We just looked at 10 famous films that might be lost forever. But there's hope! Here are 10 famous films that were missing before magically turning up.
1. The first version of John Cassavetes’ Shadows
John Cassavetes shot his first film, Shadows, twice. Unhappy with the first version, he scrapped and reshot nearly sixty percent of it. Boston University professor and Cassavetes expert Ray Carney conducted an interview with the director and concluded that at least one print of the original might still exist. Carney spent decades following false leads from archivists, curators, and collectors—until he contacted a Florida woman who claimed her father, a junk collector and owner of a Manhattan second-hand shop, had purchased a box of reels labeled “Shadows” from a New York City subway system lost-and-found sale.
Carney was incredulous at first, and upon acquiring the reels, he let them sit, sure that they were yet another print of the film’s second version. Upon unspooling the film, he was struck immediately. The second version of Shadows opens with a crowd scene—the film in his hands opens with a lone figure walking down a street. The first version of the landmark indie film was found.
2. Ed Wood’s Necromania
Everyone is familiar with 1959’s Plan 9 From Outer Space, but “Z movie” auteur Ed Wood, Jr., made films all the way into the 1970s. That part of his career is characterized by his exploitation and porn films, such as Orgy of the Dead, The Only House in Town, and the 1971’s Necromania. Pieces of the film bounced around, but no complete copy was ever found, despite the best efforts of “Woodites.” That is, until 2001, when prominent Wood biographer Rudolph Grey, Jr., ended his 17-year quest by discovering a complete print of Necromania in a Los Angeles warehouse.??
3. Richard III, the first full-length film of a Shakespeare play
This version of Shakespeare’s Richard III is both the first feature-length film of a Shakespeare play and the earliest known American feature film still in existence. It was thought lost forever until 1996, when a Portland, Oregon, projectionist and collector donated a near-mint print of the 1912 silent to The American Film Institute, which was unaware of the print’s existence.??
4. Carl T. Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc
One of the greatest films of the silent era, The Passion of Joan of Arc featured what critic Pauline Kael described as what “may be the finest performance ever recorded on film” by one-and-done actress Maria Falconetti. Damaged, spliced-together copies of this Danish classic were known to exist, but the original, pristine version was thought lost forever. Cut to Norway, 1981, when a complete, near-perfect print was discovered—by a janitor, in the broom closet of a Norway mental hospital. It is thought that a doctor from the hospital had ordered a print of the film in the 1930s and had simply forgotten about it.??
5. A Thief Catcher, featuring a two-minute cameo from Charlie Chaplin
Silent comedy collector Paul Guriecki (aka “The Godfather of the Silent Comedy Mafia,” according to his Twitter profile) was browsing a Michigan antique sale earlier this year and came upon a reel tucked away in a trunk. He purchased the reel, thinking it was just another in a long line Keystone Studios shorts. Little did he know at the time, that ten-minute short, A Thief Catcher, features a film historian’s dream: a two-minute cameo from the not-yet-famous Tramp, one of the first of Chaplin wearing his iconic moustache.
??6. Upstream (and lots, lots more)
In the spring of 2010, a 75-film trove was found in a New Zealand vault. Many “rediscovered films” are found alone, forgotten in an archive, a closet, an attic (or, of course, in the New York City subway). Rarely do film geeks have the opportunity to salivate over a treasure trove of lost films like they did earlier this year, when 75 films were found in a Kiwi vault. As if finding 75 thought-lost films wasn’t enough, the collection also included manna for film geeks: Upstream, an early feature film directed by Hollywood legend John Ford, who went on to direct film-school standards Stagecoach and The Searchers. Other highlights are Birth of a Hat, a short industrial film from the Stetson Company; and Won in the Closet, directed by Mabel Normand, one of the earliest films directed by an actress.??
7. Nazi propaganda film Victory of Faith, directed by Leni Riefenstahl
Hitler’s infamous documentarian made a trip to Great Britain in 1934 to lecture college students on her filmmaking process. She brought with her Victory of Faith, a film featuring footage of the 1933 Nuremberg rally as well as appearances by Ernst Rohm, who at the time was Hitler's close friend and leader of the SA (more commonly known today as the Brownshirts). Rohm's career path in that early Nazi era was a little too ambitious for Der Fuhrer, who later ordered a purge of the SA, and arrested Rohm himself, denouncing him as a traitor. Rohm was deemed an outcast overnight, and Hitler demanded all references to him purged from the public record. This meant all copies of Victory of Faith were destroyed, too. That is, all but one, a copy made during Riefenstahl's visit to Britain, rediscovered in the 1990s.
??8. Momotaro: Umi no Shinpei, the first Japanese animated feature
Translated to “Momotaro’s Divine Sea Warriors,” this propaganda cartoon—a sequel to director Mitsuyo Seo’s earlier 37-minute film featuring the same character—from the land of anime features the Japanese folklore character Peach Boy, who leads a band of animals in an attack on an Indonesian island with the mission to liberate Asia. After the war, most Japanese propaganda films, Momotaro included, were thought to have been destroyed. But one print of the important animated feature survived and was found in 1984, in the offices of Japanese film company Shochiku.??
9. Gloria Swanson and Rudolph Valentino romance Beyond the Rocks
This silent-era treasure featuring two of Hollywood's greatest stars was considered lost forever, except for a one-minute fragment kept by the Nederlands Filmmuseum. In 2002, a Dutch film collector passed away, leaving his assortment of 2,000 reels to the museum. Archivists spent months cataloging the donation, which included all six complete reels of the Swanson-Valentino film, each in remarkable condition.??
10. Howard Hughes production Two Arabian Knights
Hughes, famous aviator, film producer, and mentally ill recluse, produced this 1927 silent comedy about two American World War I POWs starring Mary Astor, she of The Maltese Falcon fame. (The film also features horror-movie legend Boris Karloff in a small role.) Knights was well received in its day, winning director Lewis Milestone an Oscar for "Best Direction in a Comedy," an award that the Academy no longer hands out. It disappeared shortly thereafter, and wasn't recovered until Hughes' death about fifty years later. It was found in his film collection and then restored by a University of Nevada film historian. Certainly more interesting than the jars of Hughes’ urine that may have accompanied it!
Today is October 10, 2010—10.10.10! To celebrate, we've got all our writers working on 10 lists, which we'll be posting throughout the day and night. To see all the lists we've published so far, click here.