Le Trésor des Musgraves (1912)

*. The French seem to have always liked Anglo-American detecive stories, from Poe to Agatha Christie, so it’s not too surprising that one of the first serials based on the adventures of Sherlock Holmes came out of a French studio.
*. Le Trésor des Musgraves was one of several Holmes films done by the production company Éclair, directed by and starring (as Holmes) Georges Tréville. It’s based on the Conan Doyle story “The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual,” and sticks surprisingly close to its source. If you’ve seen the Basil Rathbone-Nigel Bruce vehicle Sherlock Holmes Faces Death, based on the same story, you’ll notice that this production is far more faithful to the original.
*. For example, I’ve heard some people complain about this movie because it doesn’t have Watson in it. But in the story Watson is only introduced at the beginning, as an audience for Holmes. The case of the Musgrave ritual was one of Holmes’s earlier adventures and he hadn’t met Watson yet.
*. Given that this is a short, coming in at just over 17 minutes, the story has to be compromised somewhat. Even the ritual itself is abbreviated into a couple of directions for a treasure hunt. But the basic elements are still there, including the butler and maid being in cahoots and falling out in much the same way. None of that is in Sherlock Holmes Faces Death (which, by the way, is a great little movie in its own right).
*. I’ll confess I was thrown by the shift into a flashback in the second half of the film. Yes, it’s announced as the maid’s “strange confession,” but even so it took me a while to figure out where I was. I don’t know what the first film to use a flashback was. I’ve seen it credited to D. W. Griffith, but not which movie. In The Birth of a Nation he used what he called a “switchback” technique, but that was something different and anyway the movie came out three years after this one. So I think we’re dealing with what was, at least, a very early instance of it in this film. I wonder if audiences were able to follow along, or if they felt temporarily confused like me.
*. This little movie is more than just a footnote in the history of a technique though. It’s really quite enjoyable, making good use of what seem to be very cramped sets intermixed with outdoor settings. Holmes’s parlour looks entirely appropriate (though purists will be able to point out all the missing details). The crime is especially well presented, with the hands reaching up from the subterranean chamber being a delight. And Tréville looks good as Holmes, though there isn’t much detective work for him to do.
*. One of the nicest things about it though is how well preserved it is. I don’t know if it’s been restored or if we just happen to have a remarkably good print that’s survived, but it looks great. So little remains from that era in any form, a movie that looks this good is a real rarity. Even people who aren’t Holmes fans or silent cinema aficionados should find it a treat.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.