There’s nothing sadder than a lost film. All that creative energy and talent, teamwork and blooming hard work wasted for ever.
There are a number of reasons for films becoming lost – many were made on perishable nitrate stock; some were never stored properly; some countries never had a respect for movies as an art form; some were thrown away as past their sales life; other movies were simply too bad to care about.
But then there were some that deserved to live – but appear now to be lost to us for ever – leaving us to catch mere snippets through the intervening lens of foyer cards, posters, the memories of the old and perhaps a few metres of remaining film.
A scene from FW Murnau's "4 Devils" - one of the great lost films
Amongst the most famous of these is London After Midnight, made by Tod Browning in 1927 and starring the ineffable Lon Chaney with more pancake than shrove Tuesday. A stand-out work in terms of style, it is said to rest halfway between the expressionism of German cinema and the early rumblings of film noir – a pivotal piece – yet sadly the last known remaining copy was destroyed in a fire in a vault in 1967.
Double Confession (1950) featured Peter Lorre in a British film as a gangster’s henchman. It was last shown on British TV in 1962. It starred Derek Farr and Joan Hopkins and was similar to Brighton Rock in its tale of gangster shenanigans in a British seaside resort.
Peter Lorre in Double Confession - that's William Hartnell on the left, the first Dr Who
Murder at Monte Carlo (1934) starred Australian hunk Errol Flynn in a British film he made en route to Hollywood. Eve Grey and Molly Lamont also featured.
Made by Zoltan Korda, Men of Tomorrow (1932) starred Robert Donat, Merle Oberon and Emlyn Williams. It was more of a melodrama about the changing roles of men and women in the modern world but it did have Robert Donat and Merle Oberon in it.
Charlie Chan’s Chance (1932) starred Warner Oland. Charlie narrowly escapes murder in this one with someone else becoming the victim. Charlie then sets about flushing out the murderer. This was in fact the second version of the film - the earlier 1927 version still exists.
Queen of the Nightclubs (1929). Texas Guinan and Lila Lee star in this movie about a speakeasy owner in a thinly-veiled biopic of Texas herself, where she features as Texas Malone. The film introduced a young George Raft in a small role.
Texas Guinan - larger than life - the Queen of the West
Noose for a Lady (1953), a Brit noir from 1953 with Dennis Price and Rona Anderson. Has the immortal opening scene where Dennis tells the room that one of the people there is a murderer. Then the lights go out and a shot rings out and a disembodied voice says, "To find out who the murderer is, you will need to watch the film until the end.
Perhaps you know of more great lost movies that you'd like to share with us?