7. OKLAHOMA! — THE JAMES DEAN AUDITION (1954) ^ In casting the screen adaptation of the Broadway musical landmark “Oklahoma!”, director Fred Zinnemann spotted a young unknown actor in a live TV drama and invited him to come in for a screen test to be held at New York’s posh Sherry-Netherland Hotel. The actor was James Dean, who arrived for the screen test dressed like a cowboy…and was promptly expelled from the hotel, which mistook him for a derelict wrangler! Dean eventually got into the hotel and his audition consisted on the “Poor Jud is Dead” number, in which he played the lead Curly who tried to convince the villainous Jud to commit suicide. Rod Steiger, who was already cast as Jud, played opposite Dean. According to Zinnemann, Dean’s screen presence was extraordinary and he captured the subtle nuances of the tricky scene with remarkable skills. Unfortunately, Dean’s singing voice was not up to the requirements of the role and the part went to Gordon MacRæ, who was already an established star of film musicals. Dean did not regret the loss of the role, as he was soon signed by Warner Bros. to star in Elia Kazan’s “East of Eden.” ^ WHY IS THIS LOST? Whereas the Hollywood studios had vast vaults to store screen tests, “Oklahoma!” was an independent production and there was no space to store footage which would not be required. Zinnemann later commented he had no knowledge where the James Dean footage went; nearly a half-century later, it is still missing.
8. THE SCOTT JOPLIN PERFORMANCE FILM (1904) ^ The producers of the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis invited ragtime composer Scott Joplin to perform. This was a fairly unprecedented achievement for an African-American at a time when severe segregation was the law of the land. At the fair, Joplin was reportedly approached by Eugene Lauste, an engineer who constructed an early sound-on-film recording device, with the request that Joplin play a number that would be captured on Lauste’s sound film and recording horn (the forerunner of the microphone). It is not known what Joplin played (most likely it was “Cascades,” which he wrote for the fair). ^ WHY IS IT LOST? The early experiments in sound films were nearly all failures. Lauste’s technology was able to capture sound recording, but the amplification during the screening were rarely successful. It is most likely that the Joplin footage was acoustically unsatisfactory; there is no record of its being exhibited and, like most of the early sound film experiments, it was discarded. As far as anyone can determine, this was the only time Joplin was ever photographed for a motion picture.
9. TOO MUCH JOHNSON (1938) ^ Three years before the debut of “Citizen Kane,” Orson Welles tried his hand at filmmaking with a silent romp designed to provide a cinematic bridge into his theatrical presentation of the comedy “Too Much Johnson.” Welles took his Mercury Theater cast and crew to the Bronx and shot his footage on the streets, much to the surprise of the local residents. In the show, Joseph Cotten plays a ne’er-do-well whose dalliances with married women creates considerable dilemmas. The film footage was a wild chase, as Welles directed Cotten and his co-stars in the manner of a Mack Sennett comedy: mad dashes down the streets, up and down fire escapes and across rooftops. The film footage for “Too Much Johnson” ran between 20 and 30 minutes and was only shown during the show’s theatrical engagement. After the show closed, it was never seen again. ^ WHY IS IT LOST? The print and negative for “Too Much Johnson” were destroyed in a 1971 fire at Welles’ home in Spain. All that remains are a handful of photographs taken on the Bronx location during the shoot.
10. THE WAY OF ALL FLESH (1927) ^ This film has the dubious distinction of being the only lost film to boast an Academy Award-winning performance. Emil Jannings won the first Best Actor for his performances in this film and for “The Last Command” (which still survives). “The Way of All Flesh” features the German actor as a bank clerk who is robbed of a parcel of bonds he was assigned to deliver via train from Milwaukee to Chicago. He kills one of the robbers and, fearing the shame his actions would bring to his beloved family, switches identities with the dead man. Forever cut away from his life and beloved family, he drifts into destitution and becomes a beggar. Over the years, his son grows up to be a world famous concert violinist…but the poor man can only glimpse his family through the window of the house which he once owned. ^ WHY IS IT LOST? A remarkably high number of films produced in the tail end of the silent era (1927-29) are lost, discarded or forgotten as the Hollywood studios hurried to accommodate the new sound film technology. Although Jannings’ performance won an Oscar, his Hollywood career ended with talking pictures and he returned to Germany and later starred in films produced by the Nazi government. “The Way of All Flesh” was later remade in 1940 and that new version, combined with the lack of commercial viability for the silent original plus the star’s Nazi connection, made its preservation a non-priority. All that remains of the 1927 film is five minutes of footage.
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Posted on January 25, 2001 in Features by Phil Hall
If you liked this article then you may also like the following Film Threat articles:
- THE BOOTLEG FILES: “THE DREAMERS”
- FILM THREAT’S TOP 10 DEATH-DENIED ROLES
- ORSON WELLES: THE PARIS INTERVIEW (DVD)
- THE BOOTLEG FILES: TOO MUCH JOHNSON
- TOUCH OF EVIL (NEW EDITS)
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