You know how whenever a new book adaptation is announced, someone goes, “Why can’t they come up with their own ideas nowadays?” While that person isn’t wrong, they are missing the big picture. The reality is movie makers have been looking to literature for inspiration since the early days of moving pictures.
Although a lot of people don’t watch silent movies anymore (on account of them being colorless and soundless), some of our best movies came out between the late 1800s and 1930. The Library of Congress has suggested up to 75% of all silent films made during that era are lost. Most are lost either because studios intentionally tossed the reels (as they were bulky, and thus pricey to store), or because the silver nitrate film the silent movies were shot on were highly combustible (they were).
That leaves us with essentially a thirty-year cultural black hole that can never be filled. It’s unfortunate for book lovers too because we’re missing out on some important adaptations that came out during that period. Here are just a few amazing book adaptations that are, in all likelihood, lost forever.
1. The Adventures of Pinocchio (1936)
Image Via Wikipedia
Based on Carlo Collodi’s The Adventures of Pinocchio, Raoul Verdini and Umberto Spano’s film was meant to be Italy’s first animated feature film. Not only that, but it also would have beaten Snow White and the Seven Dwarves as the first cel animated movie. Because of production issues, though, the film was never finished. Only the script and a few frames are left of what certainly would have changed, at least, the world of animation. Had it been completed, it might have hampered Walt Disney’s 1940 second animated feature film: Pinocchio.
2. The Monster of Frankenstein (1920)
Based on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, this Italian adaptation directed by Eugenio Testa faced some major censorship issues. One cut of the film was allegedly only 39-minutes long. Now only some marketing material and stills are left.
3. Treasure Island (1920)
Image Via Wikipedia
Although it came out in 1920, this adaptation of the Robert Louis Stevenson novel was the fifth and most over-the-top one. It starred Lon Chaney (of The Phantom of the Opera fame) as both Blind Pew and Merry, and reportedly featured hand-colored sequences. At the time, color could not be shot and recorded, but it could be added after the shoot in a factory. With paint. Only a few stills of this one remain.
4. Wuthering Heights (1920)
Directed by A. V. Bramble, this was the first adaptation of the Emily Brontë classic. Now it’s gone.
5. The Adventures of Mr. Pickwick (1921)
Based on Charles Dickens’ first novel, The Pickwick Papers, this comedy would have been the first feature-length adaptation of the book. Unfortunately, it’s gone. It’s so unfortunate, in fact, that the British Film Institute (BFI) included it on their “75 Most Wanted” list of lost films.
6. Tarzan the Mighty (1928)
Based on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Jungle Tales of Tarzan, Jack Nelson and Ray Taylor’s Tarzan the Mighty is notable for one particular reason: It’s the film that originated the famous swinging technique later aped (haha) by other adaptations. Frank Merrill, National Gymnastics champion, came up with Tarzan’s famous vine swing, which is now one of the most defining images of the character.
7. Anna Karenina (1915)
J. Gordon Edwards’ movie was the first American adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s novel. Alas, unfortunately, it has been lost to time.
8. Romeo and Juliet (1916)
Image Via Wikipedia
Another J. Gordon Edwards film lost to time, this Shakespeare adaptation (Romeo and Juliet is obviously a play, not a book, but still) was released in commemoration of the 300th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. It was produced by Fox.
The thing is, Fox was not the only studio releasing Shakespeare films at the time. Metro Pictures had a Romeo and Juliet film starring Francis X. Bushman coming out. According to Bushman, Fox had spies working for Metro who stole intertitles from the movie and used it in their own. Fox then rushed their adaptation along to beat Metro’s. Now the Fox version is lost, but the Metro one isn’t. I guess, in the end, Fox got its comeuppance.
9. The Beautiful and Damned (1922)
Image Via IMDb
Based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s second novel, this movie has a pretty hilarious backstory. Due to it being a Warner Bros. movie, Jack L. Warner wanted to ensure audiences turned out for it. His idea was to arrange an on-set marriage between the film’s leads: Marie Prevost and Kenneth Harlan. Word was sent out to the press, and a bunch of fans sent congratulatory goodies to the couple.
The thing is, Prevost was secretly still married to her first husband. The Los Angeles Mirror found out about this before Warner, and ran this headline: “Marie Prevost Will Be a Bigamist if She Marries Kenneth Harlan.” Enraged, Warner worked to annul Prevost’s marriage. Eventually the media frenzy quieted and Harlan and Prevost were just quietly married instead.
Audiences still turned out to see the movie, and critics seemed to like it too. Everybody was on board except for F. Scott Fitzgerald, who said to a friend, “It’s by far the worst movie I’ve ever seen in my life—cheap, vulgar, ill-constructed and shoddy. We were utterly ashamed of it.” Whoops. Well, at least it’ll never be seen again? Still, I’d love to see that on-screen chemistry between Prevost and Harlan. Oh, by the way, they divorced three years later.
Feature Image Via Wikipedia