Lost and found no. 3 – or is it?

The Four Devils

The 4 Devils (1928), from http://www.silentera.com

The web has been buzzling with rumours of two long-lost silent film classics having reportedly been discovered. No physical evidence has been offered for either title.

The first is F.W. Murnau’s circus drama The 4 Devils (1928), starring Janet Gaynor and Charles Morton. It was reported last month, on the Criterion Forum, that a collection of nitrate film has been uncovered in Tacoma, Washington. Its discoverer (apparently based in the UK) was coy at first about revealing the title, then confessed that it was The 4 Devils, the long-lost presumed masterpiece by Murnau, director of Nosferatu, The Last Laugh, Sunrise and all. supposedly the films belong to an engineer in his seventies, who acquired them from the estate of someone who died in the 1960s. The discoverer sounds like he knows what he’s talking about (but then the best scams come from the most knowledgeable), and certainly those on the Criterion Forum are excited by the apparent discovery. But no frame stills have been offered as evidence, no photographs, no proof at all, and now all has gone silent indeed…

Bardelys the Magnificent

Poster for Bardelys the Magnificent, from blog.france3.fr

And then there’s Bardelys the Magnificent (1926), starring John Gilbert and directed by King Vidor. This time the alleged print is said to be in France. A sequence from the film is thought to survive in a private collection, but not the complete film. Again, precise information has not been forthcoming, but here the discoverer claims that the film will be shown on French television next year. The original report in French is available here, and there’s a translation with ensuing discussion on alt.movies.silent. Once again, following the original news alert, all is silent.

In the virtual reality that is the web, anything can be alleged and nothing proven. So the Bioscope remains sceptical, though high-profile lost prints do still turn up, as demonstrated by a discovery a couple of years ago in the Netherlands of Beyond the Rocks (1922), with the piquant teaming of Rudolph Valentino and Gloria Swanson, now available on DVD. It isn’t very good, and for some lost films their very preciousness may even depend on their remaining lost. But the 4 Devils would be a joy to see again…

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