Cinematic Firsts: The First Shared Cinematic Universe - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Cinematic Firsts: The First Shared Cinematic Universe

The game's afoot. Again.

Nowadays cinematic universes are all the rage, primarily thanks to Marvel's mastering of it with their 22 and counting superhero pictures. But Marvel didn't invent the cinematic universe, not by a long way. You could claim that when 20th Century Fox released Alien Vs. Predator in 2004 they created a shared cinematic universe between the two franchises. Before that, the 2003 crossover film Freddy vs. Jason linked A Nightmare On Elm Street and the Friday The 13th films into one shared universe. But way, way before that Universal Studios beat them all to it with their 1943 monster film was Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man.

However, even that Universal film doesn't hold the title of the first crossover. The honour goes to the 1910 German chapter play which linked two already established character into one filmed universe. Titled Arsène Lupin contra Sherlock Holmes, which translates as Arsène Lupin vs Sherlock Holmes, it is the first known crossover film to have ever been produced.

Obviously y'all know who Sherlock Holmes is? Sir Arthur Conan Doyles most famous creation has already been featured in our run of cinematic first articles, having appeared in the first detective film. Depending on location, though, you may not be so aware of Arsène Lupin.

The fictional gentleman thief and master of disguise, Arsène Lupin was created in 1905 by French writer Maurice Leblanc (he was originally called Arsène Lopin, until a local politician of the same name protested). The character was first introduced in a series of short stories serialised in the magazine Je sais tout. The first story, "The Arrest of Arsène Lupin", was published on 15th July 1905.

Leblanc introduced Sherlock Holmes to Lupin in the short story "Sherlock Holmes Arrives Too Late" in Je sais tout No. 17, 15th June 1906. In it, an aged Holmes meets a young Lupin for the first time. After legal objections from Doyle, the name was changed to "Herlock Sholmes" when the story was collected in book form in 1907. Sholmes returned in two more stories collected in 1908's "Arsène Lupin contre Herlock Sholmes". This second collection was published in the United States in 1910 under the title "The Blonde Lady" which used the name "Holmlock Shears" for Sherlock Holmes, and "Wilson" for Watson.

Which brings us to the chapter play. Released in five parts between 20th August 1910 and 4th March 2011, Holmes name was kept intact. Possibly because the director Viggo Larson was also the one portraying Sherlock Holmes on screen.

Co-starring Paul Otto as Arsene Lupin, all five parts are now believed to be lost. As detailed on the Silent Film List each chapter consisted of one reel of film.
  • 1. “Der Alte Sekretar” (The Old Secretary) also known as “Arsene Lupin,” released 20 August 1910 (1133 feet)
  • 2. “Der Blaue Diamant” (The Blue Diamond), released 17 September 1910 (1415 feet)
  • 3. “Die Falschen Rembrandts” (The Fake Rembrandts) also known as “The Two Rembrandts,” released 7 October 1910 (968 feet)
  • 4. “Die Flucht” (The Escape), released 24 December 1910 (1122 feet)
  • 5. “Arsene Lupins Ende” (The End of Arsene Lupin), released 4 March 1911 (880 feet). 
Holmes does not appear in the final chapter.

Years later the pair appeared on screen together again in a 1947 Mexican version of Leblanc's work...

More recently, long after copyright protection had expired, Sherlock Holmes, Watson and Lestrade confronted Arsène Lupin once again in the 2008 PC 3D adventure game Sherlock Holmes Versus Arsène Lupin. In this game Holmes (and occasionally others) are attempting to stop Lupin from stealing five valuable British items. Lupin wants to steal the items in order to humiliate Britain, but he also admires Holmes and thus challenges him to try to stop him.

Lupin was featured in 17 novels and 39 novellas by Leblanc, with the novellas or short stories collected into book form for a total of 24 books. He may not be as instantly recognisable in name as the master detective Sherlock Holmes, but the character of Arsène Lupin is 50% responsible for the first shared cinematic universe. And that's worth celebrating.

View all our Cinematic Firsts articles here.

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