Forgotten Oscar: 1928 -1934 Edition

Each year the Oscars ignite arguments between movie lovers between what did win and what didn’t win, what could have won and what should have won.  And more often than not, by the very next year, they’re all forgotten.  Since the Oscars don’t exactly measure true quality, most movie lovers take the whole dog and pony show with a grain of salt.  It’s peer recognition and we all understand that which is why it’s so disconcerting to see such hyperventilated fights each year about the winners (seriously, who cares?).  But when we say that “next year no one remembers who won” that doesn’t mean we’ve forgotten the movie, just the award.  Even if the general public doesn’t know many of the Best Picture winners from yesteryear, most cinephiles do. However, if you go back to the twenties and thirties, you’ll find some of the nominees have been tragically lost, ignored and all but forgotten.

Forgotten Oscar The Racket 01

In 1928, the very first Oscars were announced.  They covered the last half of 1927 into the first half of 1928 (this practice continued for the first Best Pictures until they went with the calendar year starting with It Happened One Night, winner for 1934) and two of the nominees for Outstanding Picture (it was not yet called “Best Picture” and was one of two “Movie of the Year” categories, the other being Unique and Artistic Production, awarded to the masterpiece Sunrise) were Wings (the winner) and Seventh Heaven.  Most movie lovers have seen one or both of those and definitely heard of them but the third nominee, The Racket, is rarely heard of and seen even more rarely.

It was produced by Howard Hughes and when people hear his name in association with the movies they either think of Hell’s Angels or The Outlaw.  Very few, if any, think of The Racket.  The film was based on a play of the same name and dealt with corruption in the police force and government of Chicago, only it didn’t explicitly say that.  The play, written by Bartlett Cormack, a reporter for the Chicago Daily News, put its lead characters, thinly veiled knock-offs of Al Capone and Mayor Big Bill Thompson, in cahoots with each other. This naturally led to the play and movie being banned in Chicago because, corruption in Chicago? Why, whoever heard of such a thing? It’s an outrage! Even more amazing than that, the gangster was played on stage by none other than Edward G. Robinson, who wasn’t cast in the movie! Louis Wolheim played the gangster instead and somehow, over time, the movie disappeared. As of this writing, only one copy exists and it has been publicly shown since 1928 only on TCM.

Now if you think Howard Hughes is a pretty big name to be involved with a forgotten film, try Ernst Lubitsch on for size.  His 1928 film, The Patriot, nominated for the top award at the second ever Oscars,  isn’t just lost, it’s completely lost.  Nothing partial here, like the one print in existence for The Racket.  Nope, with the exception of a few stills and some shots taken from trailers, nothing is left in existence of this film about Emperor Paul I of Russia.  Starring Emil Jannings and Lewis Stone, it won the Best Screenplay award but missed out on Best Picture to The Broadway Melody.  And then, it fell into obscurity, never to be seen again.

Forgotten Oscar East Lynne 03

But the lost films don’t stop there.  Frank Lloyd was one of the most successful directors of the thirties and helmed two Best Pictures in that period (Cavalcade and Mutiny on the Bounty) while winning two Oscars for Best Director (The Divine Lady and Cavalcade). And yet, one of his earliest Best Picture nominees, East Lynne, is nothing more than a curiosity today.   Like The Racket, only one print of the film exists and that one is the pre-edited print.  From Wikipedia:

This print is in good shape, although several frames have an “X” on them, indicating they were to be removed in the film editing stage. One frame has a “crosshairs” on it while several frames have ink marks.

People may view the film at UCLA’s Instructional Media Lab, Powell Library, after arranging an appointment.

Despite the fact that the film itself sounds like nothing more than a tepid melodrama (plot description, again from Wikipedia: “The trophy wife of a stodgy man of wealth yearns for a more interesting life.”) I’d still love to see it and if I lived anywhere near UCLA (I don’t) I’d set up an appointment to watch it (as long as they let me bring popcorn into the lab).  Perhaps more entertaining than the movie is this early New York Times review by Mordaunt Hall which describes the movie as an “audible picturization”  and lead actress Ann Harding as “lovely and efficient” (she must have been so proud).  Indeed, it was because of her performance that many a “dainty handkerchief was dabbed on a pretty face during some of the episodes in the career of the unfortunate Lady Isabella.”  Well now I have to see it.

Finally, we move to The White Parade, starring Loretta Young and John Boles, and produced by famous producer Jesse Lasky (his players were famous, too).  It was nominated for Best Picture at the seventh annual Academy Awards and lost out to It Happened One Night and then… well, does this sound familiar?

The only surviving print is located at the UCLA film archive, and can be viewed at the Instructional Media Lab, Powell Library, after making an appointment.

Only this time, unlike East Lynne, it gets worse:

The print is in rough shape; several frames are out of alignment, at times, while the whole picture looks bleached out and very fuzzy. As well, near the end of the film, a sign pops up indicating “reel 7″; fast forward and you can see the rest of the film.

Still, I’d make that appointment, wouldn’t you?  Both of those are from the meager Wikipedia page on the movie, so meager that the plot description is one line, which roughly amounts to “soap opera about nurses.”  I assume Loretta Young is the main interest of the plot but what she does in it we’ll never know (unless we make that appointment with UCLA).

Forgotten Oscar The White Parade 01

After 1934, lost movies don’t present much of a problem for Oscar nominees.  Although still early in film  history, studios began to devote more attention to Oscar winners (though by no means was film preservation taken seriously for decades to come) and most of the remaining nominees and winners from 1935 onward are available on DVD, streaming or, at the very least, old VHS copies that can be dug up in a pinch.  So as we go into yet another Oscar ceremony and the annual bickering that ensues, let’s remember how lucky we are that all the movies nominated, whether we like them or not, are available to anyone who wants to see them, one way or another.   It’s a sentiment we should remember while we complain about this movie winning over that movie because when a movie is forever gone and forgotten, it’s everyone’s loss.

36 Responses Forgotten Oscar: 1928 -1934 Edition
Posted By Jerome Wilson : February 24, 2013 1:01 pm

There may only be one print of The Racket around but TCM has certainly played it since 2006. It was on their free On Demand channel last year where I saw it and it was scheduled to play on the network last Tuesday at 8:00. It’s a good, tense crime film for its period.

Posted By Jerome Wilson : February 24, 2013 1:01 pm

There may only be one print of The Racket around but TCM has certainly played it since 2006. It was on their free On Demand channel last year where I saw it and it was scheduled to play on the network last Tuesday at 8:00. It’s a good, tense crime film for its period.

Posted By Grand Old Movies : February 24, 2013 1:56 pm

There is a case of one lost film that won an Oscar, “The Way of All Flesh,” for which Emil Jannings won a best-actor award (the first), in tandem with his performance in “The Last Command.” No known copies exist.

Posted By Grand Old Movies : February 24, 2013 1:56 pm

There is a case of one lost film that won an Oscar, “The Way of All Flesh,” for which Emil Jannings won a best-actor award (the first), in tandem with his performance in “The Last Command.” No known copies exist.

Posted By DevlinCarnate : February 24, 2013 1:58 pm

i presume The Racket was later re-made with Robert Mitchum and Robert Ryan?…that version i have on DVD and it sounds a lot like the earlier version

Posted By DevlinCarnate : February 24, 2013 1:58 pm

i presume The Racket was later re-made with Robert Mitchum and Robert Ryan?…that version i have on DVD and it sounds a lot like the earlier version

Posted By Greg Ferrara : February 24, 2013 2:05 pm

Thank you, Jerome, I have amended the post.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : February 24, 2013 2:05 pm

Thank you, Jerome, I have amended the post.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : February 24, 2013 2:06 pm

Grand Old Movies – Thanks for the addition. I’m sure there may be others too from the early days of film. A massive amount of silent films are lost forever, many even purposely destroyed by the studios themselves.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : February 24, 2013 2:06 pm

Grand Old Movies – Thanks for the addition. I’m sure there may be others too from the early days of film. A massive amount of silent films are lost forever, many even purposely destroyed by the studios themselves.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : February 24, 2013 2:07 pm

Devlin, yes, that’s a remake of the Howard Hughes movie. Never seen it, though.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : February 24, 2013 2:07 pm

Devlin, yes, that’s a remake of the Howard Hughes movie. Never seen it, though.

Posted By robbushblog : February 24, 2013 3:07 pm

The Mitchum version is pretty good. It’s not as noirish as I would have preferred though.

It is a tragedy that so many films from the earliest days are lost and will never be seen again. I continue to hold out hope that someone somewhere has a treasure trove of old movies they don’t even know about, which will include copies of London After Midnight and so many more lost films.

There is at least one best picture nominee from the post-1934 period that I have been unable to see. I know that TCM has shown it in the past, but it’s been at least a few years. It was a nominee in 1941, which most of us know as a great year for movies and a “notorious” year for the Oscars as How Green Was My Valley won over Citizen Kane. The other nominees that year were: Blossoms in the Dust, Here Comes Mr. Jordan, Hold Back the Dawn, The Little Foxes, The Maltese Falcon, Sergeant York, Suspicion
and the movie in question: One Foot in Heaven. It is not available on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming. Maybe TCM will play it again someday. Meanwhile, I’m waiting….

Posted By robbushblog : February 24, 2013 3:07 pm

The Mitchum version is pretty good. It’s not as noirish as I would have preferred though.

It is a tragedy that so many films from the earliest days are lost and will never be seen again. I continue to hold out hope that someone somewhere has a treasure trove of old movies they don’t even know about, which will include copies of London After Midnight and so many more lost films.

There is at least one best picture nominee from the post-1934 period that I have been unable to see. I know that TCM has shown it in the past, but it’s been at least a few years. It was a nominee in 1941, which most of us know as a great year for movies and a “notorious” year for the Oscars as How Green Was My Valley won over Citizen Kane. The other nominees that year were: Blossoms in the Dust, Here Comes Mr. Jordan, Hold Back the Dawn, The Little Foxes, The Maltese Falcon, Sergeant York, Suspicion
and the movie in question: One Foot in Heaven. It is not available on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming. Maybe TCM will play it again someday. Meanwhile, I’m waiting….

Posted By Greg Ferrara : February 24, 2013 4:50 pm

Rob, I’ve seen One Foot in Heaven on TCM. It’s actually pretty good. You’d think the life of a minister would make for pretty dry movie material and, well, you’d be kind of right but it’s still entertaining. It operates on the same level as most movies where someone takes over a position (usually it’s a teacher or employer) and does things by the book until he realizes he’s not getting through to his students/employees/parishioners at which point he starts doing things differently and succeeds. That’s pretty much the formula of the movie but March makes it more interesting than that sounds.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : February 24, 2013 4:50 pm

Rob, I’ve seen One Foot in Heaven on TCM. It’s actually pretty good. You’d think the life of a minister would make for pretty dry movie material and, well, you’d be kind of right but it’s still entertaining. It operates on the same level as most movies where someone takes over a position (usually it’s a teacher or employer) and does things by the book until he realizes he’s not getting through to his students/employees/parishioners at which point he starts doing things differently and succeeds. That’s pretty much the formula of the movie but March makes it more interesting than that sounds.

Posted By Doug : February 24, 2013 5:27 pm

robbushblog:”I continue to hold out hope that someone somewhere has a treasure trove of old movies they don’t even know about,”
I love mysteries, and following clues. If I had been a producer back in those early days, I would have kept a collection of my films, if possible. The studios may have ‘owned’ the movies, but any producer with a bit of clout would have had copies of his productions. For example, maybe Mack Sennett’s great grand children, who have nothing to do with the industry, have an old trunk in their basement filled with treasures.
Maybe some Edison/Kodak working stiff back in the day made copies of his favorite movies, for his own consumption…and HIS grandkids have his bootlegs in an attic that hasn’t been touched in decades.
I’m optimistic that celluloid treasures can still be unearthed.

Posted By Doug : February 24, 2013 5:27 pm

robbushblog:”I continue to hold out hope that someone somewhere has a treasure trove of old movies they don’t even know about,”
I love mysteries, and following clues. If I had been a producer back in those early days, I would have kept a collection of my films, if possible. The studios may have ‘owned’ the movies, but any producer with a bit of clout would have had copies of his productions. For example, maybe Mack Sennett’s great grand children, who have nothing to do with the industry, have an old trunk in their basement filled with treasures.
Maybe some Edison/Kodak working stiff back in the day made copies of his favorite movies, for his own consumption…and HIS grandkids have his bootlegs in an attic that hasn’t been touched in decades.
I’m optimistic that celluloid treasures can still be unearthed.

Posted By DevlinCarnate : February 24, 2013 6:20 pm

Greg,i thought so…i watched it again about a week ago and thought i saw a screen credit “based on the play”…i recommend it if only to see William Talman in a hero role,it’s pretty rote good guy vs bad guy stuff,but any movie with Mitchum head to head with Ryan you know sparks will fly,as for the Oscars,i’ve picked out a couple movies to watch and i’ll skip the spectacle,as i have for years

Posted By DevlinCarnate : February 24, 2013 6:20 pm

Greg,i thought so…i watched it again about a week ago and thought i saw a screen credit “based on the play”…i recommend it if only to see William Talman in a hero role,it’s pretty rote good guy vs bad guy stuff,but any movie with Mitchum head to head with Ryan you know sparks will fly,as for the Oscars,i’ve picked out a couple movies to watch and i’ll skip the spectacle,as i have for years

Posted By moviepas : February 25, 2013 3:52 am

The three silent Howard Hughes films were found in his house after he died. Flicker Alley was going to issue these in recent years, maybe also no Blu Ray, but cold feet seems to have got in the way and other classics are being or have been reissued. Think Nanook of the North(1922) they are now issuing on Blu Ray.

I wouldn’t hold out too much on films in the attic due to climatic conditions that play havoc with nitrate, in particular.

Lost films from that pre-1930 period are turning up and found in the most strangest of places, like Australia & New Zealand but not enough of these finds seem to be getting to the home disc market.

Posted By moviepas : February 25, 2013 3:52 am

The three silent Howard Hughes films were found in his house after he died. Flicker Alley was going to issue these in recent years, maybe also no Blu Ray, but cold feet seems to have got in the way and other classics are being or have been reissued. Think Nanook of the North(1922) they are now issuing on Blu Ray.

I wouldn’t hold out too much on films in the attic due to climatic conditions that play havoc with nitrate, in particular.

Lost films from that pre-1930 period are turning up and found in the most strangest of places, like Australia & New Zealand but not enough of these finds seem to be getting to the home disc market.

Posted By robbushblog : February 25, 2013 4:01 am

Greg- I’ve been wanting see it for some time now. My grandfather was a Methodist minister for over 40 years and he had to deal with changing every 4 years or so, as is the Methodist way. I would love to get an idea of how the life was for him so many years ago.

Posted By robbushblog : February 25, 2013 4:01 am

Greg- I’ve been wanting see it for some time now. My grandfather was a Methodist minister for over 40 years and he had to deal with changing every 4 years or so, as is the Methodist way. I would love to get an idea of how the life was for him so many years ago.

Posted By Richard B : February 26, 2013 2:06 am

Marie Prevost is terrific in “The Racket.” TCM did show one fragment from the end of “The Way of All Flesh” that someone found somewhere or other, but the rest of the film is still presumed lost. These films could still turn up in the Alaskan tundra, as some were a few decades ago, but it wouldn’t hold my breath.

Cinematography nominee “Four Devils” is a particularly tragic case: One of the stars borrowed the studio’s only print for a yachting party, and threw the reels in the ocean when she was finished.

Posted By Richard B : February 26, 2013 2:06 am

Marie Prevost is terrific in “The Racket.” TCM did show one fragment from the end of “The Way of All Flesh” that someone found somewhere or other, but the rest of the film is still presumed lost. These films could still turn up in the Alaskan tundra, as some were a few decades ago, but it wouldn’t hold my breath.

Cinematography nominee “Four Devils” is a particularly tragic case: One of the stars borrowed the studio’s only print for a yachting party, and threw the reels in the ocean when she was finished.

Posted By moviepas : February 26, 2013 3:37 am

I have heard many myths on missing films but I have never heard that one about Four Devils, a Holy Grail lost film. If this was the case where was the negative? Fox stored their elements in a vault in New Jersey because of California state property taxes. They foolishly stored the OCNs with the pre-print materials and, thus, when the vault went up in 1937 everything in the vault was lost. There was another Fox vault fire in another vault elsewhere in NJ in the 1960s and more nitrate was lost, supposedly some rare Theda Bara films amongst these. Maybe it was the later fire that lost the missing Fox early 30s Charlie Chan films of which only one has been found with Spanish dubbing and titles.

The Museum of Modern Art is supposed to have loaned the Roadshow(longer version) of the 1929 Radio Pictures Rio Rita, in part color, starring Bebe Daniels and it did not come back. This was said to be the only copy of this version. Now they say a copy is to hand but nothing seen to date.

Lon Chaney’s silent London After Midnight might have gone in the late 1960s MGM fire that lost silents, nitrate cartoons including the uncensored Tom & Jerry negatives. Stories go that someone left LAM on a bus!!! Must have been a strongman for Barnum & Bailey. Then there are stories of an office boy throwing a reel or two of negative film into a studio pond rather than taking it to where he was asked to.

I tend to take a grain of salt to many such stories.

Posted By moviepas : February 26, 2013 3:37 am

I have heard many myths on missing films but I have never heard that one about Four Devils, a Holy Grail lost film. If this was the case where was the negative? Fox stored their elements in a vault in New Jersey because of California state property taxes. They foolishly stored the OCNs with the pre-print materials and, thus, when the vault went up in 1937 everything in the vault was lost. There was another Fox vault fire in another vault elsewhere in NJ in the 1960s and more nitrate was lost, supposedly some rare Theda Bara films amongst these. Maybe it was the later fire that lost the missing Fox early 30s Charlie Chan films of which only one has been found with Spanish dubbing and titles.

The Museum of Modern Art is supposed to have loaned the Roadshow(longer version) of the 1929 Radio Pictures Rio Rita, in part color, starring Bebe Daniels and it did not come back. This was said to be the only copy of this version. Now they say a copy is to hand but nothing seen to date.

Lon Chaney’s silent London After Midnight might have gone in the late 1960s MGM fire that lost silents, nitrate cartoons including the uncensored Tom & Jerry negatives. Stories go that someone left LAM on a bus!!! Must have been a strongman for Barnum & Bailey. Then there are stories of an office boy throwing a reel or two of negative film into a studio pond rather than taking it to where he was asked to.

I tend to take a grain of salt to many such stories.

Posted By Doug : February 26, 2013 12:07 pm

One more place where old films-though not back to the silents-may be found. The governments of the world.
When I was in the Coast Guard and our ship went overseas, we had a film projector and films which were shared throughout the services.
Of course, we only had porn and “The Song Remains The Same”…for an entire Summer.
My point-Governments spend money, and it isn’t outside the realm of possibility that reels of films from that magic place Hollywood USA could still be held by foreign governments…or in the hands of those who were in power when the films were purchased.
The grandchildren of Generalissimo Francisco Franco (who is still dead) might have such a treasure of old films. Ask Spain today and they will say, “Well, we’ve got some Bruce Willis and
Batman with Jack Nicholson-that’s about it.”

Posted By Doug : February 26, 2013 12:07 pm

One more place where old films-though not back to the silents-may be found. The governments of the world.
When I was in the Coast Guard and our ship went overseas, we had a film projector and films which were shared throughout the services.
Of course, we only had porn and “The Song Remains The Same”…for an entire Summer.
My point-Governments spend money, and it isn’t outside the realm of possibility that reels of films from that magic place Hollywood USA could still be held by foreign governments…or in the hands of those who were in power when the films were purchased.
The grandchildren of Generalissimo Francisco Franco (who is still dead) might have such a treasure of old films. Ask Spain today and they will say, “Well, we’ve got some Bruce Willis and
Batman with Jack Nicholson-that’s about it.”

Posted By swac44 : February 26, 2013 5:21 pm

Here’s the press release about Flicker Alley’s cancelled release of the three Howard Hughes films, which also included Two Arabian Knights and The Mating Call:

http://www.flickeralley.com/press_hughes1.html

I’ve seen The Mating Call and The Racket on TCM, but I’ve never come across Two Arabian Knights. I think they aired it some time before I had access to the channel. According to informed posters on the Nitrateville messageboard, complications with the Hughes estate prevented the DVD release from happening. It’s also safe to assume that any dealings with the Hughes estate are bound to be complicated.

There is also a suggestion that Two Arabian Knights still requires some restoration work to be suitable for home video release. Hopefully it shows up again on TCM in the near future, I’m happy to take it in “as is” form.

Posted By swac44 : February 26, 2013 5:21 pm

Here’s the press release about Flicker Alley’s cancelled release of the three Howard Hughes films, which also included Two Arabian Knights and The Mating Call:

http://www.flickeralley.com/press_hughes1.html

I’ve seen The Mating Call and The Racket on TCM, but I’ve never come across Two Arabian Knights. I think they aired it some time before I had access to the channel. According to informed posters on the Nitrateville messageboard, complications with the Hughes estate prevented the DVD release from happening. It’s also safe to assume that any dealings with the Hughes estate are bound to be complicated.

There is also a suggestion that Two Arabian Knights still requires some restoration work to be suitable for home video release. Hopefully it shows up again on TCM in the near future, I’m happy to take it in “as is” form.

Posted By swac44 : February 26, 2013 5:33 pm

Found two four-minute clips from Two Arabian Knights on the TCM website, it looks like a lot of fun. Love the scene where William Boyd has to explain to Louis Wolheim what a eunuch is. And I could tell that was Mary Astor behind that veil, just by the eyes. Karloff is in it too, but sadly not in these clips.

http://www.tcm.com/mediaroom/video/375206/Two-Arabian-Knights-Movie-Clip-Probably-Her-Eunuch.html

Posted By swac44 : February 26, 2013 5:33 pm

Found two four-minute clips from Two Arabian Knights on the TCM website, it looks like a lot of fun. Love the scene where William Boyd has to explain to Louis Wolheim what a eunuch is. And I could tell that was Mary Astor behind that veil, just by the eyes. Karloff is in it too, but sadly not in these clips.

http://www.tcm.com/mediaroom/video/375206/Two-Arabian-Knights-Movie-Clip-Probably-Her-Eunuch.html

Posted By agrippamom : February 27, 2013 1:26 pm

“The Bridge of San Luis Rey”, which won the second Academy Award for Best Art Direction is another forgotten film. It was a silent film, though Wikipedia says it was released as a talkie and a silent which probably means it might have had some talking sequences because I’ve never seen it listed as anything OTHER than a silent anywhere but Wiki. The film was long thought lost and George Eastman House has the only known copy. Unfortunately it isn’t available (sound familiar) though it has long had a reputation as being a beautiful and great film.

Posted By agrippamom : February 27, 2013 1:26 pm

“The Bridge of San Luis Rey”, which won the second Academy Award for Best Art Direction is another forgotten film. It was a silent film, though Wikipedia says it was released as a talkie and a silent which probably means it might have had some talking sequences because I’ve never seen it listed as anything OTHER than a silent anywhere but Wiki. The film was long thought lost and George Eastman House has the only known copy. Unfortunately it isn’t available (sound familiar) though it has long had a reputation as being a beautiful and great film.

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