Lost and Gone

I sort of miscounted and the film preservation blogathon For the love of Film ends today, but I have a few mini-posts left. I shall issue them over the coming week, since I don’t have time to write other things to keep the blog going this week if I posted them all today. But this is the important one — trailers for lost movies. These little peripheral pieces are all that survives of the original films — or almost (see below).

I don’t know anything about IN THE DAYS OF DANIEL BOONE, but it looks pretty spiffy. What I call an epic!

THE SILENT FLYER also stars a bunch of no-name actors, at least for modern viewers, but it’s canine star is the biggest challenger to Rin Tin Tin, a handsome hound called Silver Streak, who starred in his own rival set of movies in parallel with Rinty’s career. The knock-off dog looks pretty good, although we don’t see him filling a canteen or unlacing his booties, as Rinty does in CLASH OF THE WOLVES. But the makers compensate for their Alsatian protagonist’s lack of versatility with a string of Thrilling Action Climaxes —

See! The Fistfight with a FatMan!

See! The sleighride to mayhem!

See! The rather nifty ice-yacht! Seriously, I want one. Wait, the blew it up? Aw nuts.

THE AMERICAN VENUS opens with a series of recommended vital statistics, proving that body fascism is not a new phenomenon, and that it even predates the other kind. It’s Louise Brooks’s first credited role, and this is all we have of it. Also Esther Ralston, who was very big, and who also starred in a Von Sternberg lost film, THE CASE OF LENA SMITH (a tiny fragment of this one survives). Maybe if these films survived, Esther would be a bigger name today.

I’ve seen a very funny interview with ER where she goes on at length about how Dorothy Arzner had her doing lots of “inappropriate” sexy stuff in TEN MODERN COMMANDMENTS. This in a documentary called THE SILENT FEMINISTS.

“Filmed on the same sweeping scale as BEAU GESTE –” the trailer for BEAU SABREUR wants to tell us that it’s basically exactly the same film, but can’t quite work up the courage. VERY early Gary Cooper, plus fellow Sternberg people William Powell (who had a clause placed in his contract after making THE LAST COMMAND, stipulating that he would never be asked to work with Josef Von S. again) and Evelyn Brent. The director is given as “John Waters,” but we shouldn’t expect to see Gary Cooper eating dog shit or William Powell getting raped by a crustacean. Different guy. Somehow Waters the 1st got sidelined into 2nd unit work later in life, contributing to DAVID COPPERFIELD, NINOTCHKA, THE BIG COUNTRY… Gary Cooper meanwhile went on to even greater stardom as a talking star, even taking the lead in a legit version of BEAU GESTE (directed by William Wellman, who made a star out of Coop by casting him in WINGS just a year before this missing minor masterwork).

Saving the best for last — THE PATRIOT is one of many lost Lubitsch films, including even a few Hollywood ones. But this one stars Emil Jannings! The trailer is fantastically useful and interesting, as well as heart-breaking, because it shows a more active and probing camera style, likely influenced by Murnau and THE LAST LAUGH, and unlike what we see in other Lubitsch films.

This is the movie that’s a weeny bit less lost than the others. Because there’s a good chance you’ve seen bits of it — as stock footage in Sternberg’s THE SCARLET EMPRESS. Sternberg writes that Lubitsch not only wasn’t aware of the swiped material, but in his capacity as Paramount boss (a job Uncle Lube didn’t last in for long), he castigated Sternberg for spending so much on these extravagant crowd scenes. Sternberg, perverse in all things, did not point out the source of the material. He also liked Lubitsch, but never told him this. (All this info comes from Sternberg’s magnificent autobio, Fun in a Chinese Laundry. You are free to disbelieve it.)

The one thing I’m left wondering though is whether the spectacular torture montage at the start of EMPRESS is original, or from THE PATRIOT, or from elsewhere? It’s an eye-popping sequence of explicit sadistic pornography, astonishing even by pre-code standards, and the temptation naturally is to attribute it to Sternberg, but I’m really not sure.

That’s Maria Riva, Dietrich’s real daughter, and biographer, playing her as a young girl (why does her accent change from American to German when she grows up? Futile to ask questions of this kind). and the harness she has to wear for a year is (a) part of the film’s continuous equine imagery, a sly reference to Catherine the Great’s rumoured demise in the throes of passion with a stallion, and (b) autobiography, as you can learn in Sternberg’s book. His arms were tied to his sides for a year, he says, to stop him scratching the flea bites on his scalp.

“Hear and see THE PATRIOT — and know how great a motion picture can be.”

But we CAN’T.

Donate here.

The Scarlet Empress [DVD] [1934] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]

The Scarlet Empress [DVD] [1934] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]

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15 Responses to “Lost and Gone”

  1. David Boxwell Says:

    Von Sternberg obviously liked Evelyn Brent and she’s as “modern” as Louise Brooks; her harsh unrefined voice, I guess, limited her opportunities after 1929. She’s great opposite William Powell in HIGH PRESSURE (32) and her last good role is brief but weird: armless in Lewton/Robson’s THE SEVENTH VICTIM (43). She got typecast as a “tough broad.”

  2. In her biography of her mother (which everyone simpley must read) Maria claims to recall every detail of her involvement in The Scarlet Empress. No surprise really. She’s her mother’s coolest critic, lavoshing praise on her. . . .knowledge of luggage purchases. She also liked Brian Aherne best of of all her mother’s boyfriends.

    Maria had a television career of sorts as an announcer/hostess on afternoon shows. But in my books her greatest contribution to the cinema is her son J.Michael Riva — the great production designer whose masterpiece is —

  3. The trailer for The Patriot is hysterical! These are great, David. Thanks for sharing.

  4. The trailers were amazing. Thanks so much for giving us these glimpses into lost films…….

  5. I surprised to learn that my life is fully one-tenth as thrilling as “The Patriot.” And also to learn that “The Blue Angel” was not the first time audiences heard Emil Jannings’ anguished roar.

  6. I managed to run across your YouTube entry the day you put it up (subscribed, so it shows up whenever I hit the site). Very entertaining and yet very sad. I remember a member of alt.movies.silent putting up percentages of silents lost by studio, and it was a depressing read.

  7. Christopher Says:

    weee..that was fun!..for the first time in a long time I didn’t find myself muttering “geez!..hurry up and start the fecking movie already!”

  8. Thank you for showing the trailers. We don’t always think of saving them, and they give a feel for what we have lost.

  9. I’m gonna have to make some frame grabs from those — a year’s worth of Sunday intertitles! Trailers seem to have gone backwards in the 30s and 40s, they rarely seem as entertaining as that!

    I should write something about movie trailers sometime.

    Louise Brooks postulated that Evelyn Brent was redesigned from the ground up by Sternberg, “He kept her moving, stopped her striking poses,” in pretty much the opposite way he styled Dietrich, who was “a galloping cow” before she met him. Not sure that’s entirely true, as MD is very effective in some of those pre-Blue Angel movies she denied being in.

  10. Tag Gallagher says that Dietrich was actually modelled on the roles George Bancroft played in the silents. Yesterday I got to see Sternberg’s first film, The Salvation Hunters and it’s something special. Georgia Hale is completely different in that film as compared to her work with Chaplin.

  11. That’s interesting about Bancroft. It’s true that he’s in control yet self-destructive and driven by love in Underworld, which relates somewhat to Dietrich. But there is simply no way to make a burly guy like that read similarly to Dietrich, so I’m not sure it stands up. And I don’t think the performance style is very similar, although they both use long pauses in their talkies. Bancroft in Thunderbolt is not as dynamic as he is in Underworld, but that’s partly a result of talkie conventions. Although JVS obviously enjoyed a measured pace, especially in Shanghai Express.

  12. True Marlene is good in theose pre-Sternberg movies. But Sternberg taught her how to be a filmmaker. Enormous difference. She had a conception of herself she wanted to put across (nowhere present in the pre-Sternberg’s where she’s just a pro forma romantic figure) and he showed her how to do it in the most recise possible way. As a result Marlene knew how to light herself for all her post-Sternberg films — and woe to he who questioned her directions on that score.

    Techinically Marlene was a woman. But iconographically she transcended gender in ways that few others have done (Louise Brooks and Nico come most immediately to mind.)

  13. Well great, I have immediately developed an entirely impure interest in Esther Ralston. Ten Modern Commandments, you say?
    These are amazing.

  14. I think Brooks blows Ralston off the screen though.

  15. Yeah but I can hardly blame you for my impure interest in Louise Brooks.

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