It was quite common in the decades gone by for reels or copies of films to be lost. With no digital backup or cloud system, once the reels of these cinematic treasure trove would be lost, there was no getting them back. These lost films reduce from being golden classics to just a figment of imagination – etched in the minds of those who had seen them. However, when it comes to lost films, all is not lost. Here is a complete entertaining list of recovered lost films that cheated time and space to greet our inner cinematic freaks once again!
The Day The Clown Cried
Because of the storyline of this film- which was quite controversial – the director of the movie, Jerry Lewis, thought that either it will be considered better than Citizen Kane or worse than the worst films from the silent era. The plot of this movie is about a German clown who once mocks Hitler, and as a result, he is forced to push Jewish children into the gas chambers during the Second World War.
Because of the movie’s controversial subject, Lewis himself scrapped ever copy he had of the movie and declared no one will ever get to see the movie. How wrong was he!
This step, taken by Lewis, acted as a form of unwanted publicity, and it generated interest among the people to catch even a single glimpse of the movie, by hook or by crook. Even after searching digital libraries for years, no one could lay a hand on the movie’s copy. However, miracles happen. This time, the Library of Congress acted as a magician and found a copy. The Library then made a deal with Lewis, promising him that it would only exhibit this historically controversial piece of art in 2025 – that’s 7 years from now.
It’s a win-win situation for the audience as well as the director. While the cinematic lovers will finally get to watch one of the best lost movies of all times, the director will probably too old or dead by the time the movie finally reaches the theatre.
Victory of Faith – One of the most cinematically successful lost films from WWII
One of the most critically acclaimed lost films from the silent era, Victory of Faith had the Nazi dictatorship as its subject as well as the plot. Contrary to The Day The Clown Cried, this movie upheld the victories of Nazism. Hitler himself ordered this documentary to be made. The film maker, Leni Riefenstahl, used avant-garde camera angles and lighting. The music, a composition of by the leading composers in the Reich, added the feather in the cap. Despite being a cinematic marvel, Hitler ordered every existing copy of this movie to be destroyed due to an unforeseen rivalry with one of his closest Nazi.
Those who know even a little bit about the Nazi rise and fall has heard Ernst Rohm’s name. Rohm was so close to Hitler in political terms that it in one scene of the movie, Rohm shares the stage only with Hitler. However, Rohm was later found guilty of planning the fateful Night of the Long Knives attack and was arrested on Hitler’s order. Hitler, not wanting his name or face to be associated with Rohm, ordered all the copies of Victory of Faith to be destroyed, thereby stealing one of the best Nazi propaganda films from the audience.
To the good luck of those who love to watch recovered lost films, when Leni Riefenstahl went to Britain to talk about her innovative cinematic techniques in film-making; she had left a copy of Victory of Faith at one of the universities there. It was rediscovered in 1990. And since then – Victory of Faith – one of the supposedly lost movies of all times, is now studied by film and history students to analyze how Nazism rose to such great heights, only to fall down with a thud in history.
The Grim Game
The Grim Game, one of the lost movies, is till date considered to be one of Houdini’s greatest movies as well. It, however, became a victim of the inability of the previous generations to store and preserve movies for the future. But thanks to Rick Schmidlin, a film restorer who worked for Turner Classic Movies, who visited Houdini’s museum in Pennsylvania one fine day. There, he heard a marvelous story about the Grim Game by the museum’s proprietors.
Apparently, a fan (and also a friend) of Houdini’s- Larry Weeks – was hoarding the one last copy of the Grim Game with himself. Over the years, a lot of people tried to purchase the movie from Weeks, but he wouldn’t part with it at any cost. Schmidlin arranged a meeting with Weeks and explained to him how TCM is associated with Warner Bros. Upon quite a bit of persuasion, Weeks decided to give away an excellent copy of The Grim Game to Schmidlin. The rest is history.
The Grim Game is one of the best masterpieces that Houdini ever created. It is all thanks to Rick Schmidlin and Larry Weeks that the world now has a surviving momento of something that was all about to be a part of the lost movies.
The White Shadow
A 24 year old assistant director, editor, writer as well as a set director worked on a movie called The White Shadow. It soon ran out of all the available prints and became one of the lost movies of the century. In 1989, a reel with the name ‘The Twin Sisters’ labelled on it was found preserved in a dead New Zealand projectionist’s private collection. Turns out, that The Twin Sisters was actually one half of the 1924 lost movie, The White Shadow.
By the way, the 24 year old talented writer and assistant director was none other than Alfred Hitchcock, who would later give America numerous shivers down the spine with cult classics such as Psycho and Vertigo.
It is not every day that we come across rare copies of lost movies from the silent era and beyond. These recovered lost films are a testament to the fact that history is never stable. It jumps from one moment to the other – just like the scenes in a movie. And we can all be thankful for that!