January 8, 2008

Film preservation is a relatively recent development, spurred on during the past two decades in an effort to prevent the treasures of the cinema from disappearing. Unfortunately, the move for film preservation came too late for many productions. It is estimated that up to 90% of all films created during the years of the silent movies are lost, and scores of productions from the early years of sound films are either lost, missing large slices of footage or (in the case of early Technicolor endeavors) existing only in black-and-white as the color prints have disintegrated. The loss of films can be blamed on several factors: the unstable nature of nitrate film used for many years by filmmakers (nitrate is prone to premature disintegration and is highly flammable), the long-perceived lack of viability for older films (especially silent movies), and plain old-fashioned neglect and stupidity (which is not unique to the film industry).

Within the subculture of lost films, however, there are a handful of films which always gain attention: the complete and uncut version of Erich Von Stroheim's "Greed," the Lon Chaney vampire thriller "London After Midnight," the 1930 Laurel and Hardy color feature "The Rogue Song" and the risque 1933 comedy "Convention City" inevitably lead the wish lists. Here we present some of the most famous missing films. If you have ay to add send it along and we will add it to this list.

As we launch into a new year with anticipation of upcoming films, let’s pause to consider films that seem to have vanished, either by neglect or willful destruction. From the silent era through 1970s, an extraordinary number of important and intriguing movies have been lost, either never to return or to only turn up in fragments.

London After Midnight is a 1927 silent mystery film with horrific overtones. The film stars Lon Chaney, Marceline Day, Conrad Nagel, Henry B. Walthall, and Polly Moran and was directed by Tod Browning. It is also a lost film, quite possibly the most famous lost film ever. The last known copy was destroyed in a fire in an MGM film vault in 1965. Chaney's makeup for the film is noteworthy, for the sharpened teeth and the hypnotic eye effect he achieved with special wire fittings which he wore like monocles. Based on surviving accounts, he purposefully gave the "vampire" character an absurd quality, because it was the film's Scotland Yard detective character (also played by Chaney) in a disguise. Surviving stills show this was the only time Chaney used his famous makeup case as an onscreen prop.

The film was well-received at the box-office, grossing almost $500,000. It was the most successful collaborative film between Chaney and Browning. Unfortunately, it is now lost: no copies of the film are known to exist, although there has been an attempt at a reconstruction utilizing the script and publicity shots. Browning later remade the film, with some changes to the plot, as Mark of the Vampire (Lionel Barrymore plays the police inspector and Bela Lugosi portrays the vampire).

The film was used as a part of the defense for a man accused of murdering a woman in Hyde Park, London in 1928. He claimed Chaney's performance drove him temporarily insane, but his plea was rejected and he was convicted of the crime.

The last known print of the film was stored by MGM in Vault #7. In 1965, an electrical fire broke out in the vault that destroyed countless films from the silent era, including this last known print. However, rumors persist that one copy of the film may exist in a private collection in Canada and that the owner has declined to bring the print forward for preservation. Hopefully we may get to see it someday if this is true.

Naughty Dallas: The Jack Ruby Footage" (1964).
When Texas-based exploitation filmmaker Larry Buchanan wanted to shoot his stripper feature "Naughty Dallas" inside the Carousel Club in Dallas, he had one thing standing in his way: the strip joint's manager, Jack Ruby. It was not that Ruby didn't want the film made there, but rather he insisted that he have a role in the movie. Buchanan reluctantly shot footage of Ruby hamming it up in an impromptu drum session and then pretending to eject a few drunken good ol' boys.

Once the footage was shot, Buchanan tossed it away because he didn't want Ruby in his film. He came to rue that decision after Ruby's next foray in front of the cameras in November 1963. Some conspiracy theorists insist Lee Harvey Oswald was also in the lost Ruby footage, but Buchanan denied Oswald's presence in the club during the shoot.

"No, No Nanette" (1930).
This early talkie adaptation of the Broadway musical followed the adventures of a Bible salesman whose infatuation for a scatterbrained chorus girl leads him away from Christ's path to Broadway, where he winds up backing a show designed to make her a star. Bernice Claire and Alexander Gray play the leads, with comic support coming from old reliables including ZaSu Pitts, Louise Fazenda and Lucien Littlefield.

The film, which was partly shot in two-color Technicolor, is among the rather high number of early talkies that vanished due to neglect and poor preservation. Only parts of the soundtrack on Vitaphone discs survive.

"Raja Harishchandra" (1913).
The first Indian film to connect with audiences was made by Dhundiraj Govind Phalke, who is sort of the D.W. Griffth of India's cinema. Inspired by the Hollywood import "Life of Christ," the film offered a cinematic vision of Hindu gods and goddesses. The film also broke an Indian taboo with the first bathtub scene in Indian movie history, although it was something of a cheat: the females in their wet saris and blouses clinging to their bodies were actually played by men in female garments (Phalke was unable to get any actresses to do this scene)

Film preservation was not a concern in India until very recently, and the bulk of the nation's silent cinema output is gone. Only fragments remain of this early landmark.

"Uncle Tom's Fairy Tales" (1968).
Penelope Spheeris was supposed to make her directing debut in this savage satire of America's volatile race relations. The crux of the story concerned the fate of a white man who goes on trial raping a black woman. Richard Pryor, who was on a career upswing at the time through his stand-up comedy and occasional film appearances (including the popular "Wild in the Streets" from that year) was listed as the star, and most likely was meant to play the title role (most likely in a manner that Harriet Beecher Stowe could never imagine).

The Internet Movie Database gives this rather odd explanation on why this obscure project vanished: "At the time of the making of this film, Richard Pryor's wife complained that he was paying more attention to the film than he was to her, so he shredded the negative. No copies of the film are known to exist."

"What a Widow!" (1930).
The final collaboration between Gloria Swanson and her producer/lover Joseph P. Kennedy was this unsuccessful comedy about a young woman who suddenly becomes the center of romantic adventurers after she inherits $5 million when her rich old husband croaks.

This independent production was a commercial failure and the bad-blood between Swanson and Kennedy at the tail end of its production ensured that both parties wanted to forget about their celluloid union. With neither one keeping track of the film, the prints vanished. No copy has ever been located.

"The Audion" (1922).
This animated short film was produced by Western Electric and designed to offer a demonstration of sound-on-disc recording technology. The film itself was a demonstration of how a vacuum tube worked. The film's first screening at Woolsey Hall on the campus of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, was a success and it encouraged Western Electric to continue its development of sound films. Five years later, "The Jazz Singer" opened commercially and forever changed the way movies were made.

The film was an experimental project and was not meant for commercial release. After it served its purpose, it was either discarded or forgotten. Details on "The Audion" are scarce (special thanks to Scott Eyman's wonderful book "The Speed of Sound" for the information provided here).

"In Holland" (1929).
Fox Studios brought the Broadway comedy team of Bobby Clark and Paul McCullough to Hollywood to star in a series of early talkies. These films, which ranged from two to five reels, were a grab-bag of the team's classic stage routines mixed with various musical acts. Film history Aaron Neathery believes this film, which ran about 50 minutes, might have been among the team's best thanks in large part to the gifted comedy director Norman Taurog being at the helm. Yet aside from an amusing publicity still of the team in traditional Dutch costumes, nothing more is known of it.

Many early talkies were improperly preserved and either deteriorated or were thrown away. This was among the many that vanished.

"Life Without Soul" (1915).
The first film adaptation of Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein was made in 1910 by Thomas Edison and was considered lost for decades until an extant print turned up in a private collection. The second film version of the Shelley classic changed the title to "Life Without Soul," changed the name of the wacky doctor from Victor Frankenstein to William Frawley, and gave the story more running time (70 minutes, compared to Edison's compact 15 minutes version). The monster, played by Percy Darrell Standing, was called "the brute man" and was brought to the screen with relatively little makeup.

Despite fine reviews, this independent production only received a spotty release. The production company went out of business and the prints were not preserved.

"Man in the 5th Dimension" (1964).
During the 1964 World's Fair in New York, Billy Graham built a pavilion highlighting his ministry. Key to this pavilion was a film shot in the widescreen Todd-AO process which highlighted Graham's view on the world situation and how salvation could come about through the embrace of the Bible. The film was never shown theatrically, making it the only Todd-AO title designed strictly for non-theatrical presentations. After the fair closed, Graham's ministry sent 16mm prints out and released an LP of the film's soundtrack.

Since the film was never commercially released, there was no perceived value beyond its initial World's Fair screening. The original Todd-AO prints are believed to be lost; if anything exists, it would probably be a 16mm print.

"The Mystery of the Mary Celeste" (1936).
Bela Lugosi went to London to star in this creepy film, based on a true story, about a ship which is found in the ocean without any person on board. The film offered a broad theory on why the crew disappeared at sea, and of course Lugosi had a key role to play in the shenanigans. The film was not a commercial success in England, so for its American release this 90-minute film was cut by a half-hour and released as "Phantom Ship."

“The Great Gatsby” (1926).
The first film version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel was actually crafted from a Broadway adaptation written by Owen Davis. The film’s cast was certainly remarkable: future Oscar winner Warner Baxter as Gatsby, Neil Hamilton (Commissioner Gordon on TV’s “Batman”) as Carraway, Georgia Hale (the leading lady in Chaplin’s “The Gold Rush”) as Myrtle, William Powell as Wilson and silent star Lois Wilson as Daisy.

An estimated 90% of the films from the silent cinema are considered lost and this is among that sorry majority. Prof. James Ryan of the University of Nebraska (Lincoln) made a concentrated effort to locate any trace of the film, but all that was discovered was a one-minute trailer.

“Hats Off” (1927).
Laurel and Hardy deliver a bulky washing machine to a house at the top up a huge flight of stairs in this silent comedy. The premise of the film and its shooting location were used again five years later in “The Music Box,” the duo’s only Academy Award winning movie. But “Hats Off” may have been even funnier, particularly with the unlikely climax of Laurel and Hardy creating a street brawl where everyone’s headwear is wrecked.

That’s a good question, since no other Laurel and Hardy silent movie is missing. Other L&H silents that were presumed lost later turned up in European archives, so there is the chance this one might return someday.

“Him” (1974).
The title character of this gay porn flick is none other than the Man from Galilee, whose interest in hanging out with the all-male disciples is supposedly more than mere fraternalism. Parallel to this is a contemporary story of a young gay male who finds new spiritualism by plumbing the gayer aspects of the Gospels for his own notion of loving thy neighbor (particularly if he’s a good looking hunky neighbor).

The film would have probably been forgotten had it not been detailed in the 1980 book “The Golden Turkey Awards” by the Medved Brothers. Despite an Internet debate that insists the film never existed, poster art from the movie’s original New York run has turned up to verify it did exist. The film itself, however, is believed to be lost (how the Medveds learned of the film is not clear, though the idea of Michael Medved watching gay porno for "research" is mind-boggling).

“King Kong Appears in Edo” (1938).
Believed to be the first kaiju film, this feature followed the RKO classic except that it took place in old Tokyo rather than contemporary New York. The oversized simian was played by a man in an ape costume, which set the precedent for future kaiju hijinks. Since the King Kong character was used without the permission of its American copyright owners, it was not shown outside of Japan.

The film either disappeared due to negligent maintenance or it was destroyed in the Allied bombings of Japan during World War II.

"Peludópolis" (1931).
Six years before the premiere of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," Argentine animator Quirino Cristiani created this feature-length satire on contemporary politics in Argentina. The film was the first animated feature with sound; Cristiani was also responsible for the first animated silent feature, the 1917 "El Apostol." However, the film's heavily localized contents limited its distribution outside of Argentina.

All of Cristiani's films are lost. The only known prints of "Peludópolis" were destroyed in a fire in 1961

“Song of the West” (1930)
. This all-Technicolor musical, based on the Broadway hit “Rainbow” by Oscar Hammerstein II and Laurence Stallings, had the distinction of being the first all-color/all-talking feature to be filmed entirely outdoors. Set in 1849, the film stars John Boles as an Army Scout in Gold Rush California who falls in love with his former commander’s daughter, played by Vivienne Segal. Joe E. Brown is the comedy relief, though in some advertisements he is billed as the star.

As with “No, No Nanette,” the unstable nature of the early two-color Technicolor prints hastened speedy deterioration of prints. By the time anyone noticed, the film was already lost.

“The Story of the Kelly Gang” (1906).
The world’s first feature film was this 70 minute Australian production about the rise and fall of Ned Kelly and his fun bunch of Outback rebels. The film was actually banned in Australia a year after its release, under the notion it glorified crime, yet the producers circumvented the ban and kept the film in release for at least 20 years.

As with many silent films, improper maintenance helped speed the destruction of the non-sound cinema output. Roughly 10 minutes of this production survive and it is being restored by Australia’s National Film and Sound Archive.

“Take it Out in Trade” (1970).
The notorious Edward D. Wood Jr. hit career rock bottom in writing and directing this X-rated romp about a couple who hire a detective to find their missing daughter. He finds her: in a whorehouse. Wood has a supporting role in drag (his character’s name is Alecia) and the film is somewhat noteworthy for having a gay couple amidst the hetero couplings.

Not unlike many porno films, “Take it Out in Trade” was a throwaway effort that literally got thrown away – Wood’s fame was posthumous, so no one connected with the production realized it would possess future value. No footage of the film exists, although silent outtakes were located and packaged into a video release exploiting Wood’s unlikely notoriety.

“The Werewolf” (1913).
The first known movie dealing with human-into-wolf transformations – and it involved a she-wolf, no less! A Navajo witch passes her black magic onto her daughter, who gets wolfish to scare off nasty white settlers (Kill Whitey!).

The last known print of the film was destroyed in a fire in 1924. No materials or stills exist, so we have no clue how good, bad or indifferent it might have been.

“Zudora” (1914).
This 20-chapter serial follows the adventures of a young girl who lives with her uncle. She’s unaware that she’s heiress to a fortune, but her uncle will not allow her to gain her funds or marry the man she loves unless she solves a series of 20 mysteries. Marguerite Snow, a star of the early silent movies, played the plucky Zudora.

The film was edited from 20 chapters to 10 for a re-release in 1919. Somewhere during the editing process, the jettisoned chapters were discarded. The 1919 version is also lost, and all that remains are Chapters 1, 2 and 8.

The glorious Nile monarch has been depicted in films by Claudette Colbert, Vivien Leigh and Elizabeth Taylor, but the most outrageously glamorous depiction must have been given by silent screen femme fatale Theda Bara. The first Hollywood-manufactured sex goddess, Theda Bara was at the peak of her popularity when she starred in this extravagant (a $500,000 budget) production which relied heavily on Shakespeare's "Antony and Cleopatra" for the dialogue in its intertitles. However, audiences did not flock to see "Cleopatra" for Shakespeare...they wanted to see what Theda Bara was wearing, or actually what she wasn't wearing. The diva enjoyed 50 costume changes, each which showed off her luscious anatomy with a liberality that was shocking for its time. "Cleopatra" was one of the highest grossing films of its time, bringing in over $1 million at a time when movie admissions averaged around five cents.

The surviving prints of "Cleopatra" were stored at the Fox Studio vaults in Hollywood and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. As luck would have, fires at both location destroyed the prints. All that survives of "Cleopatra" is 45 seconds of footage. A movement is currently underway to recover all known stills of the film in the hopes of reconstructing the production.

EL APĂ“STOL (1917)
Contrary to popular belief, Disney's "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" was not the first animated feature. Twenty years prior to the 1937 debut of "Snow White," audiences in Argentina enjoyed a 70-minute animated feature called "El ApĂłstol" ("The Apostle") from Italian-born filmmaker Quirino Cristiani. "El ApĂłstol" used cut-out figures to present a whimsical satire of the presidency of Hipolito Irigoyen, who at one point in the film ascends to the heavens where Jupiter lends him thunderbolts to be thrown at Buenos Aires, which clear the corrupt city with redemptive flames. The animation in "El ApĂłstol" used cut-out figures and reportedly consisted of 58,000 drawings. While the film was a huge commercial success in Argentina, its narrow domestic focus canceled any opportunity for international release and thus it remained unknown for many years.

All known copies of "El ApĂłstol" were destroyed in a fire in 1926; only a few character sketches survive. Quirino Cristiani made a few more animated features including the 1931 talkie "Peludopolis," but tragically all of his films have been lost.

Few film stars had a more meteoric rise and equally swift fall as Harry Langdon, the silent era funnyman who enjoyed a brief period of critical and audience popularity before being abruptly dismissed as a third-rate Chaplin. Part of the problem for Langdon was breaking with the creative team who established his stardom (including a young Frank Capra ) his insistence on directing himself in films that mined Chaplinesque pathos. Langdon was ill-suited for pathos and his surviving attempts at self-direction are notable failures. But the last film which he directed, "Heart Trouble," may have shown that he actually had the capacity to create his own works. Going back to his slapstick roots, "Heart Trouble" finds Langdon as a patriot who is rejected for Army service in World War I. However, this misfit eventually finds the heroism he desperately sought by infiltrating a den of spies and single-handedly capturing them.

By the time "Heart Trouble" was ready for release, Langdon's star had waned beyond saving and audiences were ignoring silent films in favor of talkies. Langdon's film was barely released by his studio, First National, and it vanished almost immediately following its brief time on the screen. In recent years, Langdon's reputation has been salvaged and his films have found new appreciation. If "Heart Trouble" survived, his standing as an icon of screen comedy may have been confirmed beyond debate.

One of the great Hollywood tragedies of the early 1920s was the death of virile leading man Wallace Reid in a sanitarium where he was attempting a withdrawal from morphine addiction. Reid's widow, actress Dorothy Davenport, sought to avenge her husband's painful demise by openly addressing the then-taboo subject of drug addiction in a film. Working with top producer Thomas H. Ince and relying on the expertise of the Los Angeles Anti-Narcotics League, Davenport (who then billed herself as "Mrs. Wallace Reid") starred in "Human Wreckage," a harrowing drama of the destructive effects of drug addiction on a tight family. The film's bold and focused depiction of drug addiction was widely supported by audiences, critics and even politicians (although its distributor may have gone a bit overboard in declaring it "The Greatest Production in the History of Motion Pictures").

Despite its thunderous reception, "Human Wreckage" did not embolden filmmakers to tackle other taboo subjects. As the memory of Wallace Reid diminished, the film's importance receded over time. By the time it was recalled, all prints were already lost.

At the start of the Roaring Twenties, the Marx Brothers were among the popular acts in vaudeville... but they were still a few years away from their breakthrough stardom on Broadway and then Hollywood. The ambitious siblings tried to rush their success by financing a two-reel comedy called "Humor Risk" (the title was a spoof of the then-popular drama "Humoresque"). Details on the film are few and far between, but it is known that the film was written by Jo Swerling (who later created "Guys and Dolls") and it featured the brothers working separately rather than as a team. Harpo played a good-guy detective in pursuit of a villainous Groucho, with Chico in his Italian character (the effect was most likely lost in this silent production) and Zeppo as either a playboy or a nightclub owner. A cabaret setting allowed for the inclusion of a dance number. Groucho later claimed the film was never completed or released, though evidence has surfaced to show "Humor Risk" had at least one screening (at a kiddie matinee in the Bronx, NY).

Reportedly, the film's sole screening was a disaster and the Marx Brothers may have destroyed the print. A second print may have been made, but this cannot be confirmed, and the film's negative was supposedly left in a projection room and never reclaimed. Groucho stated the film was terrible, but he was also quoted as offering $50,000 for the recovery of a print.

This British production was reportedly a "quiz film" in which scenes from a number of Bela Lugosi scenes were shown and audience members were encouraged to audibly identify their source. This would be no mean feat, as "Lock Up Your Daughters" consisted of the more obscure B-level ventures that Lugosi made in the 1940s at the Monogram Studios. Lugosi supposedly appeared in new footage as a host of the film, which operated under the plotline of the one-time Dracula as a mad scientist conducting oddball experiments on luscious young starlets.

It is not clear whether "Lock Up Your Daughters" is lost or just nonexistent. Beyond a review in the British film trade journal Kinematograph Weekly and the recollection of several British film veterans, there is no record of the film ever being released and no materials on the film have ever been located. Several Lugosi biographers point out there is no record that Lugosi ever shot the new footage which placed him as the host of the film (he was last in Great Britain in 1951 and the film was reportedly released in 1959, three years after his death). A true phantom film, "Lock Up Your Daughters" continues to prove elusive.

In casting the screen adaptation of the Broadway musical landmark "Oklahoma!", director Fred Zinnemann spotted a young unknown actor in a live TV drama and invited him to come in for a screen test to be held at New York's posh Sherry-Netherland Hotel. The actor was James Dean, who arrived for the screen test dressed like a cowboy...and was promptly expelled from the hotel, which mistook him for a derelict wrangler! Dean eventually got into the hotel and his audition consisted on the "Poor Jud is Dead" number, in which he played the lead Curly who tried to convince the villainous Jud to commit suicide. Rod Steiger, who was already cast as Jud, played opposite Dean. According to Zinnemann, Dean's screen presence was extraordinary and he captured the subtle nuances of the tricky scene with remarkable skills. Unfortunately, Dean's singing voice was not up to the requirements of the role and the part went to Gordon MacRć, who was already an established star of film musicals. Dean did not regret the loss of the role, as he was soon signed by Warner Bros. to star in Elia Kazan's "East of Eden."

Whereas the Hollywood studios had vast vaults to store screen tests, "Oklahoma!" was an independent production and there was no space to store footage which would not be required. Zinnemann later commented he had no knowledge where the James Dean footage went; nearly a half-century later, it is still missing.

The producers of the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis invited ragtime composer Scott Joplin to perform. This was a fairly unprecedented achievement for an African-American at a time when severe segregation was the law of the land. At the fair, Joplin was reportedly approached by Eugene Lauste, an engineer who constructed an early sound-on-film recording device, with the request that Joplin play a number that would be captured on Lauste's sound film and recording horn (the forerunner of the microphone). It is not known what Joplin played (most likely it was "Cascades," which he wrote for the fair).

The early experiments in sound films were nearly all failures. Lauste's technology was able to capture sound recording, but the amplification during the screening were rarely successful. It is most likely that the Joplin footage was acoustically unsatisfactory; there is no record of its being exhibited and, like most of the early sound film experiments, it was discarded. As far as anyone can determine, this was the only time Joplin was ever photographed for a motion picture.

Three years before the debut of "Citizen Kane," Orson Welles tried his hand at filmmaking with a silent romp designed to provide a cinematic bridge into his theatrical presentation of the comedy "Too Much Johnson." Welles took his Mercury Theater cast and crew to the Bronx and shot his footage on the streets, much to the surprise of the local residents. In the show, Joseph Cotten plays a ne'er-do-well whose dalliances with married women creates considerable dilemmas. The film footage was a wild chase, as Welles directed Cotten and his co-stars in the manner of a Mack Sennett comedy: mad dashes down the streets, up and down fire escapes and across rooftops. The film footage for "Too Much Johnson" ran between 20 and 30 minutes and was only shown during the show's theatrical engagement. After the show closed, it was never seen again.

The print and negative for "Too Much Johnson" were destroyed in a 1971 fire at Welles' home in Spain. All that remains are a handful of photographs taken on the Bronx location during the shoot.

This film has the dubious distinction of being the only lost film to boast an Academy Award-winning performance. Emil Jannings won the first Best Actor for his performances in this film and for "The Last Command" (which still survives). "The Way of All Flesh" features the German actor as a bank clerk who is robbed of a parcel of bonds he was assigned to deliver via train from Milwaukee to Chicago. He kills one of the robbers and, fearing the shame his actions would bring to his beloved family, switches identities with the dead man. Forever cut away from his life and beloved family, he drifts into destitution and becomes a beggar. Over the years, his son grows up to be a world famous concert violinist...but the poor man can only glimpse his family through the window of the house which he once owned.

A remarkably high number of films produced in the tail end of the silent era (1927-29) are lost, discarded or forgotten as the Hollywood studios hurried to accommodate the new sound film technology. Although Jannings' performance won an Oscar, his Hollywood career ended with talking pictures and he returned to Germany and later starred in films produced by the Nazi government. "The Way of All Flesh" was later remade in 1940 and that new version, combined with the lack of commercial viability for the silent original plus the star's Nazi connection, made its preservation a non-priority. All that remains of the 1927 film is five minutes of footage.

In this British production, the operetta kings return to Earth to protest the jazz adaptations of their beloved compositions. Among the indignities which the ghostly visitors protest are the updated versions of their classic songs ("I am the very model of a Freudian Psychiatrist" and "They call her Poor Butter-Up" are cited). The film was reportedly shot in only two days in a theater using painted sets. American jazzman/actor Scatman Crothers is supposedly in the film, although most cast listings for this production do not cite him.

This film has been something of a mystery to Gilbert and Sullivan fanatics. Its running time has been stated as anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes. Lippert Pictures was supposedly the U.S. distributor, but no record exists that Lippert ever acquired the film. There isn't even evidence that American audiences saw the movie. The film was also credited as winning an award at Cannes, although there is no historical evidence that it was even shown at Cannes. No print is known to exist either in the U.S. or the U.K.

In 1953, Phil Tucker created "Robot Monster," a tale of lunar invaders who looked like gorillas wearing diving helmets. The film was immediately hailed as one of the worst of all time and Tucker would later attempt suicide after the film's disastrous release. He managed to regain his health and went on a winning streak that included "Dance Hall Racket" (1954) with Lenny Bruce in his only starring feature; "Broadway Jungle" (1955), an obscure gangster drama starring Eddie Constantine and Diana Dors; and "Cape Canaveral Monsters" (1960), with another wave of extraterrestrials seeking universal domination. Somewhere during this time he made a film called "Space Jockey." Tucker recalled the film to the Medved Brothers in their 1979 book The Golden Turkey Awards, dubbing it a "piece of shit" and adding that the film is lost. No details on the film can be located anywhere else beyond this interview.

The most likely theory is that "Space Jockey" was not finished. There is no record of any public exhibition and prints of the film have yet to surface. There is also the possibility that the film never existed, although calling Tucker a liar would seem unfair.

One of Woody Allen's least successful films, "September" was doomed from the start. His intention was to shoot the movie at Mia Farrow's Connecticut home, but production delays robbed him of using the gorgeous New England foliage as a backdrop for his Cheeverish tale of WASP angst; the film was shot in a New York soundstage, upping the budget considerably. Casting Christopher Walken in a key role also created problems - Allen was unhappy with his performance and replaced him with Sam Shepard. Yet the finished film proved so unsatisfactory that Allen shot the entire movie again. Three stars of the original cast (Shepard, Charles Durning and Maureen O'Sullivan, Mia Farrow's real-life mother) were replaced by Sam Waterston, Denholm Elliott and Elaine Stritch). The second version was theatrically released to some of the worst reviews and lowest box office that Allen ever received. The first version has never surfaced.

Although Allen would later express fondness for "September", he clearly was stung by his inability to get the film to fit his vision. The original version most likely survives in his possession, but has never been publicly shown and will probably never see the light of a projector.

This early example of mixing live action and movies was created for the Broadway revue "The Ziegfeld Follies of 1915." Comedian Ed Wynn dressed like a movie director and stood in the center aisle of the theater while a movie of his fellow castmates played on a screen. Wynn, in his trademark high-pitch cackling voice, would then "direct" the action on the screen to full comic effect. A surviving press clipping of this film found Wynn's castmate W.C. Fields walking on screen carrying cigar boxes. Wynn would shriek out Fields' name, causing the funnyman to fumble his cigar boxes and look at the camera. Wynn would berate Fields for coming on too soon, causing the on-screen Fields to grimace, gather his belongings and hurry off-screen.

This short film was designed solely for "The Ziegfeld Follies of 1915" and was never meant to be shown widely. After the show closed, it most likely was thrown away.

This single sequence cost $80,000 to produce and five weeks to shoot. Dorothy and her pals are attacked by the Jitterbugs sent by the Wicked Witch. The Jitterbugs were reportedly pink and blue mosquitoes that gave one "the jitters" as they zoomed around in the air (the Yellow Brick Roadsters did not dance the jitterbug).

MGM axed the sequence when "The Wizard of Oz" ran too long. The film kept a reference to the insects when the Wicked Witch was dispatching the Flying Monkeys, but without the musical number the reference seems unusually cryptic. The sequence was discarded, although 16mm color home movies showing the production survived and a recording of "The Jitterbug" song was preserved by MGM. Recent touring stage productions of "The Wizard of Oz" have put the song and the sequence back into the story.

Pioneering African-American film director/producer/distributor Oscar Micheaux created a staggering output of all-black films designed for release in the segregated theaters of Jim Crow America. Late in his career, Micheaux finally received the opportunity to present a film in a mainstream (read: overwhelmingly white) New York theater. Micheaux offered "The Betrayal," based on his self-published novel The Wind from Nowhere. "The Betrayal" told the story of a forbidden interracial love between a wealthy black farmer and a white woman in the wilds of South Dakota (Micheaux's home state). The miscegenation issue was resolved when it is revealed the woman is actually a light-skinned African-American passing for white.

"The Betrayal" reportedly ran three hours, and the critics who reviewed the film panned it for being a rickety, badly-made movie. Black audiences were equally unimpressed. Micheaux made no further films and died three years later; "The Betrayal" was forgotten and prints were never retrieved by the Micheaux estate. No copy of the film is known to exist.

Following a disastrous sojourn to North America in the early 1930s which resulted in a fruitless stay in Hollywood and the aborted "Que Viva Mexico" in Mexico, Sergei Eisenstein returned to the Soviet Union to begin work on what was supposed to be his first talkie. "Bezhin Meadow" was based on a story by Isaac Babel about an 11-year-old boy who escapes his psychotic father and becomes a "Young Pioneer" leader who helps his village defeat an attack on a harvest by anti-Bolshevik saboteurs. Production stretched two years and cost one million rubles (no small fee for Stalinist-era cinema) before the Kremlin shut down the film. Eisenstein was accused of misusing "creative opportunity," although the rebuke was relatively short-lived as he later commenced production on his 1938 masterpiece "Alexander Nevsky."

Reportedly, the sole surviving "Bezhin Meadow" print (a workprint, according to some sources) was destroyed in a World War II bombing raid. More likely, the Soviet authorities intentionally destroyed the film. In 1968, Eisenstein's widow pieced together a half-hour film using outtakes and stills from "Bezhin Meadow." Unless a print is unearthed in the depths of Russia's film archives, this is all that currently remains of the film.

This adaptation of the Mark Twain classic stars Harry Myers, who is best known as the drunken millionaire who befriends Charlie Chaplin in "City Lights." Myers was a comedy star of the silent era and this was among his most expensive and successful films. In the film, Myers is reading the Twain text and then falls asleep, going back in time to Camelot. He remakes Merry Olde England to resemble America of the 1920s, complete with hip flasks and motorcycles.

Only three of the film's eight reels are known to survive. Fox Film Corporation remade "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" as a talkie with Will Rogers in 1933. Since the Myers version was not considered to be commercially viable after the end of the silent movie era, and since Myers' star waned considerably after sound came to film, nobody bothered to ensure the 1921 film survived intact.


This Keystone comedy is the only Charlie Chaplin film which is believed to be lost. Chaplin co-starred and co-directed with Mabel Normand, and it is known that he hated sharing behind-the-camera responsibility with the slapstick comedienne. Details on this 16-minute film are hard to come by; its working title was "The Italian," which may suggest the film indulged in anti-Italian stereotypes that were common in movies of that distant era. The film was also released in Europe as "Mabel's Flirtation" (Normand was the bigger star at the time) and "A Thief Catcher."

The Keystone studio churned out tons of films on a monthly basis - this was one of 35 films that Chaplin made in 1914 - and it is not surprising that many of the films vanished due to negligent care and inventory supervision. The fact the film is lost is a surprise, given that Chaplin's silent films were always immensely popular and were still playing theatrically well into the 1950s (when Chaplin's personal popularity was ruined by the McCarthy-era Red baiting).

The W.W. Jacobs short story was expanded into an hour-long RKO film about a family that learns the lesson of being careful for what it wishes for. When a father is given the possession of a talisman made from the severed hand of a monkey, his wishes for wealth come at the expense of his family's unity and happiness. Unlike the Jacobs tale, the film version is given a weirdly happy ending in which the chaos and misery is explained away as being a bad dream.

Contrary to popular belief, many films of the early sound era are either completely lost or survive in fragments due to the lack of preservation and the unstable nature of the nitrate prints used for creating these movies. "The Monkey's Paw" is believed to exist only in fragments. A complete print was reportedly housed at the UCLA archives, but if that is true it has yet to make itself known.

“Arirang” (1926).
One of Korea’s earliest motion pictures was directed by Na Un'gyu, who stars as a student who loses his sanity during his imprisonment by the Japanese colonial occupation police. Upon his release, he returns to his native village and later defends his sister against a sexual assault by a Korean who serves as a collaborator with the Japanese forces. The film was noteworthy for its bold and brave stand against Japan’s occupation of Korea, and its success inspired the production of two sequels. “Arirang” has also been remade on three separate occasions.

“Arirang” and the majority of Korean silent films were destroyed during the bombing raids in the Korean War. A surviving print was rumored to be in the possession of a Japanese film collector, but to date no evidence has emerged to confirm that claim.

“Black Love” (1972).
Herschell Gordon Lewis made his mark on cinema with the 1963 “Blood Feast” and then spent most of the 1960s churning out gory, violent splatter films. By 1972, having exhausted the genre, he turned to a pair of different subjects, blaxploitation and soft-core sex, and helmed this feature, his only work with an all-black cast. Even though both genres were at their commercial peak, “Black Love” never (pardon the pun) rose to the occasion. It is not even clear if the film was completed or released – all that is confirmed about the film was that it was filmed in Chicago and that Lewis used the pseudonym R.L. Smith for the directing credits.

“Black Love” is one of three Lewis movies believed to be missing, along with the 1969 titles “Ecstasies of Women” and “Linda and Abilene.” Why these films vanished is unknown. A fourth Lewis film that was considered lost, “Year of the Yahoo!” (1972), was located years later, so there is the hope “Black Love” may eventually surface.

“Brother Martin” (1942).
Also known as “Brother Martin: Servant of Jesus,” this all-black drama was written and directed by Spencer Williams, an African-American filmmaker who helmed a series of features shot in Dallas and released in the nation’s segregated theaters during the 1940s. “Brother Martin” was designed to tap into the success that Williams experienced in his first film, the 1941 “Blood of Jesus,” by mixing a melodramatic test of faith into a story that extolled Baptist principles.

Sack Amusements, the company that financed and released this film, went out of business in the late 1940s and no one stepped forward to preserve and protect its titles. Without anyone to preserve and protect it, “Brother Martin” completely vanished, leaving only an elaborate poster to herald its brief life on celluloid.

“Drakula halála” (“The Death of Dracula”) (1923).
This Hungarian silent film stars Paul Askenas as a mental asylum inmate who claims to be the celebrated vampire. The film does not appear to have been released outside of Hungary, which is not surprising considering it uses the name (but not the plot) of Bram Stoker’s novel – and as every horror fan knows, the first vampire flick “Nosferatu” (1922) used the plot (but not the name) of the Stoker book, resulting in a damaging lawsuit that put the film’s production company out of business. Some sources claim the Hungarian film was actually made before “Nosferatu,” but most film scholars place its production after the German classic.

Most of Hungary’s silent cinema output is lost. All that remains of this film is a bizarre portrait of Askenas in his vampire make-up.

“The Gulf Between” (1917).
Noteworthy as both the first Technicolor production and the first feature-length American color movie, this Florida-based production told the story of a sea captain’s daughter whose heart is broken when she is rejected by the family of a wealthy young man who is in love with her. The early Technicolor technology was cumbersome, requiring two adjacent frames of a single strip of black and white film that were photographed simultaneously – one behind a red filter and the other behind a green filter – and screened simultaneously on a specially designed doubled-lens projector.

“The Gulf Between” only had a handful of public screenings, owing to problems in the projection process, which required a special prism to balance the red and blue color images on the screen. Realizing the problems in commercial viability of this system, Technicolor scrapped the process of filming and projecting color movies and moved on to other strategies. In doing so, they also scrapped “The Gulf Between.” Only a few original frames from the original Technicolor print survive.

“Hello Pop!” (1933).
This MGM Technicolor short featured reigning vaudeville comedian Ted Healy and his supporting ensemble of Bonnie Bonnell and the trio of Howard, Fine and Howard. If the last three names look familiar, that’s because they were Moe, Larry and Curly before they broke from Healy and became the Three Stooges. Details on “Hello Pop!” are skimpy, although it is known to have featured an Irving Berlin tune "I'm Sailing on a Sunbeam," and trade reviews from the era describe the slapstick trio wrecking a stage revue while dressed as children.

The old two-color Technicolor process was highly unstable, and many prints from these early color films have deteriorated beyond repair. While the Stooges’ films with Healy were vastly inferior to the classic shorts they created under their own star power, the loss of this early effort is truly an eye-poke to the cause of film preservation.

“Help!” – The Drama School Scene (1965).
It is inconceivable that anyone would allow footage of the Beatles to vanish, but an entire sequence from their second feature film has disappeared. This part of “Help!” finds the Beatles at the Sam Ahab School of Transcendental Elocution, a dubious acting school. Sam Ahab, played by veteran British comic actor Frankie Howerd, goes through a labored effort to teach thespian arts to the Fab Four, who are more interested in Sam’s comely (and only) student, played by Wendy Richard. The visit is interrupted by the noisy arrival of a devious cult trying to gain possession of a jeweled ring in the possession of the clueless Ringo – the Beatles escape, but not without creating a mess.

The Beatles and Frankie Howerd reportedly did not get along, creating a visible rift that threw the sequence off-balance. As “Help!” began to run too long, the sequence was the easiest part of the film to get cut. The footage was apparently discarded; all that remains are production stills from the ill-fated shoot.

“Kismet” (1930).
Warner Bros. did not cut corners in this very expensive ($600,000) early talkie adaptation of the Edward Knoblock chestnut about love and deception in old Baghdad (back when Baghdad symbolized exotica and not military occupations). Broadway legend Otis Skinner, who starred in a 1920 silent version of this title, reprised his role as the wily Hajj for his first (and only) sound film. The studio provided the lovely young up-and-coming actress Loretta Young with the female lead role, which helped boost interest in her career. Technicolor sequences were also included to play up the film’s exotic settings. Even more remarkable was the decision to shoot “Kismet” in Vitascope, an experimental widescreen process that used 65mm film; this version played in prestige roadshow exhibitions.

Although tame by today’s standards, “Kismet” was considered racy for its time and it could not be re-released after the censorship restrictions of the Production Code were enforced in 1934. With no reissue value, “Kismet” was probably ordered destroyed (a fate that befell many early talkies from Warner Bros. that could not be re-released). All that remains of the film is the soundtrack, which was preserved on Vitaphone disks.

“Taxi Driver” – The original climactic shootout (1976).
You talkin’ to me? Yeah, I’m talkin' to you – about the original bloody shoot-out between Robert DeNiro and Harvey Keitel at the end of Martin Scorsese’s landmark. As initially conceived and filmed, the shoot-out was an explosion of brightly hued blood and dramatic cinematography. However, the pesky MPAA was unamused and threatened Scorsese with an X rating for the gore and violence. Scorsese went back to the print and desaturated its colors, which muted the crimson hues from the scene’s bullet exchange. The film snagged an R rating thanks to this tinkering and went on to become a hit, but the footage from the original full-color climax was never seen again.

Scorsese was quoted as saying he preferred the muted colors of the climax to what he originally shot, which may explain why the original print was thrown away. Thirty years later, no copy of the original scene has emerged.

“A Woman of the Sea” (1926).
Noteworthy as the only film that Charlie Chaplin produced without serving as either director or star, this Josef von Sternberg effort was Chaplin’s final attempt to launch a solo dramatic career for Edna Purviance, the co-star of classic comedy shorts. This melodrama of two sisters in love never seemed to click during its overlong production, and the finished film proved so unsatisfactory that Chaplin refused to allow its release. Outside of private viewing to a few of Chaplin’s associates, “A Woman of the Sea” was never shown to the public.

According to an often-repeated story, Chaplin burned the negative and all known materials relating to the film in 1933 to avoid a hefty tax bill from the Internal Revenue Service, but the logic behind that seems hazy since that silent film never earned him a cent and possessed no commercial value at that point in time. Another story insists a print survived as late as 1991, when Chaplin’s widow Oona O’Neill Chaplin ordered its destruction – but, again, that makes no sense because the film would have easily enjoyed belated value as a rediscovered lost film. Most likely, Chaplin was angry at the mediocre movie and simply destroyed it out of embarrassment.

Earlier this summer, film historians poking around in a Russian archive discovered a long-lost German-language movie starring Laurel and Hardy. This film was made in Hollywood, with the comedy duo speaking phonetic German (sincerely but badly, according to press reports), and the production was meant to be seen in Germany (this was from the primitive days before dubbing, when 1930s Hollywood shot multiple language versions of their films for release around the world).

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