Sunday, February 19, 2012

Lost films

I have spoken before about how awful the words "presumed lost" are to me when it comes to silent films. It just seems so tragic that some of the earliest examples of film history were either destroyed on purpose, or destroyed by fire, or they just disintegrated. Theda Bara was THE vamp during the early teens and how incredible would it be to be able to see her in all her glory in Cleopatra? We've all seen pictures, but not a whole reel. And sadly, we probably never will. Most of Theda's films were lost in a fire on the Fox Studio lot during the 1930s. She kept a small stash of her own at home, but when she went to take them out one day to show a friend, she found that they had disintegrated. Of her roughly 40 or so films, only three survive fully intact.

Unfortunately, Theda isn't the star who has it the worst off as far as missing work goes. There is the sad story of another vamp, Valeska Suratt. The only thing that remains of her 11 or so films are photo stills that were taken on set. I will cover her in her own entry, but I wanted to note how tragic it is that none of her films survive. It would have been pretty cool to see her at her best on film, in all her outrageously amazing and beautiful vamp glory.

There are HUNDREDS of lost films out there, but I wanted to bring light to a few notable flicks that either survive in pieces or are gone forever.

The Adventurous Sex (1925) starring Clara Bow. Presumed lost.

The American Venus (1926) starring Louise Brooks, Esther Ralston, and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Technicolor fragments still exist, along with two trailers.

Anne of Green Gables (1919) starring Mary Miles Minter and directed by William Desmond Taylor. Presumed lost.

The Battle of the Sexes (1914) starring Lillian Gish and directed by D.W. Griffith. This film was reportedly shot in only four days, and it is rumored that Rudolph Valentino worked as on extra. Only a fragment survives.

Camille (1917) starring Theda Bara. Presumed lost.

Carmen (1915) starring Theda Bara. Presumed lost.

Cleopatra (1917) starring Theda Bara. A few feet of film survives at the George Eastman House.

A Country Hero (1917) starring Roscoe Arbuckle, Buster Keaton, Al St. John, Joe Keaton, Alice Lake, and Natalie Talmadge *hiss* Presumed lost :(

The Divine Woman (1928) starring Greta Garbo. One reel still survives.

Flaming Youth (1923) starring Colleen Moore. One reel survives at the Library of Congress

The Fleet's In (1928) starring Clara Bow. Presumed lost.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1927) starring Ruth Taylor and Alice White. Presumed lost. Ugh! How amazing would it be to see this!!

Gold Diggers of Broadway (1929) starring Lilyan Tashman and Ann Pennington. Only fragments and a sound disc survive.

The Great Gatsby (1926) starring Lois Wilson and William Powell. Only a trailer survives.
Hollywood (1923) starring EVERYONE. Major bummer that this one is lost because it stars a cavalcade of stars. Roscoe Arbuckle, Agnes Ayres, Charlie Chaplin, Betty Compson, Viola Dana, Bebe Daniels, Douglas Fairbanks, Hope Hampton, Leatrice Joy, Lila Lee, Jacqueline Logan, May McAvoy, Pola Negri, Anna Q. Nilsson, Jack Pickford, Mary Pickford, Zasu Pitts, Will Rogers, Ford Sterling, Anita Stewart, Gloria Swanson, Estelle Taylor, Ben Turpin, and the Mack Sennett Bathing Beauties. Man, just reading off the names makes me sad.

Human Wreckage (1923) starring Dorothy Davenport, Bessie Love, and Lucille Ricksen. Presumed lost. Another film that I am very bummed is missing. Dorothy wrote this after the tragic drug related death of her husband, Wallace Reid.

The Mermaid (1911) starring Annette Kellerman. Presumed lost.

The Perils of Pauline (1914) starring Pearl White. Incomplete prints survive.

Romeo and Juliet (1916) starring Theda Bara. Presumed lost.

Rough House Rosie (1927) starring Clara Bow. Only the trailer survives.

A Sainted Devil (1924) starring Rudolph Valentino and Nita Naldi. Only fragments survive.

Salome (1918) starring Theda Bara. Presumed lost.

Sin (1915) starring Theda Bara. Presumed lost.

The Snob (1924) starring John Gilbert and Norma Shearer. Presumed lost.

A Social Celebrity (1926) starring Louise Brooks, Chester Conklin, and Adolphe Menjou. There were two surviving prints, one that was at the Eastman house which was viewed by Louise herself before the film deteriorated. The second reel was housed in France and was destroyed in a fire.

For a complete list of lost films, check out Silent Era. Great site with a ton of information.


  1. What a shame about these films and the greats that were in them. people nowadays have no clue how important these films, actors etc...are. Without them, we would not have film today. I saw the Artist and I found it beautiful. I actually cried because I feel it is such a great piece of film making and a great homage to the silent cinema

  2. I agree 100% Birgit. I cried when I saw "The Artist" too! Some people in the audience just didn't get it, but I thought it was great. LOVED Jean Dujardin!

  3. It so sad to know that most silent films are lost. It only they had all been preserved. I wish that film at the top, the hidden jungle starring Florence La badie was still complete. So much history lost with these films that are gone.

  4. Oh, more Florence films would be great! I wish I could see just a clip of "Cleopatra" with Theda Bara. Just a glimpse, ya know?

  5. go to youtube, look for the documentary fragments which shows pieces of lost silent films and you will see the only remaining footage of theda in cleopatra. its a really great documentary and i loved seeing colleen moore in flaming youth on it.

  6. Oh I am DEFINITELY looking that up! You know, for the longest time, I thought "Flaming Youth" was available. Sadly, nope. Thanks Suilyaniz!

  7. My grandmother Virginia, in MN during the 1920s, adored Colleen Moore and R. Valentino. I still have her wonderful homemade scrapbook full of pictures/clippings re the 2. SO sad that most of all these great films you list above are gone (Yes; wasn't "The Artist" just magical?). So grateful, though, that TCM will be showing 2 of Colleen's amazingly extant films - Preston Sturges' 1st: 1934's "The Power & The Glory" on 10/1/12 (a precursor to "Citizen Kane" - apparently featuring a brilliant early star perf. of Spencer Tracy's); and 1919's "The Busher" on 10/7. At least we have this!

    Virginia Hammer
    Artistic Director
    Midlantic Theatre Co.
    Theatre in Renaissance Newark + Schools & Prisons
    A NJ 501(c)3 nonprofit corp.

  8. Hello Virginia!

    That is amazing that your grandmother kept a scrapbook. Do you have pictures of it by any chance? I would love to see it.

    Thank GOD for TCM. I am currently living with my sister and she has DVR so I love being able to go through their schedule and record films I want to watch. Some of the films they show, you can't get anywhere else, and for that, I am forever grateful.

    Thank you so much for stopping by!

  9. I think we should do a nation wide vote to preserve and transfer all existing silent films to dvd so that all generations can see how film has grown over the decades , these films are a wonder , my grandmother had found memorys of valentino films as a little girl she was born in 1923. Lets not let these films of film history turn to dust.

  10. I have four of theda bara films . east lynne. Fool there was. Chasten women . and madame mystery these films survive also the stain.

    1. Jealous! I only currently have A Fool There Was.