John Barrymore as “Sherlock Holmes” (1922) – reviewed by George

Here we have MGM’s remake, only six years later, of the William Gillette movie version of his stage play, with a really striking performance by John Barrymore. Barrymore doesn’t so much look like Holmes, as become Holmes. He is young, thoughtful, and strong, as have been all the actors we have so far seen in the role (except for the “young” part). But Barrymore brings something new: a gravitas that keeps our eyes on him and not on the actors sharing the frame. It’s pretty remarkable.
The other neat thing here is that MGM, even in 1922, had such an impressive list of contracted players, and we get to see some of them in their earliest years, such as William Powell (the Thin Man), Roland Young (Topper), Reginald Denny (scores of Inspectors, Colonels, and butlers, and says he played Algy Longworth in all the Bulldog Drummond films – I apologize; I’ve never seen any films from this series), and Hedda Hopper (future gossip columnist). Also the plot has been tweaked by the screenwriters Earle Browne and Marion Fairfax, and the changes are all good. The direction by Albert Parker makes the story flow easily and swiftly. All in all, excellent work by all concerned. That includes the new music, composed and performed by Ben Model, which is fitted to the moment, outlining the action very well.
The restoration was a collaborative project of the National Film Preservation Foundation, Save America’s Treasures, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the National Park Service, Department of the Interior, with the financial support of Hugh M. Hefner. The restoration was copyrighted 2008, and Model’s music was copyrighted 2009.
This time the story begins in Cambridge, with both Watson (Roland Young) and Holmes as students. Holmes, out biking in the countryside, meets Alice Faulkner (Carol Dempster), and falls in love. Prince Alexis (Reginald Denny) is also a Cambridge student, and is planning to marry Alice’s sister Rose (Peggy Bayfield). This is not a problem, because he has two older brothers, the Crown Prince and a Prince like himself. But when his two brothers are killed in the same motorcar accident, Alexis becomes the Crown Prince and a marriage to Rose is out of the question. When advised of all this, Alexis is disturbed and unhappy. However, this feeling doesn’t last out the scene, much less the day; suddenly he is all smiles and slams the book he was studying down on the table as he rises to go home as first in line to the throne. Later Holmes will name him a blackguard.
Attempts are made to locate Alexis’s compromising letters to Rose, but for a while no one suspects Alice of having them. Then she is kidnapped by the Larrabees, Madge and James (Hedda Hopper and Anders Randolf), and this part of the story more closely resembles the first film version. Prior to this Holmes has met Moriarty (Gustave von Seyffertitz), and declares, “I have just met a man – a force – a thing – as deadly as sin itself – I – I’ve been groping for my place in the scheme of things – I’ve found it. My life’s work is to rid the world of that gigantic menace – – Moriarty.” Holmes moves out of Cambridge and in to 221B Baker Street. He rescues Forman Wells (William Powell) from a situation, and later sends him to the Larrabees as a new butler. And when Rose commits suicide…..
No buts about it – this is an exceptional film which deserves the widest possible audience. Sorry, Spot the Dog, you have been unseated.

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