Pop Sherlock: Holmes on Film

September 12, 2017 | Nicole

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With the Toronto International Film Festival in full swing -- and with BBC's Sherlock aka Benedict Cumberbatch in town -- it seems only appropriate to take a look back at how Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's sleuth, Sherlock Holmes, became one of the most iconic and most often adapted fictional character to grace the silver screen.

With over 150 movie credits to his name, there are few others that even come close. There are at least two major Hollywood movies in the works at this time, and we can expect to see Holmes on the big screen for many generations to come.

The first film to star Holmes was Sherlock Holmes Baffled (1900), a one minute short by the American Mutoscope and Bioscope Company.

After that, the sleuth moved easily through silent films, to early talkies, and finally to modern feature films. Here are just a few of the many silver screen adaptations of Sherlock Holmes. 

Did you know that in the original stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Holmes says “Elementary” and “My dear Watson” but does not actually combine the two? The combined phrase was used satirically in print in P.G. Wodehouse’s Psmith, Journalist in 1910, but it was not until the 1929 film The Return of Sherlock Holmes starring Clive Brooks that the detective’s most famous catchphrase was used by an actor playing Holmes.


By playing Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in both 14 films and a long-running radio program, Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce became the faces and voices of Holmes and Watson for the Second World War-era audience and beyond. Watch Terror by Night (1946) online here


In 1965's A Study in Terror, John Neville as Sherlock Holmes and Donald Houston as Dr. Watson learn the identity of Jack the Ripper. This mystery has been fictionally unravelled in two movies and many books about Sherlock Holmes, but remains unsolved in real life. 


When asked why he made his 1970 film, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, director Billy Wilder replied, “Because I love him, and I wanted to.” 


Michael Caine is a dim-witted Holmes and Ben Kingsley a brilliant Dr. Watson in the 1988 sendup of the classic tales, Without a Clue. Place a hold on a DVD copy here

Three Ages of Sherlock Film Series

Starting this Thursday, September 14, join us at the Toronto Reference Library for a series of free film screenings that present Sherlock Holmes at various stages of life.

Young Sherlock Holmes (1985)
Thursday, September 14, 6 pm
Toronto Reference Library, Hinton Learning Theatre


Sherlock Holmes (2009)
Thursday, September 21, 6 pm
Toronto Reference Library, Hinton Learning Theatre


Mr. Holmes (2015)
Thursday, September 28, 6 pm
Toronto Reference Library, Hinton Learning Theatre

Interested in learning more about the Great Detective's iconic status in stage, screen, graphic arts?  Be sure to visit our current exhibit Pop Sherlock on display in the Toronto Reference Library's TD Gallery. The exhibit runs until October 22 and features a wide array of items from the library's Arthur Conan Doyle Collection including books, manuscripts, music, graphic arts, TV stills, movie scripts, ephemera and more. 

TD Gallery_Pop Sherlock Exhibit