1. CLEOPATRA (1917) ^ 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. ^ WHY IS IT LOST? 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.
2. EL APÃ“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 ApÃ³stol” (“The Apostle”) from Italian-born filmmaker Quirino Cristiani. “El ApÃ³stol” 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 ApÃ³stol” 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. ^ WHY IS IT LOST? All known copies of “El ApÃ³stol” 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.
3. HEART TROUBLE (1929) ^ 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. ^ WHY WAS IT LOST? 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.
Get the rest of the list in the next part of FILM THREAT’S TOP 10 LOST FILMS>>>