Thursday 8 September 2016

Digitisations and Restorations (4) - The Story of SEVEN SINNERS (Lewis Milestone, USA, 1926)

Just a short while ago I started a new series of posts about news of restorations and revivals around the world. First up in this post which referred to a piece in the New York Times by Manohla Dargis  and included a mere mention of the discovery of a copy of Lewis Milestone’s debut feature Seven Sinners. The film had been found in Australia and the copy was now in the possession of the American Academy. Restoration work was underway. Who knew I asked. The answer to that was that veteran superbuff Paul Harris knew and had in fact interviewed the man who unearthed this bit of treasure for his highly esteemed wireless program Film Buff’s Forecast.

Joel Archer (l) with Ric Chauvel, grandson of Charles & Elsa Chauvel
So, I got in touch with Joel Archer and had a talk about it. He pointed me to a long piece written about him, his life, his current screening activities and his lonely work in searching for lost film. You can find the site by clicking this link Moving Image Archive .

If you scroll down the home page you’ll come to a story about Joel and I’ll just quote a tiny bit from it where it relates to the discovery of Seven Sinners.

For several years, now, Joel Archer has been scouring small, often abandoned cinemas in Australian cities and country towns, on a quest for rare and abandoned films. He dreams of finding great, lost classics of cinema, whether American, Australian, or other.

Archer and West’s big discovery, like the three European films, had come to West from family members of a long-deceased Melbourne cinema worker who apparently had taken home films that had ended their runs. The tinted, 35mm, nitrate print was missing its title sequence, so Archer and West sent it to California, where Warner Brothers identified it as a 1925 crime caper long thought lost, Seven Sinners. That was the first feature by Lewis Milestone, produced by megabucks mogul and aviator Howard Hughes. Milestone would later win Oscars for Two Arabian Knights — in 1928, at the first-ever Academy Awards ceremony — and for All Quiet on the Western Front (1930). He also directed two more Oscar-nominated films, The Front Page (1930) and Of Mice and Men (1939).

Somewhat miraculously, the film in West’s shed had remained in good condition: Warner Brothers found that 87 percent of it was salvageable. It had come to West in plastic rather than metal cans, ensuring it had a little air but not too much, and apparently that had served it well.Warner, which paid Archer and West a few thousand dollars for the print, has told them it will restore the film in collaboration with The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and release it on DVD.

Joel has also emailed through some additional information. "As I said earlier we strongly believed we had a silent film Paid in Full from 1919 starring the very sought after Pauline Frederick who was sensational stage actor and well known screen actress. That was quite believable, but sadly few films of her survive though reviews were quite positive for most of her films. However when we sent footage of Reel 7 the Academy noticed that it was the film Seven Sinners 1925 directed by Lewis Milestone starrng Marie Prevost & Clive Brook.

"It is believed that the print originated from a Melbourne Cinema & was handed down through a family. We where so fortunate to find a 35mm Tinted Nitrate Print (Positive) that according to the Academy was 80+ % salvageable." 

Thanks to Joel, and Ron West, and everybody else who have got the job done.

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