The Mystery of the Leaping Fish

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The Mystery of the Leaping Fish
The Mystery of the Leaping Fish.jpg
Reissue theatrical poster
Directed by
Screenplay by Anita Loos (intertitles)
Story by Tod Browning
Cinematography John W. Leezer
Distributed by Triangle Film Corporation
Release dates
  • June 11, 1916 (1916-06-11)
Running time
25 minutes
Country United States
  • Silent
  • English intertitles
The Mystery of the Leaping Fish

The Mystery of the Leaping Fish is a 1916 American short silent comedy film spoofing Craig Kennedy and Sherlock Holmes. The picture stars Douglas Fairbanks as Coke Ennyday, a detective with a massive drug habit who resorts to cocaine at every opportunity; he jigs through the film looking unnaturally happy. Directed by John Emerson, the story was written by Tod Browning, director of the notorious Freaks.[1] Anita Loos wrote the film's intertitles.[2]

A 35mm print of the film still exists in its entirety and is currently in the public domain.[3]


In this unusually broad comedy for Fairbanks, the acrobatic leading man plays "Coke Ennyday," a cocaine-shooting detective parody of Sherlock Holmes, given to injecting himself from a bandolier of syringes worn across his chest, and liberally helping himself to the contents of a hatbox-sized round container of white powder labeled "COCAINE" on his desk.[1]

Fairbanks's character otherwise lampoons Sherlock Holmes with checkered detective hat, clothes and even car, along with the aforementioned propensity for injecting cocaine whenever he feels momentarily down, then laughing with delight. A device used for observing visitors, which is referred to in the title cards as his "scientific periscope", bears a close resemblance to a modern closed-circuit television. What is apparently a clock face has "EATS, DRINKS, SLEEPS, and DOPE" instead of numbers.[4]

The film displays a lighthearted and comic attitude toward Coke Ennyday's use of cocaine and laudanum, while he catches a gang of drug smugglers, he does so after consuming most of their opium. One of the actresses appearing, Alma Rubens, later became addicted to morphine and died young.[5]


  • Douglas Fairbanks as Coke Ennyday
  • Bessie Love as The Little Fish Blower
  • Alma Rubens as His Female Accomplice
  • Allan Sears (billed as A.D. Sears) as Gent Rolling in Wealth
  • Charles Stevens as Japanese Accomplice
  • Tom Wilson as Police Chief I.M. Keene
  • George Hall as Japanese Accomplice (uncredited)
  • William Lowery as Gang Leader (uncredited)
  • Joe Murphy as Footman on Vehicle (uncredited)
  • B.F. Zeidman as Scenario Editor (uncredited)


Leaping Fish was released in 1916, a year before the Harrison Act was enacted. Narcotic prohibition was still a new concept in the United States, and the use of opiates and cocaine was much more socially acceptable than today. Furthermore, the censorious Hays Code would not be instituted for another 14 years after this film's release. With the introduction of the code, depictions of intravenous drug use were not shown in major motion pictures. During the era of the Hays Code, films that dealt with controversial topics such as drug use were morality plays that illustrate the degradation that surrounds the use of such drugs.[6]


Running a total of 25 minutes, the film was initially shot by Christy Cabanne who was later fired from the production.[7][8] John Emerson was hired and re-shot the film with the help of Tod Browning.[8]

When filming in Chinatown, the production was attacked by members of the community, because they had not requested to film in the neighborhood.[9]


The film was a departure for Fairbanks due to the subject matter and the fact that he generally appeared in feature films, not two-reelers. The Mystery of Leaping Fish was the second film Fairbanks did with director John Emerson, their first being His Picture in the Papers (released in February 1916) which was a hit.[10]

While The Mystery of Leaping Fish is now considered something of a cult film due its comic dealings of drug use,[11][12] Fairbanks hated the film and reportedly wanted to have it withdrawn from circulation.[8]

Musician and film director Rob Zombie has stated that he "really love[s]" The Mystery of the Leaping Fish.[13]

The Mystery of the Leaping Fish was featured in an episode of the documentary series Birth of Hollywood.[14]


  1. ^ a b Basinger, Jeanine (2000). Silent Stars. Wesleyan University Press. p. 108. ISBN 0-819-56451-6. 
  2. ^ Cherchi Usai, Paolo; Bowser, Eileen (2005). Cherchi Usai, Paolo, ed. The Griffith Project: Volume 9: Films Produced in 1916–1918. British Film Institute. p. 103. ISBN 1-844-57097-5. 
  3. ^ The Mystery of the Leaping Fish at
  4. ^ Boy, Susan C. Hooked: Drug War Films in Britain, Canada, and the United States. p. 34. 
  5. ^ Deflem, Mathieu, ed. (2010). Popular Culture, Crime and Social Control. Emerald Group Publishing. p. 7. ISBN 1-849-50733-3. 
  6. ^ Stevenson, Jack (2000). Addicted: The Myth and Menace of Drugs in Film. Creation Books. ISBN 1-84068-023-7. 
  7. ^ Soister, John T. (2012). American Silent Horror, Science Fiction and Fantasy Feature Films, 1913–1929. McFarland. p. 159. ISBN 0-786-48790-9. 
  8. ^ a b c Vance 2008, p. 36
  9. ^ Love, Bessie (1977). From Hollywood with Love: An Autobiography of Bessie Love. London: Elm Tree Books. pp. 59–60. OCLC 734075937. 
  10. ^ Eagan, Daniel (2010). America's Film Legacy: The Authoritative Guide to the Landmark Movies in the National Film Registry. Continuum International Publishing Group. p. 61. ISBN 0-826-42977-7. 
  11. ^ Vance 2008, p. 35
  12. ^ Lombardi, Frederic (2013). Allan Dwan and the Rise and Decline of the Hollywood Studios. McFarland. p. 63. ISBN 0-786-43485-6. 
  13. ^ Fortune, Doug (31 October 2013). "Rob Zombie on loving any and all silent movies". A.V. Club. Onion Inc. Retrieved 1 April 2013. There's another film that we screened that night that I really love called Mystery Of The Leaping Fish. Have you seen that one? [...] It's this really weird movie with Douglas Fairbanks. He plays this character, if you can believe this, called Coke Ennyday. He’s like a Sherlock Holmes-type character, but all he does is massive amounts of coke throughout the movie, and never solves a crime. 
  14. ^ "Episode 2". Birth of Hollywood. Season 1. Episode 2. 3 June 2011. BBC. BBC Two. Retrieved 1 April 2013. 
  • Vance, Jeffrey (2008). Cushman, Robert, ed. Douglas Fairbanks. University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-25667-0. 

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