What’s your most-wanted lost silent film?

This is a bit of a sad topic but every silent film fan has a wishlist of a few (or a lot) of movies that are missing and presumed lost. I want to hear about yours.

Me? I would absolutely love to see the 1926 Milton Sills vehicle Men of Steel.  It’s all about the steel industry but I am shallow. I love the ad campaign:

What’s on your list? The original versions of The Great Gatsby or Gentlemen Prefer Blondes? Something more obscure? Something famous like the ever-elusive London After Midnight? (I covered that film extensively in my review of its direct remake, if you’re interested.)

Which films would you save from the flames?

Share your title or your list and let’s commiserate!

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50 Replies to “What’s your most-wanted lost silent film?”

    1. I think there will be initial disappointment (can ANYTHING live up to that hype) but then a cooler reassessment once the novelty wears off and we’ll probably agree it’s pretty good. 😉

  1. “Wanderer of the Wasteland” (1924), directed by Irvin Willat, and starring Jack Holt and Billie Dove. A western based on a novel by Zane Grey and filmed entirely in two-color Technicolor. A few frames survive to gives as a sampling of an early color film. It looks fascinating.

  2. Hello Fritzi,

    There are so many potentially great lost silent films that its hard to choose, but F.W. Murnau’s 4 DEVILS tops the list for me. Wouldn’t mind seeing his take on the Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde story (DER JANUS-KOPF) with Conrad Veidt either.

  3. Theda Bara’s “Cleopatra” and her version of “Salome”, both were world wide hits. You’d think such films would have a print somewhere?!?! Besides that, the 1915 “The Golem” is another I would love to see. I know fragments are online and I have heard a rumor a print does exist in Eastern Europe but nothing concrete has come surfaced.

  4. Oh, people are mentioning the ones I am thinking of already!

    Greed (uncut) if it existed
    4 Devils, what a shame it is lost.
    Lon Chaney in The Miracle Man and Thunder.
    Colleen Moore’s Flaming Youth and We Moderns, the latter said to have an amazing ending.
    Clara Bow’s lost output from 1928 I think it was, when she was the top star in Hollywood.
    Something by Theda Bara, certainly.
    Whatever can be found of the Baby Peggy films as Diana Serra Cary is still with us at 100!
    The Great Gatsby for sure. Bonus, that it features William Powell in his “silent bad guy” days!

  5. You named two – Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and The Great Gatsby. But I’d also love to see Daphne and the Pirates which starred Lillian Gish and Elliott Dexter. It sounds like a take on “Manon Lescault”.

  6. The original ‘Dark Angel’ with Ronald Colman, plus ‘The Patriot,’ ‘Flaming Youth,’ Bara’s ‘ Cleopatra,’ and many more too numerous to mention!

  7. I’d love to see HOLLYWOOD (1923) since virtually every major silent star has a cameo in it and the stills show that it was shot all over Hollywood. HUMAN WRECKAGE (1923) would also be great, because it probably be the first major addiction picture ever made, one offering solutions beyond “Just Say No.” The stills also show that it concluded with at least one scene with real people (Dan O’Brien, SF Chief of Police, LA Police chief, Rufus Von Kleinsmid, President of USC, and others) discussing how to solve addiction.

  8. The Sea Gull (aka A Woman of the Sea). 1926. Directed by Josef von Sternberg. Produced by Charles Chaplin. Starring Edna Purviance, Eve Sothern, Raymond Bloomer, Gayne Whitman, Charles French. After one private screening, Chaplin permanently shelved the film. It is presumed lost/destroyed.

  9. Tourneur’s A BLIND BARGAIN with Lon Chaney,and TREASURE ISLAND. Clara Bow movies THE RUNAWAY by William de Mille and ROUGH HOUSE ROSIE.

  10. As an admirer of the novel, I’d love to see “The Great Gatsby.” BUT: it’s hard to argue against the complete version of “Greed.”

  11. I would love someone to find “Saved from the Titanic” (1912), the short film starring Dorothy Gibson, the actress who survived the disaster. It was even shot on the Olympic, Titanic’s sister ship. Aagh. So interesting!
    At least we have the German film “In Nacht und Eis” which came out the same year.

  12. Humor Risk (or Humorisk), the legendary lost Marx Brothers’ short. Almost certainly a terrible film, but it would be fascinating to see them in 1921, and to see Groucho and Chico doing silent comedy.

  13. I’m still not sure what the fascination is with London After Midnight – it got pretty bad reviews. Presumably the hype derives from the part it played in a UK murder trial a year or two later, when the murderer said he had visions of Lon Chaney in his makeup. But the remake with Lugosi is only an average film, too. If we got London after Midnight, it’s likely to be a huge disappointment. I think Thunder or Tower of Lies (reuniting him with Sjostrom) would be more interesting Chaney finds. Beyond those, it would be great to have some more films by people we have very few feature films of such as Theda Bara, or even some of the more interesting lost Clara Bow movies such as The Ancient Mariner. And who wouldn’t want to see Wally Reid as Dorian Gray, or Bela Lugosi and Conrad Veidt in Der Januskopt by Murnau?

    1. As discussed above, we may very well be disappointed but at least it will be from first-hand experience. However, it is impossible to discern the unique flavor of a film from stills, reconstructions or even remakes. (The Tod Browning who made The Mark of the Vampire was not the same Tod Browning of the 1920s, that’s for sure.) Relative quality is really beside the point anyway.

  14. Oh man…so probably Hats Off! (I’m a big laurel and hardy fan and I’d love to see the source of The Music Box’s gags). As much as the story is controversial, I’d love them to find both film versions of A Study in Scarlet (seriously..how did it happen that BOTH have gone missing!!). The Golem (the first film) would be a nice find as well.

  15. So many mentions of ‘London After Midnight,’ but at least we have a complete stills reconstruction of that. There are so many lost treasures that we can’t even get a glimpse of. I yearn for the 48 missing films of my adored Corinne Griffith.

  16. A complete “The River”, directed by Frank Borzage and starring Charles Farrell and Mary Duncan, is at the top of my list, since the available truncated version, missing the first and last reels, is absolutely fascinating! Of course, it’s possible that the set-up and ending reels would only detract from the mysterious core of the film.

  17. Gatsby is definitely mine. Though also on my list is something not lost but rarely shown: the PG Wodehouse golf story films in the BFI’s collection. Like Gatsby and Gentlemen Prefer blondes, the original stories are so very 1920s I’d love to see how people in the 20s actually imagined them, free from any sort of nostalgia.

  18. Lost Silents (A Dream Quest)…… I’m in a second-hand shop and buy a huge old upright clothes trunk. The trunk has no keys to unlock it, so price is dirt cheap. I take it home, fiddle the locks with a screwdriver and an awl, it suddenly pops open and inside are (perfectly preserved, of course):

    The Brute, The House Behind The Cedars, The Miracle Man, Human Wreckage, The Haunted Bedroom, Fuss and Feathers, The Serpent, Heart and Soul, Cleopatra, and every one of Milton Sills’ lost films!!!

  19. There’s a lost version of Jack London’s “The Sea Wolf” starring Hobart Bosworth, and with Jack London himself playing a sailor.

    Also, I second all of the above!

    I would love to have the opportunity to even be disappointed by London after Midnight 🙂

  20. I would love to see Xie Caizhen’s ‘An Orphan’s Cry’ and the missing reels of Marion E. Wong’s ‘The Curse of the Quon Gwon’.

  21. Not a specific film, per se, but I’d love it if someone found a treasure trove of Harold Lloyd’s early Lonesome Luke shorts.

  22. Those Who Dance (1924) with Bessie Love, Blanche Sweet and Warner Baxter. I can’t resist a crime drama with such a great cast.

    More Florence La Badie movies would be welcome too.

  23. I agree with many of these great comments! Here are a few of my own that were not mentioned: The Battle Of Gettysburg – 1913 – Directed by Thomas Ince , The Jungle – 1914 – First Adaptation Of Upton Sinclair’s Controversial Novel The Life Of General Villa – 1914 – A Graphic Look At Pancho Villa’s Army A Daughter Of The Gods- 1916 – Annette Kellerman Starring Vehicle, With An Infamous Nude Scene, And The Miracle Man – 1919 – A Movie Serial Starring Ex-Heavyweight Boxing Champion James J Corbett. I’m a big pre-1920 film fan!

  24. Surprising no one, my #1 choice would be MARION DAVIES in THE YOUNG DIANA (1922), a film that has Davies age into spinsterhood only to be rejuvenated by a mad scientist. Newly young, she seeks her long lost love (whom she thought had married) only to received a big surprise. The film was a box-office hit and earned wide praise for Joseph Urban’s “Metropolis”-like sets ,,, 5 years prior to that film.

  25. A local cinema advertised “Hollywood” as being, in effect, worth going on a £100 trip to the eponymous city, as it featured thirty stars and twenty major players.
    The publicity for “A Study in Scarlet” at the same venue was nothing short of hate-crime.
    I would love to see “Four Devils” and “Cleopatra” (Theda Bara,of course), though many others would be gladly appreciated.

  26. I can think of many with better-known stars, but I’d be happy to see just ONE of the sixteen western features that Art Acord made for Universal from 1925-27. None is complete, and only a twenty-minute sequence of one exists. ONE of the sixteen two reelers that he made from 1921-22 exists, but his only other extant starring films are some low-budget oaters from 1928-29. He is undeservedly neglected amongst that decade’s cowboy stars.

    Close second: one of the two (I think?) films that Bebe Daniels and Richard Dix made together at Paramount circa 1924-25. I think they would have been great together; would love to test that hypothesis if one of their films were actually extant! Don’t get me started as to why they didn’t make an early talkie together when they were both at Radio in 1929-30. Grrr…

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