Friday, July 25, 2008

Movies: Finding old sawtooth.

For fans of classic horror, there's a slight glimmer of hope that the 1927 given-up-for-lost Todd Browning/Lon Chaney flick London After Midnight may have been rediscovered.

From the Allmovie blog:

In terms of cinematic holy grails, it really doesn’t get much holier than Todd Browning’s “lost” 1927 frightener London After Midnight. Produced just before the “talkies” revolutionized the film industry and released approximately three months after The Jazz Singer made the transition to sound official, this silent-but-successful collaboration between Browning and screen legend Lon Chaney was immediately pulled from distribution and stored in a vault following its initial theatrical run. By the 1935, London After Midnight had been taken completely out of circulation by MGM in order to avoid comparisons between it and the recently released remake Mark of the Vampire. Four decades later, on what would have been the fortieth anniversary of London After Midnight, an electrical blaze in Vault #7 of MGM’s Culver City studio destroyed what many believed to be the last remaining nitrate print and negative of the film.

Over half a century later, horror hounds are still mourning the loss.

Flash forward to Thursday, July 24, 2008, and Ain’t It Cool News founder Harry Knowles receives a link leading to a story claiming that a print of London After Midnight (stored under the alternate title of “The Hypnotist”) may still exist. It has all the makings of a great detective story, and whether it turns out to be fact or fiction, it’s a truly exciting read for film enthusiasts.

From Ain't It Cool, written in Knowles' typically telegraphic spastic CAP style:

Today - a fella named CarnyTrouble sent me a link... This Link and asked me to publicize this.


If you work at Time/Warner's Turner Entertainment Company, 5890 W. JEFFERSON BLVD,, LOS ANGELES, CA 90016. The facility was later also known to some as Bonded Film Storage... Get this print into the hands of an Archivist IMMEDIATELY! Every frame needs to be scanned and saved. This is literally the most holy of cinematic Holy Grails.

Finally, part of the original post at The Horror Drunx:

July 11th, 2008: In preparing this article, I revisited
5890 West Jefferson Blvd.
Bad news. No films are housed there any longer and the building has been leased to new tenants. I just have to hope I can track down the print again. Making a few phone calls and doing some research, I've discovered that all motion-picture assets which were housed at Jefferson have now been moved to the Warner Bros. lot or other storage facilities-- except for nitrate films, which have apparently been moved to the UCLA Film Archives. I'll be tracking it down again, hopefully now with the help of some bigger players in the motion-picture industry (their names won't be mentioned here yet) who are more likely to be listened to by those in charge than we are. Just hope we can track it down again, before it is too late.

July 14th , 2008 (Monday): I have a meeting with someone who may be able to help (they requested to remain nameless here to protect their identity). Good news, he agrees. Given the information I have, I know the prints from the Jefferson facility have been moved to one of only about three or four places. That narrows it down. My contact has access to one of those places, the film archives on the Warner Bros. back lot. He will be going there Thursday for some other related business and while there will have some searches run for me in the data base. I told him not to tip our hand quite yet, not to raise any caution flags. Not a problem, he says, it is the kind of thing he does at the archives quite often, so nothing will appear unusual. We consider me going with him, but quickly shelve the idea, because I trust him to do what he does without me being there. I'm still a grip of nerves, but waiting three days is a part of the "Blind Bargain.

July 17th , 2008 (Thursday): We have our answer! Of course, like many things related to LONDON AFTERMIDNIGHT, it comes in the form of a non-answer. While there was apparently nothing in the Warner's database for "THE HYPNOTIST" (though it still may be listed as The Hypnotist AKA London After Midnight) the title HIPNOSIS came up. That is quickly dismissed because it is the title of a newer movie, as well as a television show. The titleLONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT did in fact get a hit in the database though! The assets are listed as VIDEO however, which is odd. Could they have already done a safety transfer of the print? My instinct says no, it is most likely the master elements and rough footage from the 2002 still photograph recreation. I would like to find out for sure though. While this looks like a dead-end, it isn't, as I said THIS is still an answer. We know it most probably is not in the Warner's archives, but remember this was a nitrate print and all nitrate stock assets were moved to one of the U.C.L.A. Film Archives which are NOT listed in this particular database. The trail is not cold by any means! We now know where it isn't and we also know where it most likely is! The only problem now is, I don't have access to those places, but given time I may.

I've made an important decision. This has all always been about doing the better good for me, not about any kind of profit or bragging rights. It has always been the most important that LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT be FOUND, period. Not that *I* be the person to find it. What kind of an investigative researcher and historian would I be if I let ego and pride get in the way of history? After all, I've already not only found it, but had it physically in my hands once already so I KNOW it is out there. We are close enough that I can make my findings public and that I can let people with better access hopefully take it from here. I have, after all, given them a hell of a good road map to find it.

Let's hope that this article can get under the right noses where it can do the most good. Those of you who have watched the news recently may have heard of another silent film, METROPOLIS. Recently a print was found in South America that contained approximately 25 extra minutes that were missing from all the other existing prints. I consider this a major, epic find. The people in Buenos Aires tried for years to get the world to listen to them that they had the extra footage and even then, with it in their possession it was hard to get the right doors to open. Now it is suddenly a huge news story in the last couple weeks. To put things in perspective, METROPOLIS was made and released in 1927, the same year as LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT. They found 25 minutes, but I still think we can find an entire lost movie. I wish I had the alternate happy ending for you, but stay tuned here for any updates on the story that may surface. As of now, LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT is still out there someplace, found for a short time, but now missing again. Not irrevocably "lost," not yet, just "misplaced" for now.

Let's hope the folks at Horror Drunx are on to something.

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