It’s one of the most famous photos from silent comedy. Or from the silent era itself. Or, heck, from cinema itself. It’s the image that probably leaps to mind when you say “Keystone Kops.”
It’s also key to what I think is the ultimate championship trivia question: “This famous still comes from which lost film?” The winning answer–major props if you know it–is “In the Clutches of a Gang!” *Cue lots of applause and money showering from the ceiling*
For being such a wildly famous image, it’s surprising that In the Clutches of a Gang (1914) isn’t better known–as a title, at any rate. After all, the film itself has been lost for many decades, yet another casualty of delicate nitrate paired with the relentless march of time. What a pity that such a tantalizing piece of slapstick history should have been so thoroughly, and regrettably, lost.
It was called spellbinding, striking, “one of the greatest of pictures.” It received ecstatic reviews by critics and transfixed audiences across the nation. It was the great drama The Miracle Man (1919), which not only ended up earning many times its modest budget, but made stars out of its three leads: Thomas Meighan, Betty Compson, and of course, the legendary Lon Chaney.
Naturally, like many other fascinating-sounding silents from the 1910s, The Miracle Man is lost. But in this case, fate has provided us with a rare silver lining. Thanks to compilation film The House That Shadows Built (1931), made in honor of Paramount studio’s 20th year, a couple minutes of footage have survived–including its most famous scene, where Chaney’s character pretends to experience a miraculous healing. Imagine if we had even one minute of London After Midnight! Continue reading →
On this day back in 1918, day two of the Second Battle of the Somme was raging. Albert, France was recaptured by the British.
This is a tale that begins in the strangest and most humble of locations–a bin of odds and ends in a Goodwill store. Wait, let me be more specific–it was a bin of odds and ends in a Goodwill outlet store. (Yes, that is a thing. You can buy clothes by the pound!)
That bin was where my brother (who runs across the darnedest things in that store) scrounged up a copy of a very old, dark green book: Private Peat, written by Harold R. Peat and published in 1917. While a little worn on the ends of the spine, it was in otherwise great shape, the yellowed pages clean and with a little crispness in them yet.
He showed it to me when I dropped by for a visit, and after reading a few paragraphs I was intrigued. Harold Reginald Peat was a Canadian who had been a private in WWI, and Private Peat was his detailed account of his wartime experiences and his thoughts on the war itself. The writing was engaging, witty and had plenty of little details about serving “over there” that only an actual soldier could know. So I just had to borrow it, and just had to read it from cover to cover.
After doing a little research I discovered Private Peat was not only a very popular book in its day, but it was also made into a movie with the same name–starring Peat himself! (Only in the silent era, folks.) While it’s sadly lost, thankfully some stills and info still remain.
It was one of the most culturally important films of the 1920s, the one that made Colleen Moore a star and made “flapper” part of every American’s vocabulary. Her delightful performance is arguably the highlight of the film…or so we can assume, because sadly only a fragment of the influential Flaming Youth (1923) still remains. But thank heavens for that fragment–not all lost films are as lucky.
And it did, my friends. Exhibitor’s Herald, Nov. 3, 1923.
Few things are more surreal than looking through a 100-year-old movie magazine only to see a title like this staring up at you! One of many, many, many lost films, In the Year 2014 (1914) was a split-reel comedy meant to be enjoyed for a day or two and then replaced by the next comedy.
Motography, Nov. 7 1914
Itwas also one of many, many, many Joker comedies from a time when little films were “ground out like sausages,” as the saying often went. Joker, the slapstick branch of the Universal Film Manufacturing Company, was created to compete with Keystone comedies. Its films are thought to have been slapdash and silly–“thought,” because unfortunately the majority of them are lost. The titles will fill you with longing: Love, Roses and Trousers, At the Bingville Booster’s Barbecue, The Mechanical Man, and one of my favorites, Lady Baffles and Detective Duck in the Great Egg Robbery.
And if the longing wasn’t bad enough, the stills always look like so much fun.
April 15 marked the anniversary of one of history’s most infamous maritime disasters: the sinking of the Titanic. As anyone who is a) alive, and b) awake knows, this disaster has been the focus of quite a few films, from James Cameron’s (first) record-breaking 1997 blockbuster to A Night to Remember (1958). It’s even been the setting of a staggeringly crappy animated movie, Titanic: The Legend Goes On(2000). (You may want to wash your eyes with holy water after seeing a few clips. It stinks worse than nitrate rot. It rips off so many Disney movies that Charlie Chaplin imitator Charlie Aplin would shout “By the gods, have you no shame?!”)
But there’s one film that holds the crown of being the very first to set the plot at the Titanic disaster. You could even call it the first fictional film to basically capitalize on it: Saved From The Titanic, which was released a mere month after the ship touched the bottom of the frigid Atlantic.