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.
As part of our ongoing series, here is the fifth installment of Film Threat’s list of the most intriguing lost movies of all time. This year’s Top 10 Lost Films list includes:
“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.
WHY IS IT LOST? “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.
WHY IS IT LOST? “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.
WHY IS IT LOST? 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.
WHY IS IT LOST? 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.
WHY IS IT LOST? “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.
WHY IS IT LOST? 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.
WHY IS IT LOST? 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.
WHY IS IT LOST? 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.
WHY IS IT LOST? 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.
WHY IS IT LOST? 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.
Check out the Film Threat’s current Top 50 Lost Films over in the Film Threat Blogs>>>