Movies Silently’s Ten Most Wanted Silent Films (that still live in vaults)

I don’t know a single silent movie fan who doesn’t daydream about films that still exist but have never been released to the general public. We all have our dream list of “vaulties” and this is mine. I hope you enjoy!

These films sound absolutely fascinating and they all exist in at least one archive but have never been released to the general public, though they may be screened at film festivals from time to time.

A few disclaimers before I continue:

  • Please don’t think I am in any way saying that archivists, producers and distribution companies are to blame. Time, money and other resources are limited and anyone hoping to release a silent film has to choose their target wisely.
  • These films may have copyright tangles, access restrictions, too much decay or other issues that I am not currently aware of.
  • Please let me know if any of the listings are incorrect regarding print survival status, location, etc.
  • If you do get in touch with an archivist or producer, please be polite and avoid any whiff of entitlement. You are not owed a single foot of film.

Library of Congress

The Captive (1915)

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This film was directed by Cecil B. DeMille but I am interested because of the women involved in its production. Blanche Sweet had just signed on with proto-Paramount after Lillian Gish had Eve Harringtoned her way into Sweet’s part in The Birth of a Nation. I am dying to see Sweet at the height of her fame but post-Griffith.

Also, this was the first original scenario written by Jeanie Macpherson that DeMille ever filmed. Macpherson gets no respect these days but she was a creative dynamo who could act, direct, write and whose zany plots are always fun to watch. This one is about a Montenegrin woman who is given a Turkish POW and has to figure out what to do with him. She makes him wash clothes. You know you want to see it!

Update: Released and reviewed! (It was so worth the wait)

The Song of Love (1923)

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Another film that intrigues me because of the woman behind the camera. This ill-fated production was Frances Marion’s last stab at directing. During shooting, she was klonked on the head by a falling light and had to bow out. Owch! Painful just thinking about it.

The backstage gossip is also juicy because Joseph Schildkraut and Norma Talmadge reportedly HATED each other. There is not enough popcorn in the world for this!

The story concerns a French spy who goes undercover in ballet flats and spit curls in ye olde Arabia. No, that’s Schildkraut, not Talmadge. Anyway, she’s a dancer named Noorma-hal (really) and she falls for him. It sounds like a masterpiece of kitsch!

Corporal Kate (1926)

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More woman stuff? I’m starting to think I have ulterior motives here! This one is from DeMille’s independent studio and was panned on initial release. However, most of his independent stuff was panned but I love it because the films often featured juicy (and empowered!) roles for women. Some of my favorite silent era programmers are from DeMille’s short-lived studio.

This movie is about a pair of manicurists who join the military (not infantry, we’re not that advanced yet) during WWI as entertainers. The film was labelled a ripoff of The Big Parade but I think it’s intriguing to show the real dangers that support personnel were subjected to and I have confidence in the DeMille brand.

UPDATE: Well, whatdya know? Grapevine just released this on DVD!

UCLA

The Midnight Sun (1926)

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Hollywood went nutty for all things Russian in the silent era and Universal naturally jumped on the bandwagon. This movie particularly interests me because of its purported high budget and the chance it offers to see Laura La Plante is a more dramatic silent role.

This is one of those “ballerinas in peril” films that were an actual thing back in the day. The script also seems to display the usual confusion as to whether imperial Russia should be celebrated or condemned. In any case, this picture looks impressive and I want to see if my instinct were correct.

Cinémathèque Française

Michel Strogoff (Michael Strogoff, 1926)

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And to the surprise of no one, Michael Strogoff made this list. This is one of the best action-adventure films ever made, silent or sound. It is big, bold and bloody and it will keep you enthralled from beginning to end. It also features a grownup romance and an empowered heroine. What could be better? I just want everyone to see it and love it as much as I do.

Le Chant de l’amour triomphant (The Song of Triumphant Love, 1923)

This one is super random but it intrigued me. I have enjoyed the work of director Victor Tourjansky but relatively little of it is available to the general public. This film looks like a crazy mishmash of Italian Renaissance and India through a major Orientalist perspective. It looks nuts. I hope it is.

BFI

The Constant Nymph (1928)

I’m not sure if this tragic love story will be my cup of tea but it was a huge hit and considered one of the great hits of the late silent era for the British film industry. I want to see it for myself in order to understand the tastes of British audiences of the era. This is an important piece of film history.

The Blood Ship (1926)

blood-ship-1927-in-the-vaults-silent-movie-clipping-04One of Columbia’s early blockbusters, this seafaring yarn looks like a blast and a half! It has Hobart Bosworth, an accomplished seadog, and Richard Arlen as the leading man. Critics of the day warned that women should stay home from this bloody picture, advice that I would love to subvert. The thing looks like a perfectly wonderful action picture.

Hey, Columbia, I have a super idea! Maybe you could release this film to celebrate how old and awesome you are! Wouldn’t that be super? C’mon! I’ll be your friend forever if you do…

(BFI holds a 35mm print that is missing the final reel. UCLA holds a complete 16mm print. For public screenings, the final reel of the 16mm print is used with the extant 35mm material.)

Prints held by more than two archives

Ivanhoe (1913)

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I enjoyed the novel and this film was an early prestige picture filmed on location. I want to see the location shots, the costumes and how the filmmakers condensed the notoriously huge novel down to four reels.

Plus, I feel that early features are not represented nearly well enough on the home media market and would love to see more 4-reel+ pictures from 1912-1914 become available. Filmmaking during that period was far more advanced than most people realize.

The Cossack Whip (1916)

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Another Russian picture, this one from the husband-wife team of director John Collins and actress Viola Dana. Collins has very few films available to the general public and this one sounds interesting due to its dark content and macabre ending. Apparently, Viola Dana has certain skills and the creeps who killed off her family are about to experience them first-hand. Go for it, Viola!

Update: A kind reader arranged a private screening. Here’s the review.

10 Replies to “Movies Silently’s Ten Most Wanted Silent Films (that still live in vaults)”

  1. Constant Nymph as a Talkie took long enough to come out on DVD because of rights issues. I am never in favor of “rights issues” as they are pointless and makes it all the more reason for a wanted title to go to dust due to this nonsense.

      1. Disney own the Selznick library and they were supposed to have restored the color films, like A Star is Born with a blu rays hoped for but nothing has happened. They seem to have stopped issuing Special Edition Blu Rays sets of things like Pollyana in their street catalogue and done them bare bones thru a club set-up that excludes me as I don’t live in USA(Australia). The promised Blu Rays of their cartoon archives Mickey Mouse & Donald Duck has not happened to date. I do get very frustrated by all this and I am not getting any younger and ill health is always with me these days. I can only applaud the like of the British BFI and Networkonair in UK making it possible to see films that never fronted on TV and in quality editions. I am fully aware of what happened to millions of feet of silent film other than accidental fires and natural destruction. I guess some will say we are lucky in what we have had to date.

  2. I remember seeing THE CONSTANT NYMPH some years ago, and found it very enjoyable. My teacher William K. Everson commented that leading lady Mabel Poulton’s career didn’t have much in the sound period because her voice had a cockney accent and didn’t match her “looks”. This film should be released on DVD !

  3. I am surprised by some of these films that can’t be seen by us regular folk unless there is a special viewing. You know, I never even thought that there are so many silent films that are not shown but it makes sense due to the nature of the film..nitrate and probably the money. They don’t get a ton of money because the average Joe doesn’t even think about silent films. Such a huge shame. I have to say, I am learning so much on your blog.

    1. Yes, the market for many of these films is in the low thousands, if not hundreds. Manufacture-on-demand DVDs and streaming have helped but there is still a cost to transferring the movie from film to digital. An accompanist must be hired and box art has to be designed. It can be quite an investment for top-of-the-line silent film producers.

  4. David Shepard said at Nitrateville.com that there are no less than 11 rights holders to Michael Strogoff. Of these, 10 have agreed to sign off for commericial use of the film, but one hasn’t. Looks like we might have to wait awhile for an official release . . . or maybe not . . .

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