Thanks to the Internet, it is impossible for films to get lost. Decades ago, however, it was a real possibility. Since only physical copies were available, there were instances where some movies simply disappeared. Indeed, either they had been destroyed, or they were stored in poorly controlled places.
A high percentage of lost movies have never been found, probably because no one is actively looking for them. Fortunately, copies of a few lost films have been located, many years or decades after they disappeared. And how these particular films were found was, in many cases, quite fascinating.
The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)
The Passion of Joan of Arc is often considered one of the must-see films of the silent film era. The Carl Theodor Dreyer project chronicles the trial and execution of the French saint Joan of Arc. The film is known for its use of close-ups and for being filmed in one location.
Prior to rediscovery, the last existing copy of The Passion of Joan of Arc had been consumed in a fire and for many years the film was considered lost. It was such a shame, considering the historical drama had caused so much controversy, with even the Archbishop of Paris calling for it to be banned. Luckily, those who want to see what it was all about can do so now. In 1981, a full version of the film was discovered at the Dikemark Psychiatric Hospital in Oslo, Norway, as one of the employees passed through a janitor’s closet.
Wake Up in Fear (1971)
Adapted from the similarly titled 1961 novel by Kenneth Cook, the psychological thriller follows a teacher who loses all his morals after being stranded in a strange town. On release, 15 minutes were cut because they were deemed too graphic.
The discovery of Wake up in fear was somewhat disappointing because over many years it had earned a reputation as not only one of Australia’s finest films, but also a lost masterpiece that everyone loved to seek out. There was more excitement in the search for the film than the desire to see it. And the search ended in 2004 when producer Anthony Buckle found the negatives in a shipping container labeled “For Destruction.” The container was in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Events revolve around a well in a remote village that can heal the sick and make people more beautiful. Because of the powers, corrupt individuals try to control it.
incubus was in many ways a unique film and its loss was seen as a blow. Not only was it one of the few films to be shot in the constructed auxiliary language of Esperanto, it was also without subtitles, leaving the audience to figure things out for themselves. Fortunately, a copy was found at the Cinémathèque française in Paris in 1996.
Charlie Chaplin’s propaganda film isn’t considered one of the best classic war films, but it’s certainly entertaining. It chronicles the attacks of the German Zeppelin during the First World War in Great Britain.
Some actors and filmmakers have such an incredible work ethic, releasing so many projects that some of their efforts fly under the radar. Such was the case with Zepped, that many people didn’t even know existed. That was until an English citizen bought a box of film on eBay for $5 in 2009. This particular box contained Zepped.
Tarzan and the Golden Lion (1927)
Tarzan’s first-ever on-screen portrayal was a box office success. Unfortunately, after dropping out of circulation, no copies could be found.
Some actors are defined by a particular role and that was the case with star James Pierce, who spent most of his life trying to find copies. Unfortunately, he could not finance them. However, all hope was not lost. In the 90s, a pile of silent films was found in a French asylum and one of them turned out to be Tarzan and the Golden Lion.
The Sentimental Guy (1915)
Widely regarded as the greatest Australian silent film of all time, The sentimental guy follows a man who vows to quit acting to focus on his factory job. He falls in love with a woman and just as he is about to become happy, he faces competition from another man for the same woman.
After a fire destroyed a Melbourne film library, The sentimental guy was considered a lost film. An original negative was later discovered in 1973 in a film archive in Rochester, New York. But why did it take so long to discover Australia’s greatest silent film? Well, since “dude” isn’t a popular word in America, someone assumed The sentimental guy rename it as The sentimental blonde.
Outside the Law (1920)
A gang leader and his daughter have decided to retire from the life of crime. But after the gang leader is framed for murder by a rival, the girl breaks down once again.
Given that it had Lon Chaney, one of the biggest stars of the silent film era, in mind, it was surprising that the original copies of outside the law got lost in the first place. Well, it turns out that a Universal Pictures delivery guy left some for his friends in the 1920s. It wasn’t until 1975 that a house’s new resident noticed a stash of old movies in his barn and invited historian Bob DeFlores to look at them. And there happens to be one Outlaw.
The White Shadow (1923)
Twin sisters, one introverted and the other extroverted, compete for the love of the same man. Interestingly, the man does not know that he is dating sisters. Alfred Hitchcock is assistant director in the film.
People are often unaware of the treasures on which they rest and this was the case of the New Zealand collector Jack Murtagh. It would take an American archivist 22 years to discover Murtagh’s collection. And he realized that a videotape labeled “Twin Sisters” by Murtaugh was actually The white shadow.
Their First Misunderstanding (1911)
The legendary Mary Pickford stars with husband Owen Moore in the silent film about newlyweds who have a falling out for the first time. The events take place strictly inside their house.
The gem serves as a tutorial of sorts on how to handle marital disputes and those looking for such advice will be glad it has finally been found. Credit goes to carpenter Peter Massie who found a copy in an old barn in New Hampshire. The farm previously served as a summer camp, so it’s likely the film was shot for the teenagers who spent time there.
The Dark Old House (1932)
A group of 5 travelers seek refuge in a dilapidated house during a violent storm. Inside, they begin to experience all sorts of horrors.
For many years, The dark old house was considered one of the first among the best Gothic horror films of all time, but fans of the genre never got to experience its brilliance. Luckily, director Curtis Harrington found a clean copy while browsing Universal Studios’ vaults. With a new budget, the film was later re-edited and re-edited.
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