Filmsite Movie Review
Sherlock Jr. (1924)
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Plot Synopsis (continued)

The Montage of Shifting Settings:

The next remarkable sequence was created using an intricate series of backdrops (presented through montage), and accomplished with precise camera angles and posture-matchings.

The Boy approached the screen from a different side angle - he snuck up by crawling on his hands and knees toward the right side of the stage. After pausing for a moment, he raced into the screen's image, but this time, the film medium itself betrayed him. It abruptly cut and left him disoriented and unable to fully integrate himself into the action.

[Note: The sequence represented conventional Hollywood film-making - a character was entered into a cinematic world (a filmic world of absurdist or surrealist logic), but remained the sole constant thing (with incredible graphic-matches), while backgrounds quickly and randomly changed - through montage.]

While being denied access to the silver-screen's fantasy world (a looking glass of sorts), the Boy was seamlessly compelled to interact within a projected series of shifting settings or backdrops, and he found himself powerless against the filmic montage that changed his physical surroundings.

The basic settings included a wide variety of stereotypical locales: a garden, a city metropolis, a mountainous area, a jungle, a desert, the ocean, and a snowbound landscape:

  • the interior of the room in the film suddenly shifted and became the outside front of the house; the Boy stood shut out at the front entrance to the house; the well-dressed cad/Sheik emerged, then slammed the front door shut; the Boy ascended the front stairs and knocked on the door but there was no answer
  • as he turned and descended the front stairs, the steps become a bench or pedestal in front of a garden wall, causing him to take a tumbling nose-dive off the narrow surface
  • he stood up, shook himself off, and then decided to sit down on the bench; as he sat, he discovered that he was abruptly positioned in the middle of a busy street with traffic passing close behind him
  • he took steps along the edge of the roadway that transitioned to a mountainous precipice below his feet; after almost falling off the cliff's ledge, he scrambled to his feet and then peered over the edge
  • he emerged in the middle of a hungry lion's den in a jungle
  • when he retreated and backed away from the threatening beasts, he found himself in a pit (a gravesite?) within a flat, desert setting with cactus; when he climbed out of the hole, he was almost run over by an approaching express train on tracks
  • as he sat on a mound of dirt in the desert to contemplate his situation, he was suddenly perched on a wave-battered rock outcropping surrounded by the ocean; he stumbled around to get his footing, and was about to dive into the rough water
  • as he dove headfirst off the reef rock, he landed head-first in a deep snowbank
  • after extricating himself from the snow, he extended his left arm to lean on a tree trunk, but he began to fall to the ground when the scene shifted back to the garden - and he tumbled over the same pedestal bench; he scratched his head as the scene dissolved to black

The 'Film-Within-A-Film':

The actors involved in a love triangle in the melodramatic film were portrayed by the Boy's real-life acquaintances. However, in the fantasy world of film, they were glamorized 'characters.'

[Note: The structural narrative technique of dual roles - by having every actor double as two characters (in both the real world and filmic worlds) - was also more famously utilized in The Wizard of Oz (1939).]

Characters and Events
Real World
Filmic Dream or Fantasy World
The Girl
A simple small-town country girl with a gingham patterned dress
A rich socialite flapper with an elegant and slinky black gown
The Sheik
A penniless, conniving robber
A well-dressed, suave, tuxedo-clad, aristocratic cad (a 'lounge lizard'), the head of a gang of thieving thugs
The Hired Man
The hired help of the Girl's Father
The Father's Butler, and the Sheik's co-conspirator
The Boy
A humble, modest projectionist and janitor in a movie theater
A sophisticated, dapper Sherlock Jr., wearing a top hat, tails, cane and tuxedo, the film's hero
The Girl's Father
A lower-class worker
A tuxedoed millionaire living in a mansion
Stolen Object
$4 dollar gold watch
Expensive pearl necklace
The Theater Manager
The Boy's/Projectionist's Boss
Sherlock Jr's assistant Gillette

The camera entered into the fantasy world, where the villainous Sheik was with the Girl in the upstairs bedroom. They both emerged downstairs when the Girl's father alerted them to the theft of the family's valuable pearl necklace ("Some one has stolen the pearls") from his wall safe. The duplicitous Sheik deposited the purloined necklace into the hands of his co-conspirator/butler (Erwin Connelly) to conceal it. The Girl's father phoned for help in solving the case, as the Sheik expressed dismay:

We are lost! He is sending for the world's greatest detective - Sherlock Jr.!

The Butler calmly assured the Sheik that he could handle any interference, with three devised plots (traps, tricks, or substances) to foil the detective, cause his demise, and curtail the investigation:

  • An Exploding # 13 Billiards Ball -
    They proceeded over to a billiards table, where the Butler produced two fake billiard balls with the number 13. He tossed one of the balls into the outer garden where it exploded, to illustrate its destructiveness.
  • A Booby-Trapped Chair -
    The Butler demonstrated how a chair (with a trigger device) was positioned beneath a decorative battle axe hanging on the wall. If someone sat on the chair, the guillotine-like axe was rigged to fall and strike the skull of the unwitting seated person.
  • Poison in a Drink -
    (Not described but Implemented later)

The Arrival of Crime-Fighting Sherlock Jr.:

A disembodied, elegant white-gloved hand rang the front doorbell - an inter-title card announced the arrival of the renowned detective and criminologist, Sherlock Jr.:

The crime-crushing criminologist.

The Boy/Projectionist had finally succeeded in entering the fantasy film world - he would no longer be a bumbling, incompetent, apprentice detective, but the acclaimed, confident Sherlock Jr. attired in formal evening clothes. His wish-fulfillment to be a hero and save the day against the bad guys in an elaborate crime case had finally materialized within the dream.

[Note: Stereotypically in the movies, and specifically in this 'film-within-a-film,' the theft plot would take a well-worn path. An object of value (jewelry) was stolen, a detective would investigate the case, solve the mystery and recover the pearls, unmask the villain, and then rescue and romance the girl.]

He entered the crime scene, removed his outer coat, and handed over his top hat, cane, and gloves to the Girl's father. He approached a line-up of the Butler, the Girl, and the Sheik, and closely sniffed or eyeballed each of the suspects. The victimized Girl's father pointed out the emptied wall-safe, but Sherlock Jr. replied that he did not need an explanation of the situation:

Don't bother to explain - this is a simple case for me.

The unsuspecting Sherlock Jr. narrowly avoided the various booby-traps set and targeted to take his life. He escaped being hit by the falling axe when he changed his mind about sitting back in the rigged chair. The Butler then removed a small vial labeled "POISON" and doctored the detective's shot-glass drink, but then Sherlock politely offered the tainted shot glass to his billiards opponent, the Sheik. The Butler was forced to intervene and prevent the drinking of the exchanged shot glass by sticking his fingers into the poisoned drink ("Pardon, sir. I think there is something in your drink"). The famed detective had cleverly and inadvertently circumvented two of the death traps set up for him that were intended to murder him. And as they began to prepare for a game of pool, Sherlock almost knocked the Butler back into the chair with the end of his pool cue.

In a tense pool game sequence, Sherlock Jr. was then set up to be murdered during a one-on-one contest against the Sheik, with a replaced # 13 ball that was an explosive bomb. It appeared that Sherlock was aware of their plotting - as he chalked up his cue tip in front of a mirror, he was watching in the reflection when the Butler substituted in the explosive # 13 ball. He again consistently outwitted and out-thought his rivals, and managed to escape this third trap. During the game (as the two perpetrators fearfully hid and took cover in an adjoining parlor whenever it was Sherlock's turn), Sherlock Jr. made a series of improbable pool shots that struck every billiard ball - except for the untouched # 13 ball, and he eventually cleared the table. They were incredulous and dumbfounded when he won the game by sinking the # 13 ball, without an explosion.

The Butler and Sheik raced back into the pool room to assess their failure. They discovered that Sherlock Jr. had replaced or switched the deadly ball with the original inert one, and foiled their plan to kill him. They discovered that the explosive # 13 ball had been removed from its hiding place. The two flustered, clueless and bungling co-conspirators just about killed themselves during their discussion: (1) the Sheik unthinkingly rested his foot on the chair and activated the seat's deadly axe trigger, and barely missed being struck, and (2) the upset Butler mistakenly picked up the poisoned drink glass and drank - and then spit out the tainted substance.

The cool and composed Sherlock Jr. paused on the front steps of the house as he departed, and reached inside his pocket and pulled out the explosive # 13 ball - revealing that he had cleverly foiled their devious plot by absconding with the deadly object. Rather than explode it, he took it with him. After a black screen, an inter-title card announced, tongue-in-cheek, that the mystery had been solved - although he hadn't solved anything - so far:

By the next day the master mind had completely solved the mystery - with the exception of locating the pearls and finding the thief.

Further Investigation into the Case - Pursuit of the Sheik and His Thugs:

Inside his home, Sherlock Jr. was joined by his assistant, Gillette (Ford West) - his 'My dear Watson' compatriot:

His assistant - Gillette. A Gem who was Ever-Ready in a bad scrape.

[Note: The name 'Gillette' was deliberately chosen for two reasons: (1) it referred to a brand of 'sharp' men's razor blades, a company established in 1901, providing a 'close shave' from dangerous circumstances, and (2) it referred to William Gillette - an American actor best remembered for being the first to portray Conan Doyle's detective character Sherlock Holmes on the Broadway stage in 1899, and in the silent film adaptation Sherlock Holmes (1916) (a lost film but finally discovered in 2014).]

Sherlock Jr. appeared to prep himself before a full-length mirror, but then moments later stepped through the framed doorway into the next room - a visual gag. In a second gag, he twirled the combination locks on the front of a huge bank-like vault-safe in his home and then opened the door - and stepped out into the busy, traffic-filled street with a giant passing trolley car nearby.

Surreptitiously, he trailed (or shadowed) the Sheik, who pulled up in his stretch convertible limousine outside a tall building, parked and entered. The detective followed so closely that he was slammed in the face by the edge of the closing exterior door to the building (reminiscent of his earlier collision at the railroad platform). He pursued the villain up the stairs to a second-level - not knowing that the Sheik (who again realized he was being followed) was hiding in a closet after leaving his hat on the floor at the base of a ladder leading to the roof, to divert and trick him. Once Sherlock Jr. had climbed through a trap door to the roof, the Sheik locked the door behind him, and then descended back down to the street level.

Stranded two stories above the street, Sherlock Jr. watched anxiously from the flat rooftop as the Sheik raced to his car to drive off and escape. He jumped onto and grabbed the end of an upright, striped railroad crossing gate and let his weight gently lower him down (similar to the water-tank spout), and miraculously landed in the back seat of the villain's departing open-roofed vehicle. The Sheik was unaware that Sherlock - with his disguised, mustache-wearing assistant Gillette also hitching a ride by clinging onto the rear-mounted spare tire - had followed him to his hideout. Inside the crime house shack, the Sheik met with three other co-conspirators (Kewpie Morgan, Steve Murphy, and John Patrick) - he was intending to sell the purloined pearl necklace.

Meanwhile outside, Gillette gave Sherlock Jr. a gun, and then opened a large, flat, circular paper-thin garment case or drum, and removed and repositioned some woman's clothing in the hoop's interior. Strangely, he positioned the case inside the outer window-sill of one of the hideout shack's window frames (anticipating a getaway plan?).

The main components of an action plot in a standard mystery film would now take place:

  • a Capture
  • an Escape
  • a Chase
  • a Rescue

Captured by the Thugs, Followed by a Clever Escape:

Then, Sherlock Jr. stood inside the front door's outer frame and began whistling - he was deliberately intending to be detected and caught. He was snatched or grabbed by the thugs, forcefully brought inside, constrained and frisked (his gun was confiscated), and momentarily robbed of his gold watch. The Sheik pointed to another incarcerated detective locked in a metal cage nearby and threatened ("That's a detective. When he's dead I'll put you in there"). And then the leering Sheik also admitted that his Butler had kidnapped the millionaire's daughter ("And now I'll tell you where our little sweetie is this minute! And she's waiting there for me") and was planning to marry her. The scene dissolved to another location, where the kidnapped Girl was struggling as she was forcefully grabbed from a vehicle by the Butler and tossed into a barn - she had been taken as a hostage.

In the next view of the thugs' hideout, the side wall of the building was see-through or transparent - allowing an inside look into the house (literally breaking 'the fourth wall') as the Sheik and Sherlock Jr. talked inside. The next sight-gag sequence was brilliantly set up, filmed in one single continuous shot, and played out in real-time. When the Sheik taunted the detective and held out the stolen pearl necklace, Sherlock Jr. snatched the pearls, dashed left toward the window frame and dove headfirst through the window (and also through the circular hoop placed on its outer frame), and landed on his feet outside. With that singular elusive action, he was able to possess the stolen necklace, escape the hideout, instantaneously and in mid-air don the dress costume that was stuffed inside the circular hoop, and land disguised outside the house.

[Note: His transformative jump echoed the earlier scene of his magical entrance into the movie screen when he joined the filmic action.]

When the thieves raced outside to apprehend him, they found a teetering, sedate little old lady (Sherlock Jr. with his ready-made wardrobe disguise) walking away. His getaway to evade capture was ingenious. However, as the old lady wandered down the street's sidewalk, one of the suspicious thugs scrutinized the elderly woman, realized the ploy and took chase after the old woman. Sherlock Jr. removed his dress and tossed it at the thug, to confuse and obstruct his view, as he fled into a dead-end alleyway. There, he met up with a strange, cross-dressed street vendor (his valet Gillette in disguise), who held a small, open suitcase (a tray of neckties) suspended in front of his chest by a neck strap. The female street peddler, who was standing in front of a barn-door backdrop, kept pointing toward the inside of the suitcase and inviting Sherlock Jr. to jump into the case, as the crooks converged on them. Seemingly trapped, Sherlock Jr. evaded the thugs by leaping into and through the vendor's suitcase and chest, and the door behind - an incredible illusion. He completely disappeared through a false wall that was behind the vendor.

[Note: The tricky sight-gag was achieved by using a fake female dummy and a trap door.]

The two thugs scratched their heads and couldn't figure out how they had been fooled when the peddler walked away from the solid wall - with no sign of Sherlock Jr. After they discovered that there was a barn-door that rotated, they pushed open the revolving door, entered and continued their pursuit, not knowing that Sherlock Jr. was hanging on the back-side of the door. They were locked on the other side of the barn-door wall when Sherlock Jr. jumped off and secured the door.

A High-Speed Race or Chase:

An exhilarating, high-speed foot-race again commenced when the pursuers continued their quest to capture him. As Sherlock, Jr. was chased on foot down the street, a motorcycle cop -- his disguised assistant Gillette --- pulled up alongside on a motorcycle and, surprisingly, offered Sherlock Jr. a lift. The detective hoisted himself up and sat on the bike's wide front handlebars - facing forward. The co-conspirators and the Sheik kept up the chase by vehicle and on foot. While precariously positioned atop the front of the bike, Sherlock Jr. relaxed, turned around, nonchalantly crossed his legs, and casually began chatting with Gillette. However, he was oblivious to the fact that Gillette was soon to be dislodged from the still-moving bike when they hit a shallow, muddy dip in the road - the detective was left still perched on the handlebars of the driverless motorbike.

The unsteered bike continued on its way through many dangerous obstacles and near-misses - with some incredible stunt-work. Through busy intersections with converging and crossing traffic and streetcars, Sherlock Jr. remarked to his imagined driver ("Be careful or one of us will get hurt"), The first near-collisions were with people, then with various obstructions:

  • he comically upended a black laundress (wearing white leggings) who was carrying a basket on her shoulder and fell backward onto her behind into a shallow puddle
  • through a road-works construction site where twelve ditch-digging workmen on the road-side were throwing forward shovel-fulls of dirt - Sherlock Jr. was hit by a spadeful of earth from each worker
  • through 'Thomas Murphy's' Stag Party (or bachelor party) - where gentlemen at an Irish-themed picnic were engaged in a tug-of-war competition - Sherlock Jr. plowed through the center of their tug-of-war rope and dragged the two opposing sides after him, upended a few picnic tables, and left a few of the men dangling on in a stream

  • toward a high, narrow aqueduct causeway where there was an obvious sizeable, almost 20-foot gap or opening in the structure; as Sherlock Jr. approached the hazardous, unfinished bridge, he was miraculously saved when two trucks slowly approached the gap from opposite directions; they happened to be timed perfectly so that they strategically converged on the gap at the same time and provided a passageway or continuing roadway for Sherlock Jr.'s zooming bike to pass over
    [Note: To accomplish the feat, a split-screen technique was used.]
    as the bike reached the end of the bridge, the entire structure fortuitously collapsed and gently placed him back on solid ground without losing any speed
  • toward a street closure due to a fallen tree; without slowing down, Sherlock, Jr. was able to navigate through the blocked-off road when a well-timed dynamite explosion of the tree blockage by two alarmed workers cleared the roadway and he was able to proceed through, although he did strike and dissect the crews' sawhorse marked "STREET-CLOSED"
  • he steered toward a tractor vehicle (with giant wheels) on a dirt road - from a side view, it appeared that he was about to crash into it until it turned toward the camera and revealed its raised-platform in a frontal view with a clear passageway underneath
  • afterward, Sherlock offered his congratulations to the non-existent driver Gillette about how skilled he was in narrowly evading and maneuvering through all of the hazardous dangers ("I never thought you'd make it")
  • as he proceeded toward a possibly-fatal collision with a rapidly-advancing and approaching locomotive train on tracks, Sherlock Jr. covered his ears and ducked his head as he crossed the tracks just yards ahead of the surging train [Note: the sequence was made safe by being shot in reverse]

Afterward, he turned back and was aghast that his entire high-speed drive had been driverless.

The Rescue of the Girl:

Sherlock Jr.'s ride ended when his motorbike recklessly crashed through the side of the barn where the Girl was held captive by the sinister Butler, who sported a lascivious grin and was about to assault the innocent young female (he signaled his evil intentions by loosening his tie). Sherlock's extended legs struck the Butler in the chest, expelled him through one of the wooden sides of the barn, and knocked him unconscious. When the Sheik and the thugs arrived, he and the Girl fled through a side window and hijacked the Sheik's car. The co-conspirators jumped into the Butler's car and took up another pursuit.

The car chase, tracking through some of the same locales as the bike chase, included gunshots. To decisively end the pursuit, Sherlock Jr. removed the explosive # 13 billiards ball from his pocket and tossed it back at the crooks - he perfectly struck his target, killing the thugs and crashing their car.

A close-up of their speeding car's tire label stated that it had: "FOUR WHEEL BRAKES." Without watching where he was going, Sherlock Jr. plowed straight ahead toward a lake, while the Girl screamed out an alarm too late. Sherlock Jr. violently stepped on the brakes (instantly activating the brakes on all four wheels), causing the top half of the unattached chassis of their car to shear off from the frame and hurtle onto the surface of the water. The residual speed of the vehicle propelled them on the water like a boat until they came to a gradual stop. He opened his car door but proceeded to step out into the water. He had masterfully made his escape from the bad guys and saved the Girl from harm, but was unable to avoid clumsily falling into the water. She helped drag him back into the vehicle. He opened up the convertible's retractable top - and inventively extended it to function as a makeshift sail, to send them floating over the water's surface.

The detective handed the Girl the pearl necklace - proving that he had retrieved the stolen object, resolved the criminal case, and apprehended the Sheik. However, as they hugged each other and were arm in arm, their car slowly sank completely underwater. They were left frantically treading water and threatened by drowning.

Waking Up in the Real World - Redeemed and Reconciled with the Girl:

The Boy awakened in the projection booth - flailing, floundering and struggling to stay afloat. When he tumbled to the floor, he abruptly realized that his entire cinematic dream was only a wish-fulfillment and that he had accomplished nothing in the real world. He peeked through the booth's opening to the theatre and realized "Hearts & Pearls" was still playing on the screen. In the unreal dream world, he had become a hero and great detective with imagined exploits and daring-do and had redeemed himself with the Girl, but in reality, he was still a lowly projectionist who had been accused of theft - and remained a prime suspect. He gazed down regretfully - appearing sad, dejected and disconsolate.

He was startled when the Girl arrived to tell him that she and her father had learned the identity of the real thief after she had visited the pawnshop. There, the real thief (who had pawned the watch) had been identified, and the Boy had been cleared of the crime. She shyly admitted that she had made a false accusation against him - it was the film's final inter-title:

Father sent me to tell you that we've made a terrible mistake -

Still flustered and disconnected in the real world, he tried to respond by kissing or hugging the Girl, but could not muster the courage to do either.

To be reconciled and reunited with her, he was compelled to again gaze toward the movie screen (framed by the square-shaped projection booth window) for instructional romantic advice. He watched a similar reconciliation scene on-screen, and step-by-step as he took subtle glances, he imitated the cues of the leading-man actor. He mimicked each of the lothario's (or lounge lizard's) romantic advances and mannerisms - and ultimately kissed his girlfriend, but not with the full-bodied kiss seen on-screen:

  • he took the Girl's hands
  • he kissed her clasped hands
  • he again placed his engagement ring on her finger
  • he gave her a brief peck on the lips

As he looked at the movie screen one final time, the movie theater picture faded out in a dissolve to black and returned to a scene of the happy family (the mother was sewing and the father was holding twin babies on his lap). The Boy appeared confused and puzzled - and scratched his head, realizing it would be impossible to end his real-world experience with the Girl by replicating her counterpart's fanciful and illusory outcome on-screen - as the last image dissolved to "THE END."

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