This is the latest installment in Film Threat’s Top Lost Films, bringing the total list to 50 films. From the silent era into the 1980s, the number of films that either vanished completely or lost key sequences is astonishing.
For the record, among the missing movies are the world’s first feature film, the first Technicolor feature, the first animated feature in both the silent and sound eras, the first werewolf movie, the first appearance by Dracula, the first kaiju film, and movies created by Charlie Chaplin, Orson Welles, Woody Allen, Sergei Eisenstein, Ed Wood, Oscar Micheaux and Martin Scorsese.
So here is Film Threat’s Top 50 Lost Films of All Time:
“Arirang” (1926, Korea). Na Un’gyu directed this volatile drama about rural Korean life during the Japanese colonial occupation era. The prints were destroyed during the Korean War; reports of a surviving print in a private Japanese collection remain unconfirmed.
“The Audion” (1922, USA). This animated short film was produced by Western Electric and designed to offer a demonstration of sound-on-disc recording technology. An experimental project not meant for commercial release, it was thrown away after its test screenings were over.
“The Betrayal” (1948, USA). Oscar Micheaux’s last film was a three-hour epic about a taboo love between a wealthy black farmer and a white woman in the wilds of South Dakota (she’s really a light-skinned African-American passing for white). The film was a box office failure and no one bothered to preserve the prints.
“Bezhin Meadow” (1937, USSR). Sergei Eisenstein’s first sound film was shut down after two years of production and the expenditure of one million rubles (no small fee for Stalinist-era cinema). The sole surviving (a workprint, according to some sources) was destroyed in a World War II bombing raid.
“Black Love” (1972, USA) – Horror director Herschell Gordon Lewis, working under the pseudonym R.L. Smith, made his only blaxploitation feature in Chicago, but it is uncertain if it was ever completed or released.
“Brother Martin” (1942, USA). Pioneering African-American filmmaker Spencer Williams directed and starred in this all-black drama about a pious man’s test of faith. All that remains of this film is an elaborate lobby poster.
“Cleopatra” (1917, USA). Theda Bara starred in this extravagant $500,000 budget production. Surviving prints were stored at the Fox Studio vaults in Hollywood and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, but were lost when fires broke out at both locations. Only 45 seconds of footage survives.
“A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court” (1921, USA). Harry Myers, best known as the drunken millionaire who befriends Charlie Chaplin in “City Lights,” stars in this adaptation of the Mark Twain classic. Only three of the film’s eight reels are known to survive.
“Drakula halála” (”The Death of Dracula”) (1923, Hungary). Paul Askenas plays a mental asylum inmate who claims to be the celebrated vampire. The film, which introduced the character named Dracula to the screen, does not appear to have been released outside of Hungary. It is among the many Hungarian silent films that vanished.
“El Apastol” (1917, Argentina). The first animated feature was created Italian-born filmmaker Quirino Cristiani, who spoofed the presidency of Argentina’s Hipolito Irigoyen in a 70-minute feature consisting of 58,000 drawings. All known copies were destroyed in a fire in 1926, and only a few character sketches survive.
“The Great Gatsby” (1926, USA). The first film version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel was actually crafted from a Broadway adaptation written by Owen Davis. Only a one-minute trailer survives.
“The Gulf Between” (1917, USA). The first Technicolor production and the first feature-length American color movie. All that remains are several frames from the long-lost print.
“Hats Off” (1927, USA). Laurel and Hardy deliver a bulky washing machine to a house at the top up a huge flight of stairs in this silent comedy, which was clearly a forerunner to their Oscar-winner “The Music Box.” No print exists.
“Heart Trouble” (1929, USA). Harry Langdon’s last starring role in the silent era was a spoof on military and spy films, but it was barely released and never preserved.
“Hello Pop!” (1933, USA). The Three Stooges and their original straight man, Ted Healy, star in this MGM Technicolor short. No print is known to survive.
“Help!” – The Drama School Scene (1965, UK). The Beatles and British comic legend Frankie Howerd failed to click in this sequence from the Fab Four’s second film, hence its removal from the final cut and its disappearance into the abyss.
“Him” (1974, USA). This X-rated film about a gay man’s homoerotic obsession with the New Testament was detailed in the 1980 book “The Golden Turkey Awards” by the Medved Brothers – whether they saw the film or just read about it was uncertain. No copy is known it to exist, and only an advertisement from the film’s original New York run has turned up.
“Human Wreckage” (1923, USA). Dorothy Davenport, whose movie star husband Wallace Reid died from morphine addiction, created this harrowing drama of the destructive effects of drug usage on a family. This independent production was a hit in its day, but is lost today.
“Humor Risk” (1920, USA). The first Marx Brothers movie was this two-reel comedy with detective Harpo chasing villain Groucho in a nightclub where Italian bon vivant Chico and playboy Zeppo hang out. The film had at least one screening, but it was considered a disaster and the comic siblings allowed the sole print to be thrown out.
“Her Friend the Bandit” (1914). This Keystone comedy had Charlie Chaplin and Mabel Normand as its stars and co-director. Originally called “The Italian” and released in Europe as “A Thief Catcher,” the film probably relied on anti-Italian stereotypes for its humor.
“In Holland” (1929). The Broadway comedy team of Bobby Clark and Paul McCullough starred in a series of early talkies. This spoof on Dutch culture probably deteriorated over the years until it vanished into nitrate goo.
“Life Without Soul” (1915, USA). The second film adaptation of Mary Shelley’s novel “Frankenstein” changed the characters’ names (Victor Frankenstein became William Frawley!) and starred Percy Darrell Standing as “the brute man” monster. The film’s producers went out of business and the prints vanished with its creators.
“King Kong Appears in Edo” (1938, Japan). Believed to be the first kaiju film, this unauthorized remake of the RKO classic was believed to be destroyed in the Allied bombings of Japan during World War II.
“Kismet” (1930, USA) – An early widescreen epic starring Broadway legend Otis Skinner in his only sound film. Racy subject matter prevented its re-release after the 1934 Production Code was enforced, and the film was most likely destroyed as having no further commercial value. Only soundtrack disks survive.
“Lock Up Your Daughters” (1959, UK). Reportedly a “quiz film” in which scenes from a number of Bela Lugosi scenes were shown and audience members were encouraged to audibly identify their source, the film was reviewed in the British film trade journal Kinematograph Weekly – but there is no record of the film ever being released and no materials on the film have ever been located.
“Man in the 5th Dimension” (1964, USA). Shot in 70mm Todd-AO, this short film starred Billy Graham talking about the world situation and how salvation could come about through the embrace of the Bible. Designed to be shown at Graham’s pavilion at the 1964 New York’s World Fair, it never played theatrically and has not been seen since.
“The Monkey’s Paw” (1933, USA). The W.W. Jacobs short story was expanded into an hour-long RKO film, although a bizarre happy ending ruined the shock of its climax. Only fragments remain, although reports of a complete print at the UCLA archives are unconfirmed.
“The Mystery of the Mary Celeste” (1936, UK). Bela Lugosi went to London to star in this creepy film, based on a true story, about a ship that is found in the ocean without any person on board. The original 90-minute version is lost, and all that survives is the truncated American release called “Phantom Ship.”
“Naughty Dallas” – The Jack Ruby Footage (1963, USA). Exploitation filmmaker Larry Buchanan was able to shoot a film at the Carousel Club in Dallas on the condition that the joint’s manager, Jack Ruby, get a role in the film. Buchanan reluctantly agreed, but threw away the footage after it was shoot. This was before Ruby did you-know-what in Dallas.
“No, No Nanette” (1930, USA). This early talkie adaptation of the Broadway musical followed the adventures of a Bible salesman whose infatuation for a scatterbrained chorus girl leads him away from Christ’s path to Broadway. Only parts of the soundtrack on Vitaphone discs survive.
“Oklahoma!” – The James Dean Audition. (1954, USA). The 16mm test footage of Dean auditioning for the role of Curly (playing opposite Rod Steiger as Jud) was thrown away after Gordon MacRae was cast in the role.
“Peludópolis” (1931, Argentina). The aforementioned Quirino Cristiani also created the first animated feature with sound, with this political satire. The only known prints of “Peludópolis” were destroyed in a fire in 1961
“Raja Harishchandra” (1913, India). Dhundiraj Govind Phalke’s epic offered a cinematic vision of Hindu gods and goddesses, and the first bathtub scene in Indian movie history (played by men in female garments, since no actress would do this scene). Only fragments remain of this early landmark.
“The Return of Gilbert and Sullivan” (1950, UK). The operetta kings return to Earth to protest the jazz adaptations of their beloved compositions. No print has turned up of this musical romp.
“The Scott Joplin Performance Film” (1904, USA). An experimental early sound film made by Eugene Lauste, this contained the only known footage of the ragtime performer. The experiment was acoustically unsatisfactory and the film was discarded as a failure.
“Space Jockey” (1958, USA). Phil Tucker, creator of “Robot Monster,” had poor feelings for his obscure sci-fi feature, calling it a “piece of shit.” No details on the film can be located anywhere beyond Tucker’s comments, and it is possible the film was probably unfinished and never released.
“September” – The Original Cast (1987, USA). Woody Allen’s ill-fated drama had a troubled history consisting of two versions of the same film. Leading man Christopher Walken was replaced by Sam Shepard after shooting began. The film was completed, but it was so unsatisfactory that is was reshot; Shepard and castmates Charles Durning and Maureen O’Sullivan were replaced by Sam Waterston, Denholm Elliott and Elaine Stritch. The first version has never surfaced.
“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. The unstable nature of the early two-color Technicolor prints hastened speedy deterioration of prints.
“The Story of the Kelly Gang” (1906, Australia). 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. Roughly 10 minutes of this production survive.
“Take it Out in Trade” (1970, USA). 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 living in a whorehouse. Wood has a supporting role in drag (his character’s name is Alecia), but the film is gone – only silent outtakes survive.
“Taxi Driver” – The original climactic shootout (1976, USA). The MPAA forced Martin Scorsese’s to mute the colors in the film’s original bloody climax. The footage from the original full-color climax was thrown away and never seen again.
“Too Much Johnson” (1938, USA). Three years before “Citizen Kane,” Orson Welles shot this silent comedy romp designed to provide a cinematic bridge into his theatrical presentation of the comedy “Too Much Johnson.” The print and negative were destroyed in a 1971 fire at Welles’ Spanish home.
“Uncle Tom’s Fairy Tales” (1968, USA). Penelope Spheeris was supposed to make her directing debut in this savage satire of America’s volatile race relations, but star Richard Pryor was unhappy with the film’s progress and halted production. Pryor reportedly ordered the footage to be destroyed, although there are unconfirmed reports that some footage survived.
“Untitled Ed Wynn Film for ‘The Ziegfeld Follies of 1915’” (1915, USA). As part of the hit Broadway show, Ed Wynn dressed like a movie director and stood in the center aisle of the theater while a movie of his fellow castmates played on a screen (W.C. Fields was part of the film). After the show closed, the film was thrown away.
“The Way of All Flesh” (1927, USA). This film has the dubious distinction of being the only lost film to boast an Academy Award-winning performance, with Emil Jannings as a bank clerk who switches identities with a dead robber. Only five minutes of footage survive.
“What a Widow!” (1930, USA). The final collaboration between Gloria Swanson and her producer/lover Joseph P. Kennedy was this unsuccessful comedy about a young woman who suddenly becomes the center of romantic adventurers after she inherits $5 million when her rich old husband croaks. With neither Swanson nor Kennedy keeping track of the film, the prints vanished.
“The Wizard of Oz” – The Jitterbug Number (1939, USA). This single sequence cost $80,000 to produce and five weeks to shoot, but it was removed from the final version of the MGM classic. The soundtrack recording and 16mm home movie footage of the sequence remain.
“The Werewolf” (1913, USA). The first known movie dealing with human-into-wolf transformations has a Navajo witch passing her black magic onto her daughter, who gets wolfish to scare off nasty white settlers. The last known print of the film was destroyed in a fire in 1924.
“A Woman of the Sea” (1926). Charlie Chaplin produced Josef von Sternberg’s drama starring Edna Purviance, the co-star of Chaplin’s classic comedy shorts. The finished film was so bad that it was never released. Chaplin destroyed it in 1933.
“Zudora” (1914, USA). This 20-chapter serial follows the adventures of a young heiress who can gain her inheritance if she solves a series of 20 mysteries. Chapters 1, 2 and 8 are all that remains.