It is hard to comprehend that an entire motion picture can disappear without a trace. Sadly, an extraordinary number of productions have vanished over the years due to accident, neglect or deliberate sabotage. Even as late as the 1970s, movies have been lost and either never return or only turn up in fragments.
As part of our ongoing series, here is the fourth installment of Film Threat’s list of the most intriguing lost movies of all time.
1. “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.
WHY IS IT LOST? 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.
2. “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.
WHY IS IT LOST? 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.
3. “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).
WHY IS IT LOST? 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).
4. “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.
WHY IS IT LOST? The film either disappeared due to negligent maintenance or it was destroyed in the Allied bombings of Japan during World War II.
5. “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.
WHY IS IT LOST? All of Cristiani’s films are lost. The only known prints of “Peludópolis” were destroyed in a fire in 1961
6. “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.
WHY IS IT LOST? 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.
7. “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.
WHY IS IT LOST? 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.
8. “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.
WHY IS IT LOST? 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.
9. “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!).
WHY IS IT LOST? 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.
10. “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.
WHY IS IT LOST? 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.