Lost Fragments Of Theda Bara’s “Salome” Found!

HOLD EVERYTHING–how have I not mentioned this yet?! Recently it was announced that fragments of Theda Bara’s Salome (1918)–one of her most lamented lost films after Cleopatrahave been found! That’s right, there’s new footage of the legendary Theda Bara to enjoy, and from one of her lavish costume dramas, too!

Theda Bara in Lost Film Salomé (1918) | FROM THE BYGONE

Theda, early sex symbol and current silent era icon, appeared in around 40 films but only a few of them survive. Many of her biggest hits have vanished and are represented only by tantalizing stills of the actress in elaborate beaded costumes and fancy headdresses. And one of the most intriguing hits is the William Fox production Salome (1918). I won’t make you wait–here’s the footage below. The clips are brief and have Spanish intertitles, and they capture some wonderful Theda moments:

Wow!! A few things strike me right away: Theda’s acting is certainly theatrical, but she pulls it off (the director probably wanted an operatic feel); man, those expressive eyes; and she definitely has charisma. In the shots where she’s sitting among a group of people, my eye goes to her right away and wants to stay there.

I made some stills for you guys!

A couple people have been kind enough to translate the title cards. Here they are:

“Benjamin, the last scion of the patriarch”

“You must suppress Prince David!”

“Be wise… Jews worship David! Did you forget by chance that the idol of the people is the rival of the king?”

“Remorseful”

“Tomorrow, at dawn, when you take the bath in the pool”

“The arrogant figure of the Prophet did not leave the lascivious mind of Salome for a moment.”

“An all-powerful, unique, just and eternal God who, in his love for mortals, sends us his only begotten son to redeem the world!”

To say this is a great find, even in its choppy state, is an understatement. Theda Bara films are some of the most sought-after lost films on the planet, along with lost works by F.W. Murnau and Ernst Lubitsch and London After Midnight. Getting to see her in action one of her blockbusters, even for just a minute and half, is a dream come true for many silent film lovers. Especially since all of us have seen tons of stills from Salome!

She’s wearing that outfit and moving!

So I guess these fragments were identified at the Filmoteca Española in March 2020, but restoration work had to be delayed thanks to the covid restrictions. Initially, they weren’t sure if the small, scratchy 35mm roll of nitrate really contained the Theda version of Salome or if it was something else. But sure enough, the Theda version it was!

As you can see, it’s a strange bundle of fragments, complete with a bunch of title cards (which doesn’t always happen). It took awhile to figure out how it wound up unnoticed in the archive. Bizarrely, an archivist had reported on the footage in the 1990s, but his report had flown under everyone’s radar because…I don’t know.

At any rate, the Salome fragments are now safe and sound and not flying under the radar, and researchers at the Filmoteca were able to find out a bit about their provenance:

“To conclude and summarize all the data obtained, the final result of the investigation was as follows: the film was released in Spain in 1921 and a fragment ended in hands of the heirs of Ramón de Baños, who in 1986 sold it, along with other material, to the Spanish Film Library. The fragment was grouped in a tin titled ‘Unidentified Miscellaneous III,’ which was processed by M. Ibáñez and later by M. Love. It was the latter who managed to identify the material as Salomé between the end 1995 and early 1996. At some later point this fragment was separated from the rest of ‘Diversos III’ and was awarded its own container. It was recorded in the database and Ibáñez made the report of the film in 2003. After its transfer to the nitrate deposits in 2007, it was revised in 2013 and it was not until a few days before the confinement of 2020 that Salomé was rediscovered and, this time, recognized for the importance that this work deserves.”

Here’s a few more stills, because I can’t resist:

Oh the fabric grapes on that one dress…!

As much as I’d love for the entire film to turn up, finds like this are always tremendous. If you’ve heard about this find already, let us rejoice together. And if you haven’t, I’m glad I got to break the news to you! Happy repeated viewings!

Salome with Theda Bara, 1923 Poster Print by Hollywood Photo Archive  Hollywood Photo Archive - Item # VARPDX482604 - Posterazzi

19 thoughts on “Lost Fragments Of Theda Bara’s “Salome” Found!

  1. Theda Bara is so iconic and yet so little of her work survives– I am so glad they found this footage. She’s mesmerizing to see in motion. There’s a quality to her you just don’t get in stills. I find the same applies to Valentino or Gish. Silent film stars need to be seen in motion to get the full effect, to understand why audiences went crazy for them.

    • Very much agreed, in Theda’s case her charisma is obvious just from these little clips. She also has a bit of girlishness about her that probably helped keep her image from getting too “scandalous,” especially considering the costumes they put her in. 🙂

  2. WOW!! Thanks for sharing. Salome is the one Theda film I want to see more than any other. She seems perfect for this role. I did not know fragments were found. Thanks again!

  3. SALOME, THE PYTHON OF PALESTINE! *

    How is it that these 2 minutes of film were saved in 1921 and the remaining 78 minutes were not? And these 2 minutes contain TITLE CARDS. In Spanish. Now, unthankfully, translated into English. TITLE CARDS preserved right along with Theda Bara. As if the archivists consider title cards worthy of preservation. As if the archivists think movie goers LIKE title cards. As if the archivists think Theda Bara NEEDS title cards. All the Python of Palestine needs is 2 dozen slinky gossamer bejeweled leg baring, arm baring, midriff baring costumes, which, btw, I read she designed herself, and her trade-mark Max Factor kohl-rimmed eyes. TITLE CARDS. The proliferation of these infernal interruptions to the film were a major reason silent films were doomed in 1927 and dead as a doornail by 1929.

    But enough about THAT. Returning to the mystery of HOW these 2 minutes were saved in the first place, I will venture a guess. I’ve read that films that had already been exhibited hundreds of times were worn down and frequently broke during projection. When a break occurred, the projectionist would cut out the strip with the broken sprocket holes and splice the film back together. The snippets went into the wastebasket. Or in this case, the snippets went home with the projectionist in 1921, and were found and sold by his family in 1986. Or maybe not. It’s likely that Kevin Brownlow, preeminent authority on all matters regarding silent films, has a better explanation.

    *from a newspaper ad in 1919
    P.S. My apologies to those who actually DO like TITLE CARDS – no offense intended.

    • It’s funny only those clips survived, isn’t it? I think the theory the Spanish archivists have is they were part of some kind of documentary which included just highlights of SALOME.

  4. Well, it certainly gives me some ideas on how to stage my next New Year’s Eve’s party. What a great find this and thanks for reporting on it! I agree, while the divine Theda may not be subtle, she’s utterly mesmerizing and draws the eye; and even from the fragments you get a sense of how she conceived her character. I can only hope that people start checking those mysterious canisters of film in their attics and garages and see what else can be found.

    • Yes! I remember some years ago there was talk about how silent films have a shelf life, and there was limited time left to find and save them before their inevitable decomposition. This is true, but it’s remarkable how some old films manage to hang on, just waiting to be saved.

  5. I think Judy is on the right track on how these fragments survived. Even projectionists can be star struck movie fans and the fragments are suspiciously all Theda and there’s certainly a lot of leg showing in them. The old saying that sex sells is certainly true and its very possible it had a hand in the survival of these rare fragments. But it is also possible I am 100% wrong, either way I think I just blushed writing this.

    • I’d suspect whoever clipped this had a real Theda crush back then, too! 😉

      The document put out by the Filmoteca (linked in the article) is in Spanish, but it’s possible to highlight the text and put it in Google Translate or something similar. I believe these clips were shown in 1921 as part of some kind of complication, not sure what the other fragments were like though. If they also slow starlets then that would be telling. 😀

  6. This is a rather amazing thing to watch, isn’t it?Though I’ve see A Fool There Was, here I can get much more of a sense of why she was such a sensation. I agree that her presence on the screen is really riveting, and those facial expressions…. Thanks for the article on this great find!

  7. A very important find! Theda is interesting to watch on film. What a tragedy that 1937 fire was. So many silent films lost…

  8. Pingback: The Top 10 Lost Films I’d Love To See | Silent-ology

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