though it’s consistently visible throughout the entire film, one gets used to it rather quickly.

An unfussy organ score by Ben Model accompanies the film.

Special Features

Unfortunately, no real extras here — only three trailers for other Kino releases. It would’ve been nice to see a featurette on the restoration process, but alas.

The Bottom Line

It is a sturdy, if unspectacular screen version of Sherlock Holmes, but the presentation of this nearly 90-year-old, once-thought-lost film pushes the disc into more essential territory.

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About Dusty Somers

Dusty Somers is a Seattle-based editor and writer. He is a member of the Online Film Critics Society and Seattle Theater Writers.