NitrateVille F.A.Q. (frequently asked questions)

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Mike Gebert

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NitrateVille F.A.Q. (frequently asked questions)

PostMon Mar 01, 2010 10:42 am

Index to F.A.Q. responses posted below. Discussion of answers is discouraged here; if you disagree, please start a thread, let's hash it out on the main board, and the answer below will be revised.

Does a collector have London After Midnight?

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Last edited by Mike Gebert on Tue Mar 02, 2010 9:43 am, edited 1 time in total.
“Sentimentality is when it doesn't come off—when it does, you get a true expression of life's sorrows.” —Alain-Fournier
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Mike Gebert

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PostTue Mar 02, 2010 9:41 am

Since I wrote this part of the AMS FAQ, might as well update it slightly:

London After Midnight

London After Midnight is a 1927 film starring Lon Chaney and directed by horror auteur Tod Browning. It is a lost film.

Q. I heard that a collector has London After Midnight and is waiting for its copyright to expire so he can release the film. Is this true?

A: Almost certainly not.

Tod Browning's London After Midnight (1927), starring Lon Chaney Sr. in a dual role as a Scotland Yard inspector and as a pointy-toothed vampire, is the most famous of lost films -- mainly because Forrest J. Ackerman, with the aid of the film's admittedly tantalizing stills, spent a lot of energy hyping it as a lost masterpiece in his teen-oriented horror magazines. The reality is that those who saw the film as late as the 1950s, such as William K. Everson and David Bradley, considered it well short of a masterpiece -- inferior to Browning's talkie remake, Mark of the Vampire (1935), with Bela Lugosi, and not even the most desirable lost film of Chaney's career.

For many years, the most persistent rumor about LAM was that some collector had the film and had been waiting for the copyright to expire in 2002. The legend probably dates back to the early 70's, when a New England rental source named Cecil Miller listed LAM among his upcoming titles, presumably as a gag. (Later versions of the same gag have included reviews of the film on the Internet Movie Database and April Fool's discussions of showings on Turner Classic Movies in alt.movies.silent, as well as this fake site perpetrated by none other than the present author.) Most recently, a longrunning, but ultimately evidence-free, claim of rediscovery was made at this horror film fan discussion site.

In any case, before 2002 rolled around, the law changed to leave this mythical collector in for a longer wait -- the date LAM would become public domain is now 2022. For that reason, it is likely that any such collector who wanted to cash in during his own lifetime would have already come forward to make a deal with the current copyright holders (Time Warner).

In fact, the odds are not high that any print ever got loose in the first place. According to Jon Mirsalis in an alt.movies.silent post, MGM "was very diligent about collecting prints after the completion of their print run, making it unlikely that a retired projectionist has a copy hiding in his attic... The last time the film was inspected by MGM was in 1955. It was stored in vault 7 and a vault fire (circa 1967) in vault 7 destroyed the last known print. All the MGM nitrate material was subsequently donated to Eastman House, but by then the print and camera negative were gone." As Bob Birchard further points out, "MGM did a worldwide search when it decided to copy its nitrate to safety in the 1970's," and turned up nothing.

Even so... another MGM film that vanished around the same time was Victor Sjostrom's The Divine Woman, with Greta Garbo. Yet a ten-minute fragment of that film subsequently turned up in Eastern Europe. So the possibility that LAM will turn up in some unexpected place cannot be ruled out completely. Just... nearly completely.

Until that unlikely day, the closest anyone can come to seeing Browning's original— besides his talkie remake, Mark of the Vampire— is the 45-minute reconstruction by Rick Schmidlin, which was made for Turner Classic Movies in 2002 and included on this DVD release. Though no footage survives, Schmidlin skillfully uses a large number of stills to reconstruct the story and convey the sense of the film's plot... which does, indeed, confirm that it was an improbable and more than faintly ridiculous piece, unlikely to rival the Browning-Chaney collaboration The Unknown, which does survive and is available on the same DVD set.
“Sentimentality is when it doesn't come off—when it does, you get a true expression of life's sorrows.” —Alain-Fournier

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