6. THE RETURN OF GILBERT AND SULLIVAN (1950). In this British production, the operetta kings return to Earth to protest the jazz adaptations of their beloved compositions. Among the indignities which the ghostly visitors protest are the updated versions of their classic songs (“I am the very model of a Freudian Psychiatrist” and “They call her Poor Butter-Up” are cited). The film was reportedly shot in only two days in a theater using painted sets. American jazzman/actor Scatman Crothers is supposedly in the film, although most cast listings for this production do not cite him.

WHY IS IT LOST? This film has been something of a mystery to Gilbert and Sullivan fanatics. Its running time has been stated as anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes. Lippert Pictures was supposedly the U.S. distributor, but no record exists that Lippert ever acquired the film. There isn’t even evidence that American audiences saw the movie. The film was also credited as winning an award at Cannes, although there is no historical evidence that it was even shown at Cannes. No print is known to exist either in the U.S. or the U.K.

7. SPACE JOCKEY (1958?). In 1953, Phil Tucker created “Robot Monster,” a tale of lunar invaders who looked like gorillas wearing diving helmets. The film was immediately hailed as one of the worst of all time and Tucker would later attempt suicide after the film’s disastrous release. He managed to regain his health and went on a winning streak that included “Dance Hall Racket” (1954) with Lenny Bruce in his only starring feature; “Broadway Jungle” (1955), an obscure gangster drama starring Eddie Constantine and Diana Dors; and “Cape Canaveral Monsters” (1960), with another wave of extraterrestrials seeking universal domination. Somewhere during this time he made a film called “Space Jockey.” Tucker recalled the film to the Medved Brothers in their 1979 book The Golden Turkey Awards, dubbing it a “piece of shit” and adding that the film is lost. No details on the film can be located anywhere else beyond this interview.

WHY IS IT LOST? The most likely theory is that “Space Jockey” was not finished. There is no record of any public exhibition and prints of the film have yet to surface. There is also the possibility that the film never existed, although calling Tucker a liar would seem unfair.

8. SEPTEMBER (THE ORIGINAL CAST) (1987). One of Woody Allen’s least successful films, “September” was doomed from the start. His intention was to shoot the movie at Mia Farrow’s Connecticut home, but production delays robbed him of using the gorgeous New England foliage as a backdrop for his Cheeverish tale of WASP angst; the film was shot in a New York soundstage, upping the budget considerably. Casting Christopher Walken in a key role also created problems – Allen was unhappy with his performance and replaced him with Sam Shepard. Yet the finished film proved so unsatisfactory that Allen shot the entire movie again. Three stars of the original cast (Shepard, Charles Durning and Maureen O’Sullivan, Mia Farrow’s real-life mother) were replaced by Sam Waterston, Denholm Elliott and Elaine Stritch). The second version was theatrically released to some of the worst reviews and lowest box office that Allen ever received. The first version has never surfaced.

WHY IS IT LOST? Although Allen would later express fondness for “September”, he clearly was stung by his inability to get the film to fit his vision. The original version most likely survives in his possession, but has never been publicly shown and will probably never see the light of a projector.

9. UNTITLED ED WYNN FILM FOR “THE ZIEGFELD FOLLIES OF 1915″ (1915). This early example of mixing live action and movies was created for the Broadway revue “The Ziegfeld Follies of 1915.” Comedian Ed Wynn dressed like a movie director and stood in the center aisle of the theater while a movie of his fellow castmates played on a screen. Wynn, in his trademark high-pitch cackling voice, would then “direct” the action on the screen to full comic effect. A surviving press clipping of this film found Wynn’s castmate W.C. Fields walking on screen carrying cigar boxes. Wynn would shriek out Fields’ name, causing the funnyman to fumble his cigar boxes and look at the camera. Wynn would berate Fields for coming on too soon, causing the on-screen Fields to grimace, gather his belongings and hurry off-screen.

WHY IS IT LOST? This short film was designed solely for “The Ziegfeld Follies of 1915″ and was never meant to be shown widely. After the show closed, it most likely was thrown away.

10. THE WIZARD OF OZ (THE JITTERBUG NUMBER) (1939). This single sequence cost $80,000 to produce and five weeks to shoot. Dorothy and her pals are attacked by the Jitterbugs sent by the Wicked Witch. The Jitterbugs were reportedly pink and blue mosquitoes that gave one “the jitters” as they zoomed around in the air (the Yellow Brick Roadsters did not dance the jitterbug).

WHY IS IT LOST? MGM axed the sequence when “The Wizard of Oz” ran too long. The film kept a reference to the insects when the Wicked Witch was dispatching the Flying Monkeys, but without the musical number the reference seems unusually cryptic. The sequence was discarded, although 16mm color home movies showing the production survived and a recording of “The Jitterbug” song was preserved by MGM. Recent touring stage productions of “The Wizard of Oz” have put the song and the sequence back into the story.

Posted on September 8, 2004 in Features by

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  1. James Teller on Sun, 26th Dec 2010 12:02 am 


    This film is NOT lost. It has been made available by an independent company–a cheap DVD-R, I think, but better than nothing. The print runs 29 minutes and seems to be reasonably complete.

    The film itself isn’t very good, but it has the benefit of seeming to have been made by people fond of Gilbert and Sullivan. The show-within-a-show parody, TRIAL BY ERROR, is actually moderately clever, although it’s not much less of a distortion than what we see offending G&S earlier in the film (they return from the afterlife to investigate rumors of their reputation being damaged by the expiration of the copyrights on their work). The acting is passable, and the production looks surprisingly solid for something filmed in two days. There are a lot of corny jokes (a slick, stupid record label owner is named N.O. Talent), and it’s mostly for G&S fanatics, but at least it still exists.

    Also, Scatman Crothers is in it; he’s listed in the credits, and a jazzman seen singing…I think it’s a parody of “When the Foeman Bears His Steel”, but I can’t quite tell…appears to be Crothers.

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  2. Tom Wagner on Sun, 27th Mar 2011 3:15 pm 

    Mr. Teller, can you tell me where I can purchase a copy of “The Return of Gilbert and Sullivan”?

    Thank you!!

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