BFI’s taster for silent Dickens – and lamentations over lost films

Thanks so much to everyone who has shown an interest in my Dickens in December series of postings. I’m getting the impression that quite a few people are particularly fascinated by the silent adaptations – it is amazing to realise that there were around 100 silent films of his works during that era, though many have sadly been lost.

I don’t have all that much time tonight, but thought I’d share a link to the BFI’s taster for the surviving Dickens silent films. This has left me very keen to see the adaptation of  David Copperfield made in 1913 by Thomas Bentley, which is said to be the second oldest feature-length British film (I don’t know what the very oldest was!)  There are a few minutes of footage included on the Dickens Before Sound DVD, but I now really want to see the whole thing.

Luckily, the 1913 British film of David Copperfield does survive complete, although it hasn’t been released on DVD, so I should hopefully be able to get hold of it at some time.

However, there are many other lost or unavailable silents which I would love to see. For instance, a 1914 two-reel version of Martin Chuzzlewit with Alan Hale, so great as a supporting actor in many 1930s Warner films, playing the young Martin – this is said to survive in George Eastman House’s collection, so it may emerge at some time, but it may remain as just a tempting thought. There were also two versions of The Chimes made the same year, now lost, as well as a Hard Times in 1915, a Great Expectations in 1917 – and the list goes on. Another one I’m especially sorry not to get a chance to see is A Tale of Two Cities from 1922, starring Clive Brook as Sydney Carton.  There are plenty of Dickens adaptations which are available and which will keep me busy for ages, but it is sad to think how much has been lost. I’ll once again link to the excellent page at The Bioscope blog which lists all the silent Dickens productions that were made, both those which still exist and those which are gone forever.

Rare Wellman silent film being screened at festival

Although I’ve been posting on a few different topics recently, I’m still very interested in William A Wellman’s silents and pre-Codes. So I was excited to read that one of his rare silent films is being screened at a festival, even though it is on the wrong side of the Atlantic for me!  His film You Never Know Women, made in 1926, is being shown at Capitolfest at the Capitol Theatre in Rome, New York,  at 4.50pm on August 15. This is a movie which was thought to be lost for many years until a print was found in the Library of Congress in 2001, and I believe it has been screened at a few festivals since then. Comments on the imdb from a handful of people who have seen it are very enthusiastic.

Here are the details from the Capitolfest website:

You Never Know Women (Universal, 1926) Florence Vidor, Clive Brook, Lowell Sherman, El Brendel, and Roy Stewart; directed by William Wellman. (70 min.) SILENT
Florence Vidor and Clive Brook are two members of a Russian troupe of acrobats on tour in the U.S. whose love for one another is threatened by manipulative playboy Lowell Sherman. Along the way there is a spectacular theater fire and the comic antics of El Brendel (and his goose). Reportedly Paramount was so pleased with director William Wellman’s work that rewarded him with a $25-per-week raise and the big-budgeted Wings (1927). “In addition to being one of the nicest program pictures in many weeks, it is flawlessly acted, brilliantly directed and filled with novel situations.” -Sisk, Variety

Florence Vidor and Clive Brook

This description sounds intriguing – I’m very interested to see that there’s a circus theme here, as this crops up in Wellman’s pre-Code Lilly Turner and so  many of his early films are full of wanderers. If anybody visiting my blog gets a chance to see this film, either at this festival or another, please let me know what you thought of it! I suppose there is even a chance it may show up at the BFI in London in the future.