Sherlock Holmes


Broadcast on:
September 25, 1938
Based on:
"Sherlock Holmes" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, following the play by William Gillette (1899)
Sherlock Holmes

"Well, my dear Watson, it's beginning to look like a most interesting evening."

Sherlock Holmes or, The Immortal Sherlock Holmes to give this production its full, improbable title, is so well known there is little to add that hasn't already been said about the Baker Street sleuth. Welles himself wrote this adaptation of Gillette's adaptation, drawing mainly on A Scandal in Bohemia, though throwing in elements from various other stories for good measure.

Unfortunately the quality of this broadcast is poor. It clearly comes from an old vinyl recording which has survived very well, except for a deep, repeated scratch which has left a loud glitch across much of the recording. I am trying to track down a better copy from my rooms at 221B rue de Belleville, but 3 months spent examining cigar ash in the local bars have not yet yielded any results.


The Play

William Gillette is far more closely entwined with the story of Holmes than might be imagined. Not only did he play the character over a thousand times on stage, but he was also responsible for much of the trademark iconography (pipe, hat) as well as playing Holmes in the first film version in 1916, long considered lost until discovered in my beloved Cinémathèque Française in 2014, having been incorrectly labelled when archived.
He took many liberties with the stories when writing his play, changes fully endorsed by his friend Conan Doyle. When asked by Gillette if he might marry Holmes, Conan Doyle replied with refreshing pragmatism "You may marry him, or murder or do what you like with him."
As a coda to an unusual life story, Gillette invented and patented a machine for imitating the noise of horses' hooves clopping together. The patent has now expired.

Full Cast

Orson Welles (Sherlock Holmes), Ray Collins (Dr. Watson), Mary Taylor (Alice Faulkner), Brenda Forbes (Madge Larrabee), Edgar Barrier (James Larrabee), Morgan Farley (Inspector Forman), Richard Wilson (Jim Craigin), Eustace Wyatt (Professor Moriarty).

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"We're born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we're not alone."

Orson Welles