Silent Sherlock Parody: The Mystery of the Leaping Fish

COVER-223B-great-war-79dpi-300pxThis is from the newest book in the 223B Casebook series: “Sherlock Holmes Parodies and Pastiches from the Great War II: 1915-1919” We normally limit ourselves to reprinting stories, but we made an exception for this one. It is probably the weirdest Holmes parody ever: a silent film from 1916 starring leading man Douglas Fairbanks (1883-1939), co-written by Tod Browning (1880-1962), the future creator of the cult classic Freaks (1932), and Anita Loos (1889-1981), later to write Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. On top of that, it contains as much drug humor as a Cheech and Chong movie.

Coming out the same year as William Gillette’s Sherlock Holmes, The Mystery of the Leaping Fish stars Fairbanks as private detective Coke Ennyday, who investigates a dope-smuggling millionaire who wants to marry by force the beautiful girl who rents floats at the beach. Fairbanks downs drugs with abandon, wears outrageous disguises, dances like a fool, battles villainous Chinamen, and gets the girl, but not before she rescues herself. There’s even an epilogue that makes fun of the movie business. The recap below, with the title cards, gives just a hint of the strangeness. Fortunately, the movie is freely available online.

The Mystery of the Leaping Fish

Tod Browning and Anita Loos

silent sherlock parody
“Home of the world’s greatest scientific detective, Coke Ennyday.”

mystery of the leaping fish image“Coke Ennyday took no chances on admitting a visitor without consulting his scientific periscope.”

“You must consent to marry Fishy Joe within the week.”

“Have no fear. Coke Ennyday the scientific detective will protect you.”

“Japs on the leaping fish! Get the cans! At last a clue!”

“Smuggling! The secret is mine!”

“Coke Ennyday is on our trail!”


“In Chinatown, the laundry where the gang does its dirty works.”

“Girl, you are in my power.”

[Not for long—Editor]

[The end—Editor] “But not the end of this story …”

[Epilogue: Douglas Fairbanks reads to a studio boss the Leaping Fish script he wrote.—Editor]

“No, Douglas, you had better give up scenario writing and stick to acting.”

[The living end—Editor]