1. GRETCHEN THE GREENHORN (1916) ^ Dorothy Gish never achieved the level of stardom as her sister Lillian, although she earned considerable praise for her title role performance in this silent comedy as a naive Dutch immigrant who takes a very long time in mastering the learning curve for life in New York. “Gretchen the Greenhorn” is one of the relatively few films of its time which provided a positive (if somewhat patronizing) view of the immigrant experience, and even more unusual was its focus on a hapless young woman making her way in a strange new land. ^ WHY IS THIS FILM NOT ON VIDEO? Considered lost for many decades, a print of “Gretchen the Greenhorn” was discovered a few years back and was restored by the American Film Institute. However, the film’s public domain status and the general lack of commercial interest in silent films on home video kept this title in the AFI archive and away from the small but devoted number of cinephiles who want to see it.
2. FORBIDDEN PARADISE (1925) ^ The great director Ernst Lubitsch tapped into the colorful life of the Russian Czarina Catherine the Great for this opulent costume drama. Silent film icon Pola Negri gave a larger-than-life performance as the legendary ruler, with able support by matinee idol Rod La Rocque as her lover/advisor Captain Alexie Czerny and the always-dapper Adolphe Menjou as her Chancellor. ^ WHY IS THIS FILM NOT ON VIDEO? One extant print of this film survives in the UCLA archive. As with “Gretchen the Greenhorn,” problems with the expiration of copyright and the lack of commercial viability have kept this film out of circulation. For fans of Ernst Lubitsch and film scholars seeking the elusive magic of Pola Negri, the absence of “Forbidden Paradise” is acutely maddening.
3. HANDS UP! (1926) ^ During the late 1920s, Raymond Griffith was among the most popular silent comedy stars. In his persona as the suave sharpie, Griffith pushed con jobs to new heights with a rare blend of debonair charm and peerless comic timing. “Hands Up!” was perhaps his finest feature, in which Griffith plays a Confederate spy sent to the Wild West to sabotage the Union war effort. The film is rich with unexpected and ingenious gags, including having Griffith teach the Charleston to hostile Indians and a wholly unexpected solution to the dilemma involving two sisters who madly love Griffith (he spies a stagecoach carrying Mormon leader Brigham Young and bundles his two loves off for a polygamist future in Utah!). Some critics of the time actually preferred “Hands Up!” to another Civil War comedy, Buster Keaton’s “The General,” and even today the rare screenings of this elusive gem brings unexpected pleasure to audiences unfamiliar with Griffith’s work. ^ WHY IS THIS FILM NOT ON VIDEO? Tragically, more than half of Griffith’s films are believed to be lost and the surviving films are unavailable for easy access. “Hands Up!” survives extant and is still copyright protected by its original producer, Paramount Pictures. However, Griffith’s obscurity and Paramount’s earlier lack of success in distributing its silent titles have kept the film out of circulation. A poorly duped bootleg copy has long been offered by a mail order company which specializes in silent titles–a sadly ironic fate for a once-popular film by a long-forgotten star.
Get the complete list in the next part of NEVER ON VIDEO II: THE NEXT TOP 20 “MISSING” MOVIES>>>