Gloria Swanson

Sadie Thompson (1928)

When prostitute Sadie Thompson (Gloria Swanson) arrives on the island of Tutuila, she expects to only be making a brief stopover before going on to Apia.  But then her boat needs to be quarantined for ten days and she waits the time out by staying in a hotel along with religious zealot Alfred Davidson (Lionel Barrymore).  Sadie quickly makes friends with a number of soldiers in the area, including Tim O’Hara (Raoul Walsh), who is in love with her and wants her to go to Australia and settle down with him after his orders are up.

Davidson gets to work imposing his moral views on the island’s natives and particularly on Sadie, who he recognizes from her days as a prostitute in San Francisco.  Sadie absolutely despises Davidson and refuses to give into his demands to repent.  But then Davidson finds out that if she goes back to San Francisco, she will be arrested, so he goes to the governor to have him force her back to San Francisco.  He tells her that the only way to fully repent her sins is to server her sentence and then go straight.

Sadie’s spirit has finally been broken and she begins to repent the way Davidson wants her to.  She spends three straight days praying and decides to take on a more modest life.  When Tim comes to see her, he’s shocked to find the vivacious Sadie now a shell of her former self.  He does his best to get her away from Davidson, but she insists on staying.  However, Davidson, a married man, is beginning to have impure thoughts about Sadie.  He has no idea how to cope with the idea that even he can’t live up to his moral expectations so he drowns himself, leaving Sadie to make plans to leave for Australia with Tim.

Sadie Thompson was the last movie triumph for Gloria Swanson until she made Sunset Boulevard twenty-two years later.  Not only was Swanson the star, she was also its producer.  She had signed with United Artists the year before and made her first film for them, The Love of Sunya, which she wasn’t entirely happy with.  For her next film, she wanted to do something that was both cutting edge and a surefire hit.  So she met with director Raoul Walsh and they came up with the idea of doing a film version of the play “Rain.”

At the time, “Rain” was thought to be completely un-filmable.  It may have been a hit on Broadway, but with its subject matter, Will Hays would never allow it to be turned into a movie.  Not only that, a number of prominent producers in Hollywood had all agreed that they wouldn’t try to make a movie out of “Rain.”  However, Gloria was extremely clever about how she made this movie come together.

The key was not saying it was based on the play, but on Somerset Maugham’s original short story.  And then she got personal approval from the most unlikely of sources — Will Hays himself.  One afternoon, she spoke to Hays about a movie she wanted to produce and gave him a general outline of the story, the name of the author, and mentioned what she would change to make it meet his standards.  Hays didn’t notice the similarities between this short story and the play “Rain,” so he said it sounded acceptable to him.

Swanson and Walsh went to work getting the rights to the story and writing the script.  When they announced the movie, they didn’t make any big announcements to the press.  Instead, they took out a very small ad buried in the back of the newspaper and expected it to be overshadowed by the excitement of Lindbergh crossing the Atlantic.  But people noticed and all heck broke loose.  They received an indignant telegram from the MPAA, signed by virtually every major mogul in Hollywood.

Since so many of the signers controlled the major theater chains in America, their disapproval could have kept Sadie Thompson from being widely seen. Gloria wasn’t about to give up on Sadie, though, and personally appealed to every single name on that telegram.  The only person willing to go to bat and defend her was Marcus Loew, who was able to get the matter dropped.  Sadie Thompson went on to be a huge success and Gloria gave one of the best performances of her career.

Paramount in the 1950’s

Paramount in the 50’s just wouldn’t have been the same without Billy Wilder.  He made two of his most, in my opinion, under-appreciated movies at Paramount: 1953’s Stalag 17 and 1951’s Ace in the Hole.  But in 1950, he released a movie that defined not only his career, but the entire film industry — Sunset Boulevard.

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Hollywood: A Celebration of the American Silent Film (1980)

If you have an interest in silent film, Kevin Brownlow and David Gill’s thirteen-part documentary series Hollywood: A Celebration of the American Silent Film is essential viewing.  This series truly is a treat for silent film fans.  It’s very insightful, has a great narration by James Mason, and is chock full of interviews with actors and actresses, directors, producers, writers, cameramen, stuntmen, and journalists who were all part of the film industry during that era.

Quite a few big names were still alive at the time and were able to be interviewed for this documentary including Gloria Swanson, Janet Gaynor, Anita Loos, King Vidor, Hal Roach, Bessie Love, Mary Astor, Lillian Gish, Jackie Coogan, Colleen Moore, Louise Brooks, Frank Capra, and Charles “Buddy” Rogers, just to name a few.  Interviews with some of these people were quite rare, which makes this documentary an extremely important resource for anyone wanting to learn more about the silent film era.

Although the series was released on VHS and Laserdisc, due to copyright issues, it has yet to make its way to DVD.  Copies of the complete series on VHS are for sale on Amazon, but the asking prices are pretty ridiculous ($989 for a set?  Get out of here.)  I really hope the copyright issues can be worked out someday and it can be released on DVD, because it absolutely deserves to be seen.  In the meantime, the whole series is currently up on YouTube.  Each episode is just under an hour long, so it will take you a while to make your way through the series, but the time investment is absolutely worth it.   I’ve included a link to each episode along with my episode summaries.

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What’s on TCM: March 2012

Happy March, everybody!  There are plenty of things I’m looking forward to on TCM this month!  First of all, there’s the tail end of 31 Days of Oscars.  The end of 31 Days of Oscars means the return of Silent Sunday Nights, and it’s back with some excellent silents.  Lovers of pre-codes should definitely keep an eye on the schedule this month because I noticed quite a few pre-codes mixed in there.  Starting this month, Drew Barrymore will take over Alec Baldwin’s co-hosting duties for The Essentials.  Karl Malden is the star of the month and I haven’t seen very many of his movies, so this is a good chance for me to see more of his work.  Every Monday night this month will feature films from the British new wave era, which is something I’m very eager to see.  So, let’s get on to all my highlights for the month:

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Fashion in Film: My 10 Favorite Costumes

10.  Rita Hayworth’s “Put the Blame on Mame” dress from Gilda

On a lot of other women, that gown would have been pretty unremarkable.  But Rita Hayworth had so much charisma in that movie and had such an incredible screen presence that she turned what could have been a forgettable gown into the most iconic costume of her career.

9.  Elizabeth Taylor’s white slip from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

This right here is proof that Elizabeth Taylor could take the simplest garment and turn it into a definitive screen costume.  Nobody worked a white slip better than Elizabeth Taylor.

8.  All of Norma Shearer’s gowns from Marie Antoinette

I’d be very hard pressed to pick just one favorite costume from Marie Antoinette.  Adrian put an enormous amount of time and effort into designing all those exquisite gowns, no detail was overlooked.  They are all works of art.

7.  Debbie Reynolds’ “Good Morning” dress from Singin’ in the Rain.

Plain and simply, she looks absolutely adorable in it.  She had a lot of wonderful costumes in Singin’ in the Rain, but whenever I think about her in that movie, this is the first costume that comes to mind.

6.  Myrna Loy’s striped party dress from The Thin Man

I just think this dress is pure Nora Charles.  It’s fun, but classy.  She looks like the life of the party.

5.  Grace Kelly’s black and white outfit from Rear Window

This just epitomizes Grace Kelly to me.  It is so clean and simple, it’s not bogged down with a lot of accessories or jewelry, but it’s one of the most elegant dresses I’ve ever seen.

4.  Jean Harlow’s party dress from Dinner at Eight


It’s slinky and ridiculously glamorous.  This is Jean Harlow at her finest.

3.  Marlene Dietrich’s tuxedo from Morocco

In an era when women rarely wore pants, Marlene Dietrich went all out and donned a tuxedo.  Not shocking by today’s standards, but it’s no surprise that her tux caused a commotion when Morocco was released in 1930.

2.  Gloria Swanson’s outfit from her first scene in Sunset Boulevard

This outfit tells us right off everything that we need to know about Norma Desmond.  She looks rich, she looks like a movie star, and she’s definitely got some issues.

1.  Charlie Chaplin as The Little Tramp

As far as I’m concerned, this is the most iconic movie costume of all time.  It doesn’t just represent one movie, it represents Chaplin’s entire body of work and it’s a symbol for that whole era of film history.  When you see that hat, the cane, those shoes, that mustache, there’s no mistaking him for anybody else.  Even when people who don’t know silent films try to describe silent films, odds are they’re going to describe Charlie Chaplin and what he wore.

Live Post: The Debbie Reynolds Auction

Even though I’m broke and can’t afford to actually bid on anything in today’s auction, there’s so much amazing stuff up for sale today that I can’t resist trying to follow the auction as best I can.  So I figured I’d try my hand at live blogging and cover the auction the best I can as it happens.  I’m not going to cover every single item up for sale, but I’ll try to keep you updated about some of the more noteworthy items.  So stay tuned, sit back, relax, and live vicariously through other people who can afford to spend insane amounts of money on movie memorabilia.  And I’m just putting it out there right now: I would not be even remotely surprised if Hugh Hefner buys Marilyn Monroe’s white dress from The Seven Year Itch.  A million dollar absentee bid has already been placed on it, so it will definitely be sold for at least that much today.

If you want to follow along with the auction live, just go here, click on “Live Bidding”, then click the option to just watch the auction. There is a live video stream, but no audio.

Updates:

Note – The selling prices I list here don’t include the buyer’s premium.  If you see articles about Judy Garland’s Wizard of Oz test costume selling for more than a million, that source factored in the buyer’s premium.

3:12 PM – The first lot, a 1915 35mm Bell and Howell camera just sold for $32,500!

3:16 PM – Rudolph Valentino’s matador suit from Blood and Sand just went for $210,000.

3:19 PM – Mary Pickford’s headpiece from Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall went for $3,250.

3: 21 PM- Francis X. Bushman’s charioteer helmet from 1925’s Ben Hur sold for $30,000!

3:26 PM – Harold Lloyd’s suit and hat went for $4,000!

3:34 PM – Mary Pickford’s gown from The Taming of the Shrew sold for $17,000.

3:36 PM – Lots 17 and 18, both Douglas Fairbanks costumes from The Taming of the Shrew sold for $20,000 and lot 18 didn’t sell.

3:38 PM – One of Charlie Chaplin’s infamous hats went for $110,000!

3:40 PM – A Model T used by Laurel and Hardy sold for $32,500 and a pair of their suits went for $16,000.

3:42 PM – Carole Lombard’s gown from No Man of Her Own sold for $11,000.

3:47 PM – Claudette Colbert’s Cleopatra gown went for $40,000.

3:52 PM – Greta Garbo’s gown from Anna Karenina also sold for $40,000!

3:53 PM – Harpo Marx’s hat and wig went for $45,000!

4:10 PM – Lots 42, 43, and 44 are the paintings commissioned by Marion Davies and respectively went for $10,000, $11,000, and $17,000.  These really got the bidders going.

4:17  PM – W.C. Fields’ joke box sold for $35,000.

4:39 PM – Norma Shearer’s purple gown from Romeo and Juliet went for $20,000.

5:04 PM – Now we’re into stuff from The Good Earth and people went nuts for some of the furniture!  The pair of chairs went for $20,000, the opium bed for $20,000, two Paul Muni robes for $4,000 each, Luise Rainer’s shirt for $2,000, the lot of stands and other furniture for $3,500, and Luise Rainer’s jacket for $3,000.

5:13  PM – A gown worn by Norma Shearer in Marie Antoinette and Lucille Ball in Du Barry was a Lady sold for $11,000.

5:44 PM – Oh, now we’re into a busy bunch of lots!  First up was Marlene Dietrich’s outfit from “The Boys in the Backroom” number in Destry Rides Again, which went for $8,000, one of Judy Garland’s test costumes from The Wizard of Oz went for $910,000, a test pair of the ruby slippers sold for $510,000, an extra’s jacket from the Emerald City scenes of the Wizard of Oz sold for $22,500, Clark Gable’s dressing robe from the production of Gone With the Wind went for $10,000, and Basil Rathbone’s famous Sherlock Holmes caped overcoat sold for $50,000!

5:54 PM – Vivien Leigh’s suit from Waterloo Bridge sold for $16,000.

6:09 PM – Gary Cooper’s military uniform from Sergeant York went for $55,000.

6:16 PM – A couple of costumes worn by James Cagney in Yankee Doodle Dandy, the satin jockey shirt went for $27,500 and the clown outfit sold for $15,000.

6:19 PM – Not so fast, Louis!  A suit worn by Claude Rains in Casablanca sold for $55,000!

6:53 PM – Took a dinner break and missed another busy bunch of lots!  Elizabeth Taylor’s riding outfit from National Velvet went for $60,000, Judy Garland’s “Under the Bamboo Tree” dress from Meet Me in St. Louis sold for $16,000, Judy’s dress from the snowman building scene in Meet Me in St. Louis went for $10,000, Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra’s sailor suits from Anchors Aweigh went for $27,500 and $15,000 respectively.

7:00 PM – $22,500 for Joan Crawford’s waitress uniform from Mildred Pierce and $5,000 for Ann Blyth’s Mildred Pierce suit.

7:05 PM – Edmund Gwenn’s Santa suit from Miracle on 34th Street just sold for $22,500.

8:12 PM – The gold lame dress worn by Ginger Rogers in The Barkleys of Broadway went for $8,000.

8:51 PM – The chiffon robe worn by Vivien Leigh in A Streetcar Named Desire sold for $18,000.  Then it went into a bunch of items from An American in Paris with Leslie Caron’s peacock dress from the fantasy ballet number for $15,000, Nina Foch’s white halter gown from a party scene for $3,000, and a showgirl costume from the Stairway to Paradise number for $1,100.

9:05 PM – We have reached the Singin’ in the Rain part of the auction.  First were the green and white checked suits worn by Donald O’Connor and Gene Kelly, $8,000 and $14,000 respectively.  Jean Hagen’s Marie Antoinette-esque dress sold for $5,500 and Gene Kelly’s period costume went for $9,000.  Debbie’s green and white leaf print dress went for $15,000, Gene Kelly’s jacket from the Broadway Melody Ballet number went for $6,500, Jean Hagen’s black and white fur coat went for $6,000, Donald O’Connor’s “Good Morning” suit didn’t sell, Cyd Charisse’s white Broadway Melody Ballet outfit for $7,000, and Debbie’s “Good Morning” dress went for $27,500.  A pink dress worn by Gwen Carter sold for $3,750, and a bunch of costumes from the “Beautiful Girl” montage brought $5,500.

9:22 PM – Now we’re getting into some of the Marilyn Monroe and Marilyn-related items.  First up is Marilyn’s red “Two Little Girls from Little Rock” dress from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, which brought $1.2 million!  Then came the feathered hat worn by Jane Russell when she impersonates Loreli Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, that sold for $4,250.  Lauren Bacall’s wedding dress from How to Marry a Millionaire went for $8,000 and the car used by Marilyn and Cary Grant in Monkey Business sold for $210,000.

9:48 PM – A lot of two safari outfits worn by Grace Kelly in Mogambo sold for $47,500.  A Winchester rifle used by Clark Gable in Mogambo brought in $15,000.

10:00 PM – A couple more from Marilyn Monroe.  The gold dress from River of No Return went for $510,000 and her costume from the “Heat Wave” number in There’s No Business Like Show Business brought in $500,000!

10:52 PM – After a little break, we’re back with the dress everyone’s been waiting for — the infamous Marilyn Monroe white subway dress from The Seven Year Itch.  I fully expected bidding to be out of control for this one and I wasn’t disappointed.  It brought in an astonishing $4.6 million!

11:03 PM – Now we’ve got a couple from To Catch a Thief.  A coat worn by Cary Grant brought in $15,000 and an outfit worn by Grace Kelly earned a jaw dropping $450,000!

11:41 PM – A couple of dresses worn by Deborah Kerr in An Affair to Remember brought in $6,000 and $11,000.

12:17 AM – One of Lana Turner’s dresses from Peyton Place sold for $4,250.

12:22 AM – Lot number 407 is rather unique because it includes things worn by both Kim Novak and Rita Hayworth in Pal Joey.  It went for $6,500.

12:29 AM – Leslie Caron’s iconic plaid schoolgirl outfit from Gigi went for $65,000.

12:40 AM – Charlton Heston’s tunic and cape from Ben Hur could have been yours for the low, low price of $320,000!

1:32 AM – Marlon Brando’s naval outfit from Mutiny on the Bounty just brought in $90,000!

2:12 AM – Elizabeth Taylor’s famous headdress from Cleopatra went for $100,000 and Richard Burton’s tunic, cape, and sword brought in $85,000.

Oh, who cares what time it is anymore?  Yes, I’m still going!  Aren’t these people tired and broke yet?!  Janet Leigh’s yellow fringed dress from Bye Bye Birdie fetched $3,750 and Bette Davis’ blood stained dress from Hush, Hush…Sweet Charlotte sold for $11,000.

Another big item to watch tonight was Audrey Hepburn’s Ascot dress from My Fair Lady.  I fully expected it to exceed the $200,000-$300,000 and it sure did.  It went up to $3.7 million!

I would say that the hills are alive with the sound of music, but at this time of night, I’m pretty sure that’s a noise ordinance violation.  Julie Andrews’ guitar went for $140,000, her jumper from the “Do Re Mi” number for $550,000, her turquoise and green dress for $45,000, the peasant dress went for $42,500, and a pair of the Trapp children’s outfits sold for $35,000.

And at long last we have reached the Barbara Streisand part of the auction.  First from Funny Girl is her costume from “I’d Rather Be Blue” for $65,000, a lot of the other roller skating costumes for $2,500, the black velvet dress from “My Man” for $16,000, a bunch of stuff worn by the Ziegfeld girls in the “His Love Makes Me Beautiful” number for $7,500, Anne Francis’ silk dress for $1,800, and Kay Medford’s beaded shawl for $1,400.

A jacket worn by Robert Redford in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid brought $8,500 and a dress worn by Katharine Ross went for $16,000.

And back to Streisand.  The purple Hello, Dolly dress went for $55,000 and the gold dress for $100,000.  Surprised the gold dress went for that little, that’s how much it cost to make that dress back in the day.

You’ll be fascinated to know that a shirt worn in the cinematic masterpiece known as Grease 2 sold for $475.

We have finally made it to the final segment of posters/portraits!  The title cards for Blind Husbands fetched $2,000, the lot of three Gloria Swanson title/lobby cards sold for $1,200, the portrait of Gloria Swanson went for $8,500, the lot of two Mabel Normand lobby cards for $800, the pair of silent title/lobby cards for $1,600, the lobby card for Lon Chaney’s The Penalty for $1,700, and the lobby card for Chaplin’s The Idle Class for $1,600.  The portrait of Jean Harlow went for $11,000!

Now it’s high time I called it a night!  Good night everybody!

The Real Hollywood Tough Guys (And Ladies)

In the 100+ year history of film, a lot of actors have wound up with tough guy images.  Mention tough guys to classic film fans, you’re probably going to hear a lot of James Cagney, Bogart, and Edward G. Robinson.  If you were to talk to someone more into modern movies, you’d probably get Jean-Claude Van Damme, Bruce Willis, and Vin Diesel.  Personally, I’d be hard pressed to call any of them the toughest actors of all time.  To me, I think the most unsung tough people in film history have got to be silent film actors.  Seriously, you  had to be pretty tough and fearless if you were going to make some of the most beloved movies from the silent era.  I’m pretty sure if anyone went up to Bruce Willis and told him to do some of the things that a lot of silent film actors had to do, he would say, “You have got to be kidding me.”  Now, let’s take a moment to appreciate what all these fine actors had to endure.

Harold Lloyd lost his thumb and forefinger when a prop bomb he was holding accidentally exploded.

Dolores Costello liked to refer to 1928’s Noah’s Ark as “Mud, Blood, and Flood.”  In the documentary series “Hollywood: A Celebration of the American Silent Film,” she recalled going to her dressing room on set one day and finding a very bandaged extra leaning outside of her door.  When she asked if she could help, he explained that an ambulance would come back for him since he was in better shape than most of the other extras.  A couple of extras were killed while filming the flood scene.

While filming the finale of Greed in Death Valley, director Erich von Stroheim insisted on actually filming in Death Valley.  In August.  Jean Hersholt had to be hospitalized after he lost 27 pounds from being in such extreme heat.

Lillian Gish’s hands really took a beating on sets.  While filming The Wind in the Mojave Desert, Lillian burnt one of her hands when she touched a doorknob in the 120 degree heat.  Earlier, when she was filming the famous ice floe scene in Way Down East, her right hand was permanently damaged from being left in the icy water for so long.

While making 1919’s Male and Female, Thomas Meighan carries a leopard that had recently killed a man in the zoo it was in.  Basically, Cecil B. DeMille said, “Hey, don’t put that leopard to sleep!  Let’s give it to Thomas Meighan instead!”  There is another famous scene in that movie of Gloria Swanson with real, live lions, which she insisted on doing herself.

And last, but certainly not least, there’s Buster Keaton.  I don’t think anyone loved doing stunt work more than Buster.  He insisted on doing his own stunts in all of his greatest silent movies.  Famously, he broke his neck while filming the water tank scene in Sherlock, Jr. but didn’t even know it until a long time after the fact.  The most famous scene of his entire career is probably from Steamboat Bill, Jr., where he stands in front of a house and the entire front side of the house falls down around him, but he happens to be standing where a window is.  That stunt involved a lot of precision because if his position was off by just a couple of inches, he would have been killed.  When Buster was signed to MGM, one of the things that upset him most was that MGM wouldn’t let him do his own dangerous stunts anymore.  And this is why I consider Buster Keaton to be the toughest guy to ever get in front of a movie camera.

Why Change Your Wife? (1920)

After a decade of marriage, Robert Gordon (Thomas Meighan) begins to realize that his wife Beth (Gloria Swanson) just isn’t the same woman he married.  She’s dowdy (yes, Gloria Swanson is the dowdy one here), preachy, and is always trying to force her more cultured tastes upon Robert.  Not willing to give up on their marriage just yet, Robert tries to liven things up by buying something nice and vampy for Beth.  Robert is pretty hilariously uncomfortable in the lingerie store, but he does meet Sally (Bebe Daniels), one of the store’s models, while he’s there.  Beth isn’t too happy about Robert’s gift and when she’d rather listen to a violinist than accompany him to the Ziegfeld Follies, Robert decides to invite Sally to go with him to the Follies.  Of course, Beth isn’t stupid, and when Robert comes home smelling of Sally’s perfume, she decides she wants a divorce.

After the divorce, Beth’s aunt takes her shopping to make her feel better.  However, they wind up at the same store that Sally works in and Beth overhears some of the models gossiping about how her lack of style is what must have caused the divorce.  Not willing to take this laying down, Beth decides then and there to spice up her image.  While things are looking up for Beth, they’re not looking as good for Robert.  He went ahead and married Sally, but is finding out that Sally can be just as annoying as Beth was.  Robert, Sally and Beth all run into each other when they all wind up being on vacation at the same resort together.  By now, Beth has truly become the life of the party and Robert definitely notices the change and likes what he sees.  Beth also realizes that she misses Robert, too.  Each of them wants to rekindle their relationship, but Robert is hesitant.

Later, Robert and Beth meet again on a train.  As they’re leaving the train, Robert slips on a banana peel and hits his head.  When doctors arrive, Beth tells them that she is his wife and they bring him to her place so he can lay still for twenty-four hours.  Beth calls Sally and the two of them get into a fight over Sally wanting to move Robert to their place.  But Beth wins that fight and when it becomes clear that Robert’s going to be just fine, he realizes that it’s Beth he wants, not Sally.

I really enjoyed Why Change Your Wife.  For a Cecil B. DeMille movie, this is a pretty small-scale movie, but it’s still great.  The cast is fantastic, I especially got a kick out of seeing Gloria Swanson as the uptight, plainly dressed one.  But of course, sticking Gloria Swanson in a conservative outfit is sort of like how in newer movies, they have nerds played by gorgeous actors who just happen to be wearing glasses.  I also really loved the intertitles, they were very sharply written.  It’s sort of hard to call silent movies “quotable,” but it’s hard to resist wanting to go around saying stuff like, “You know, the more I see of men, the better I like dogs,” or, “When a girl can wear a bathing suit like this, it is her duty to do so!”  It’s a very fun movie to watch.

My Top 100, 10-1

We’ve made it to the final ten favorite movies!  I hope you enjoyed reading about my hundred favorite movies as much as I enjoyed writing about them.  I’m definitely thinking that I might have to do some more big lists like this in the future!  Thanks again to Colin from Pick ‘n’ Mix Flix Reviews for suggesting I do this list in the first place!  Now, with further ado, my final ten favorites…

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Films Rediscovered

I don’t think there is any news that thrills classic film fans more than news that a movie that was thought to be lost has been found.  With the news that an astounding 75 lost silent films have been found in New Zealand, I’m sure many fans of silents are feeling like they just won the lottery.  It’s exciting enough when just one lost film is rediscovered, but to find 75 of them is truly incredible.  Among the most noteworthy finds are: Upstream, directed by John Ford; The Woman Hater, starring Pearl White; Won in a Cupboard, directed by legendary Mack Sennett star Mabel Normand; Mary of the Movies, which is now the oldest known surviving movie produced by Columbia; and Maytime, starring the ‘it’ girl herself, Clara Bow.

It is believed that about 80% of films from the 1890s-early 1930s are now lost for good.  In some cases, virtually nothing exists anymore from some of the biggest stars of the time.  Theda Bara starred in 40 films during her career, but only three and a half currently exist.  But luckily, the films of other major stars such as Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo, Mary Pickford, and Douglas Fairbanks fared much better and very little of their careers have been lost to the ages.

There are many reasons for how films wind up being lost.  In many cases, the films just weren’t well cared for.  In the early days of film, nobody was thinking that anybody would be interested in this stuff a century later so they thought nothing of throwing away unused footage or entire movies that no longer had any commercial value.  Sometimes films would be destroyed in order to recycle the silver in the film stock.  Nitrate film stock is extremely volatile and can easily catch on fire if it is improperly stored.  Fox lost all of their pre-1935 negatives due to a vault fire.  If they didn’t burst into flames, they’d often just decay and disintegrate into a pile of dust.  A lot of times, scenes would be cut after initial screenings to make it more marketable or due to censorship.  Most famously, much of the original cut of Metropolis was lost for decades before a complete print was discovered in Argentina in 2008.  And then there’s the Judy Garland version of A Star is Born.  That one had to be drastically cut down after its premiere and is currently available in a nearly complete restored version, but a complete print is believed to exist.  And then there’s the case of 1933’s Convention City.  The entire film was intentionally destroyed because it was way too pre-code to even be censored and re-released while the Production Code Administration was in charge.

Since I love the stories about how lost films (or lost scenes) surface, here are some of my favorite rediscovery stories:

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