For Monday, May 13, we look at silent Holmes star Eille Norwood over at Black Gate.
This may shock you, but there were on-screen Sherlock Holmes’ before Benedict Cumberbatch! And for you old-time fans, even before Robert Downey Jr. Really! The first great movie Holmes comes from the silent film era. And he shared a last name with another actor who would give arguably the greatest portrayal of the world’s first private consulting detective.
William Gillette had come to personify Sherlock Holmes through repeated performances of his stage play in the U.S. and Europe. His 1916 film version certainly helped as well, but was not a critical part of his success. Anthony Edward Brett would become the first great movie Holmes, though he would achieve it as Eille Norwood.
Born in 1861, Norwood was primarily a stage actor in England when he landed the role that would make him famous throughout the U.K..
In 1921, a British film company named Stoll decided to film a series of shorts based on Doyle’s stories. For the next two years, they would produce forty-five of the twenty minute films, along with two longer ones. Doyle’s short stories fit the twenty-minute length quite well and Stoll wasn’t forced to add inauthentic filler to them.
The first fifteen, chosen randomly from among Doyle’s stories, were called The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. That same year, the first version of what would be the most famous film title in the Canon was made, The Hound of the Baskervilles. Maurice Elvey directed all sixteen films. That same year, Elvey made a romantic drama called The Fruitful Vine. The lead was played by a young man named Basil Rathbone. How about that?