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 date(s)
  • 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 starring Douglas Fairbanks and Bessie Love. The film was directed by John Emerson, and is based on a story written by Tod Browning.[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 (a self-injecting cocaine addict in Arthur Conan Doyle's 1890 novel The Sign of Four) given to injecting himself with cocaine 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 otherwise lampoons Sherlock Holmes with checkered detective hat, coat, and even car, along with the aforementioned propensity for injecting cocaine whenever he feels momentarily down, then laughing with delight. In addition to observing visitors at his door on what appears to be a closed-circuit television referred to in the title cards as his "scientific periscope," a clock-like sign on the wall reminds him to choose between "EATS, DRINKS, SLEEPS, and DOPE".

The film displays a lighthearted and comic attitude toward Coke Ennyday's use of cocaine and laudanum (a tincture of opium), but condemns the act of smuggling opium which is done by Asian gang members in the film.[4]


  • Douglas Fairbanks ... Coke Ennyday
  • Bessie Love ... The Little Fish Blower
  • Alma Rubens ... His Female Accomplice
  • Allan Sears ... Gent Rolling in Wealth (billed as A.D. Sears)
  • Charles Stevens ... Japanese Accomplice
  • Tom Wilson ... Police Chief I.M. Keene
  • George Hall ... Japanese Accomplice (uncredited)
  • William Lowery ... Gang leader (uncredited)
  • Joe Murphy ... Footman on vehicle (uncredited)
  • B.F. Zeidman ... 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 Hayes 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 was not shown in a major motion picture. During the era of the Hayes 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.[5]


Running a total of 25 minutes, the film was initially shot by Christy Cabanne who was later fired from the production.[6][7] John Emerson was hired and re-shot the film with the help of Tod Browning.[7]


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.[8]

While The Mystery of Leaping Fish is now considered something of a cult film due its comic dealings of drug use,[9][10] Fairbanks hated the film and reportedly wanted to have it withdrawn from circulation.[7]

Musician and film director Rob Zombie has stated that he "really love[s]" The Mystery of the Leaping Fish.[11]

The Mystery of the Leaping Fish was featured in an episode of the documentary series Birth of Hollywood.[12]


  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. ^ Deflem, Mathieu, ed. (2010). Popular Culture, Crime and Social Control. Emerald Group Publishing. p. 7. ISBN 1-849-50733-3. 
  5. ^ Stevenson, Jack (2000). Addicted: The Myth and Menace of Drugs in Film. Creation Books. ISBN 1-84068-023-7. 
  6. ^ Soister, John T. (2012). American Silent Horror, Science Fiction and Fantasy Feature Films, 1913-1929. McFarland. p. 159. ISBN 0-786-48790-9. 
  7. ^ a b c Vance, Jeffrey (2008). Cushman, Robert, ed. Douglas Fairbanks. University of California Press. p. 36. ISBN 0-520-25667-0. 
  8. ^ 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. 
  9. ^ Vance 2008 p.35
  10. ^ Lombardi, Frederic (2013). Allan Dwan and the Rise and Decline of the Hollywood Studios. McFarland. p. 63. ISBN 0-786-43485-6. 
  11. ^ 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." 
  12. ^ "Episode 2". Birth of Hollywood. Season 1. Episode 2. 3 June 2011. BBC. BBC Two. Retrieved 1 April 2013.

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