Not too long ago, we shared with you some of the world's strangest movies that have been either displaced or lost altogether, due to the ravages of time or the fragility of filmstock. But those are by no means the only cinematic treasures that may be forever out of reach.
Here are 24 more odd and glorious films which are no longer available to be seen.
Top image: El Sexo Fuerte, 1945
Cha Li Yu Xie Qing Gui (Charlie and the Ghosts, 1939)
The passage of decades has obscured the production of a number of countries' film industries. The damage done by Japan to China during the 1930s and 1940s was sufficient to destroy the entire output of the Chinese film industry, which was going through a Golden Age. A number of Hollywood films were profitably and successfully remade during this time period, from The Phantom of the Opera to The Hunchback of Notre Dame. One of the most successful remakes was of the Cary Grant/Billie Burke comedy Topper (1937). In the Chinese version, directed by Yeung Kung-Leong (the James Whale of China), a pair of lovers are separated by their familes and die of broken hearts. After death they become mischievous ghosts, using their powers to frighten a groom, a policeman, and a man in a dance hall. However, when they meet the hapless Charlie, he wins their sympathy and good will, and the ghosts use their powers to help him with his relationship and his job.
L'Atleta Fantasma (The Phantom Athlete, 1919)
The first superhero film was the 1917 Scarlet Pimpernel. The second was this Italian production, with tragically short-lived star Dino Bonaiuti in the lead role. Jenny is a young Italian woman vexed by Audreses, her meek and passive boyfriend. Unfortunately for Jenny, she owns a valuable gem, and she constantly attacked and kidnaped by men who want the stone for themselves. However, every time Jenny is in danger she is rescued by a masked, bare-chested wrestler who treats Jenny's attackers like El Santo treats vampires. At length Jenny realizes that Audreses is her savior, and the pair live happily ever after.
La Cité Foudroyée (The City Struck By Lightning, 1922)
The rise of science fiction films during World War One led to movie-makers becoming proficient at portraying the large scale destruction of cities in movies. One of the best, according to contemporary reports, was La Cité Foudroyée, from actor-director Luitz Morat. The protagonist, played by French veteran Daniel Mendaille, is a French inventor who reacts badly to being jilted by his fiancee. The inventor decides to avenge himself on his ex-fiancee and her new lover by destroying Paris. He does so with the use of a heat ray gun, which melts the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, and a number of other landmarks.
Delapan Jago Pedang (Eight Rogue Swords, 1933)
The first Indonesian film was made in 1928. Between 1928 and 1933 14 films were made in Indonesia, most of which were romances and bandit films. Delapan Jago Pedang was something new: a retelling of the Chinese myth of the Eight Immortals, a group of eight enlightened persons who have gained immortality and whose powers and symbols can be used to destroy evil. Director The Teng Chun (later killed by the Japanese) rewrote the myth so that the Immortals and their enemies were Indonesian rather than Chinese. In Delapan Jago Pedang the Eight Immortals use magic and silat to fight Indonesian demons while traveling to the Conference of the Magic Peach.
The Devil Bear (1929).
Comics writer and novelist Chris Roberson has often said that "everything is improved by the judicial application of primates," i.e., "everything is better with monkeys." Hollywood certainly believed this during the 1920s and 1930s, as apes, especially gorillas, were common in films. One of the most obscure (and reportedly wretched) films to use a gorilla was The Devil Bear. The crew of a ship steaming off the western coast of Canada mutinies, and the ship's captain, Captain Epsom, is struck on the head and loses his memory. His pet gorilla rescues him and swims ashore with him, hiding him in a cave. Hostile natives try to kill Epsom, but the gorilla drives them off, and the natives dub him the "Devil Bear." Devil Bear goes on to foil the evil schemes of a group of men who are trying to swindle Jack Crawford, an engineer, out of the ownership of a rich mine. Later, the Devil Bear rescues Grace Wilmot, the daughter of a missionary, who falls in love with Crawford, and then strikes Epsom on the head. Epsom recovers his memory, and Wilmot and Crawford marry.
Created during a time when heroic thieves were common in European popular culture, Filibus (the first of thirty films directed by actor Mario Roncoroni) featured as a protagonist a roguish female modeled on Ponson du Terail's anti-hero Rocambole. The Baroness Troixmonde is a respectable member of society, but in the guise of "Filibus" she terrorizes Sicily from her zeppelin, which is full of technologically-advanced equipment and weaponry. The zeppelin is manned by a staff of mask-wearing, black-skin-suit-clad male assistants who obey the Baroness' commands instantly. The zeppelin is her headquarters and her home, and she descends to land only to rob or to hobnob with the socialites and dance with women as the tuxedo-wearing dandy Count de la Brieve. By contrast, Marlene Dietrich's famous cross-dressing scene in Morocco did not take place until 1930; the Baroness precedes Dietrich as a lesbian hero, and arguably the first in cinema, by over a decade. At the end of Filibus she eludes her enemy, Detective Hardy and flies off into the sunset.
Hongfen Kulou (Beauty and the Skeletons, 1921)
As mentioned above, Chinese script writers and directors found great success in taking Western films and making them over for Chinese audiences. Guan Haifeng did so with the 1915 Louis Feuillade serial Les Vampires, about a female criminal, Irma Vep, and her gang, the Vampires of the movie's title. Guan Haifeng rewrote it so that the leader of the gang is "Red Beauty," who seduces rich young men. Beauty's gang holds the men for ransom. But Beauty picks the wrong man to seduce; he is the lover of a nüxia, a female martial artist, and the nüxia uses her magical martial arts to rescue her man and defeat and capture Beauty and her gang.
Hunterwali (Lady of the Whip, 1935)
In India in the 1930s the partnership of brothers Homi and J.B.H. Wadia, were the dominant filmmakers. In the early 1930s they discovered Mary Ann Evans, an Australian woman working in India as a circus performer, and in 1935 they gave her the starring role in Hunterwali. In the film Princess Krishnavati, the devout and demure daughter of the King of an unnamed Indian kingdom, is driven out of her home, with her infant son Jaswant, when the wicked Prime Minister Ranamal kills Krishnavati's brother. Twenty years later Jaswant is grown and Krishnavati is married. Jaswant is hit by a car in the motorcade of Krishnavati's husband, but Jaswant refuses the compensatory bag of gold. This catches the eye of the beautiful Princess Madhuri, as does Jaswant's handsome face, and when Ranamal, who wants to marry Madhuri but has been refused, imprisons Madhuri's father the King, Madhuri declares that enough is enough. She puts on a mask, takes up a whip (with which she is exceptionally skilled), and becomes the male Hunterwali, the "protector of the poor and punisher of evildoers," roaming the countryside stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. She fights soldiers — twenty at once — rides across the tops of moving trains, and turns into a Robin Hood-like figure. She wins Jaswant's love, defeats Ranamal, and frees the King.
Hunterwali was the top-grossing film in Indian history to that point in time. It established Evans, who acted under the name "Nadia," as the Angelina Jolie of India film. It created the Hunterwali film franchise. And it singlehandedly introduced the idea of stuntwomen into the Indian film industry — Evans did all of her own stunts.
Isban Israel (1920)
The South African film industry began in 1915, and though its output was limited (ten films over the next five years) its writers and artists almost immediately showed a preference for fantasy films, making King Solomon's Mines in 1918 and Allan Quatermain in 1919. A film version of George Cossins' 1896 novel, Isban Israel is about a Lost Race of white Africans who live in an underground city beneath the Great Zimbabwe ruins. Israel is a depot who dominates his people along with his wife, Queen Ira Ban Israel. But outsiders bring trouble into the city, in the person of the daughter of a famous archaeologist, and eventually the outsiders kill King Israel and free his people. The film was well-received in South Africa, not least because the filmmakers were able to employ large numbers of natives as extras as well as film in the Great Zimbabwe ruins themselves.
Huo Shao Hong Lian Si (Burning of the Red Lotus Monastery, 1928-1931)
Wüxia fiction — poems, ballads, stories and novels about wandering martial artists — have been popular in China since the Han Dynasty (221 B.C.E. to 206 C.E.). The "flying swordsmen" subgenre of wüxia, the type most familiar to Western audiences because of films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, became popular in the 19th century. Beginning in 1923, the Chinese writer Xiang Kairen wrote a newspaper serial, "Jianghu Qi Xia Zhuan" ("The Story of the Extraordinary Swordsman") about the monks of the Kunlun and Kongdong schools and their duels and adventures. In 1928 the veteran film director Zhang Shichuan (40 films, 1913-1928, 83 total through 1937) adapted "Jianghu Qi Xia Zhuan" into a film, Huo Shao Hong Lian Si. About a father and daughter pair who fight the corrupt monks and sinister abbot of the Red Lotus Monastery, Huo Shao Hong Lian Si was one of the earliest wüxia films, at 18 parts and 27 hours long was the longest Chinese film to date, and was by far the most successful Chinese film of its era. It was also the most influential Chinese film in China's history, influencing hundreds of films up through the present day. Huo Shao Hong Lian Si invented the tropes of wüxia films, from the "action girl" to the special martial arts powers of the hero to the martial artist sorcerer to wire fu.
Krest i Mauzer (Cross and Mauser, 1925).
In 1923 the Soviet government began an organized campaign to take advantage of the Russian public's love of genres like adventure and science fiction. This campaign led to a wave of overtly propagandistic adventure novels and films. Krest i Mauzer was the most popular of these. A savage attack on the Catholic church and priests, Krest i Mauzer's hero was quickly forgotten, but its villain, Naum Rogozhin, became the most beloved villain in Soviet cinema during the 1920s and 1930s. Rogozhin is a Catholic "vicar" (although he dresses more like a bishop) who has evil designs on humanity in general and the Russians and the Soviet Union in particular. He files his nails to sharp points, he fathers children on the nuns in his monastery, he beats innocents and holds orgies, he engages in pogroms for kicks, and he reads pornography.
Krylya Kholopa (Wings of a Serf, 1926)
Like Krest i Mauzer, Krylya Kholopa was a product of the Soviet government's desire to use film as a vehicle for swaying the Russian masses. The intent behind Krylya Kholopa was to remind a new generation of Russians about the viciousness of serfdom. In the late 16th century a serf, Nikita, invents a pair of wings which grant him the ability to fly. Unfortunately for Nikita, his invention brings him only misery, as he comes to the attention of Ivan the Terrible, who is portrayed as a ghastly tyrant: the scene most remembered from this film was not Nikita in flight but Ivan throwing a bowl of very hot soup into the face of his jester.
Miss Frontier Mail (1936)
A year after Hunterwali, the Wadias and Mary Ann Evans had a near-equal success with Miss Frontier Mail. This time Evans played Savita Devi, an Indian big game hunter. (Evans was a white Australian, but the Wadia studio said she was from Bombay, which the Indian public accepted, as everyone knew that people from Bombay were different). Miss Frontier Mail is set in Lalwadi, on the western coast of India. The wicked masked criminal Signal X and his gang are robbing trains, committing murders, and even blowing up trains. Signal X is actually Savita's uncle Shyamlal, who is being paid by an airplane company to wreck railway travel as a way to promote the company. Shyamlal has at his disposal a technologically-advanced radio machine and a poisonous gas gun. When Savita discovers what her uncle is doing, she uses her guns and her athletic skills to put an end to his crimes. Miss Frontier Mail, like Hunterwali before it, was was scorned by the Indian intelligentsia, who saw its use of a white female actor (in Western clothing, no less) and its emphasis on social justice for the poor as pernicious Western concepts, but the Indian public loved both, and Miss Frontier Mail was enormously popular.
Nu Sheqinggui (Lady Ghost, 1939)
The Chinese film industry's horror films have never received the critical attention they deserve, but by the start of World War Two Chinese filmmakers had done everything that Hollywood filmmakers would do in the 1980s and 1990s. (See the Zhong Kui Zhuo Gui entry below). Often the Chinese imitation of a Western horror film was the equal to or the superior of the Western original; Ma Xu Weibang's Ye Ban Ge Sheng (Song at Midnight, 1937), an adaptation of Phantom of the Opera, has aged far better than its Western source. One of the best examples of Chinese horror films of this era is horror film veteran Wang Fuqing's Nu Sheqinggui. In the film a man and his daughter are murdered. The widowed mother is heartbroken and desperately craves vengeance, but knows that she cannot achieve it as she is. So she goes to a cemetery of unmarked graves and lies in a coffin for 49 days to achieve the powers of a ghost. This achieved, she uses her new powers to find and kill the man who murdered her daughter and her husband, and then she gives herself up to the police. Nu Sheqinggui was popular enough to spawn a sequel, a rarity in Chinese films of this era. In the sequel, Xu Nu Sheqinggui (1939), an adulterous wife and her lover attempt to Gaslight the wife's husband. Her lover even attempts to rape the husband's daughter by a previous marriage. To save the husband and daughter, the man's servant summons Lady Ghost, who promptly kills both the wife and her lover.
The Phantom Police (1926)
As mentioned above, primates were common in Hollywood films of the silent era. Gorillas were most common, but the use of chimpanzees was hardly unknown. Robert Dillon's The Phantom Police was typical of these. Tracy Down is a master thief who employs two chimpanzees to help him with his crimes. After robbing a diamond store in Paris, Down flees to Africa and then goes to the United States, where after the usual adventures he is caught by N.Y.P.D. officer Jack Wright, who uses Down's chimpanzees against him.
Queen of the Northwoods (1929)
A number of Hollywood films of the 1920s and 1930s had hostile natives conspiring to drive whites from colonized territories, but few films took the route that Queen of the Northwoods did. In the film a man wearing a wolf costume, complete with wolf mask, terrorizes the whites of northern Canada. The man, called the "Wolf Devil," tries to kill all whites or at least drive them from the territory. The Wolf-Devil even has an unnatural control over a pack of wolves. At length Inspector Steele of the Royal Canadian Mounted Patrol stops the Wolf Devil. An excerpt of the film is available here.
El Sexo Fuerte (The Stronger Sex, 1945)
Connoisseurs of eccentric and unusual films have long enjoyed Mexican films of the 1940s and 1950s, in which it was not unusual (as was the case in Rebellion de los Fantasmos (1946)) to have the ghosts of La Llorona, Samson, Don Quixote and Romeo & Juliet haunting the same house. El Sexo Fuerte was one of the Mexican film industry's earliest forays into outright science fiction. Adán, a rancher, and Curro, a bullfighter, are traveling over the ocean when they are shipwrecked and wash ashore on a remote island, Edén. There they find a Lost Race of women who use men as slaves and are ruled over by the Spanish femme fatale Eva. Adán and Curro rally the men and overthrow the gynocracy through the use of a terrifying mechanical mouse. Adán is made king and marries the suitably chastened Eva.
Shōri no Hi Made (Till the Day of Victory, 1945)
As was to be expected, the Japanese film industry during World War Two was as jingoistic, propagandistic, and bigoted as the American film industry during the war. However, as was the case with American wartime films, very rarely a Japanese film emerged that was not just unusual by wartime standards but unusual by anyone's standards. Shōri no Hi Made was one of those. Made late in the war, ostensibly as an attempt to cheer up flagging morale on the homefront, Shōri no Hi Made has as its protagonist a Japanese scientist who is looking for a way to shore up morale in the military. He invents an "entertainment bomb" which when dropped on an island in the South Pacific causes various comedy routines to break out among the soldiers and sailors who are caught in the explosion.
Robot-Girl Nr. 1 (1938)
The science fiction of Czechoslovakia during the 1920s and 1930s is little appreciated in the West, but it was a fertile time for both novels and films, with numerous space operas and several science fiction films. One such was Jan Grmela and Josef Medeotti-Bohác's Robot-Girl Nr. 1. In the film an inventor, Bubi, creates a female android he calls "Wera." Unfortunately, a gang of robbers finds out about Wera, steals her, and uses her to commit a series of crimes in Prague. Matters end badly for Wera.
Tragödie im Zirkus Royal (Tragedy at the Royal Circus, 1928)
Although Danish dime novels had as much science fiction as their more celebrated French and German counterparts, the early Danish film industry did not. One exception was Alfred Lind's Tragödie im Zirkus Royal. Danish scientist and inventor Dr. Magirus is in love with Ziska, a beautiful female trapeze artist. When Armand, a trapeze performer at the same circus, commits suicide from unrequited love for Ziska, Magirus sees his chance and creates an android to replace Armand, as a way to impress Ziska. It fails, and Magirus follows Armand into death.
L'Uomo Meccanico (The Mechanical Man, 1921)
André Deed (1879-1940) is symbolic of many actors of the silent film era. As an actor and director he made over 200 films between 1901 and 1939 and created the iconic character Boireau. At his height Deed was the most popular and best-paid star of French film, but when he died he was impoverished and forgotten. Deed's last major film — a serious film, unusual for Deed, who made his name in comedy — was L'Uomo Meccanico (1921). In the film a gang of criminals in Rome, led by the femme fatale Mado, discovers that Professor D'Ara has created an android with superhuman strength and speed. Mado sends her gang to get the android's blueprints. The gang kills D'Ara but fails to get the blueprints and are captured by the police. Mado escapes, kidnaps D'Ara's niece Elena, gets the android's blueprints from her, and uses D'Ara's android to commit crimes. Professor D'Ara's brother builds a second android and sends it after the first. The two destroy each other, and Mado is electrocuted while manipulating the android's control panel.
The Werewolf (1913)
Unusually, the Diné (Navajo) were the subject of two separate horror films in the 1910s: The Werewolf, and The Owl Witch (1919). The Werewolf may be the first werewolf movie ever filmed. Kee-On-Ee is a Diné woman who believes that she has been abandoned by her white husband. He has been killed, but Kee-On-Ee doesn't know that. Not unreasonably, Kee-On-Ee turns to witchcraft for solace. Kee-On-Ee raises her daughter Watuma to hate all Anglos, and eventually becomes a werewolf so as to better punish the Anglos. Watuma is killed when she is exposed to a cross by a friar, but a century later Watuma returns from the dead in wolf form.
Zhong Kui Zhuo Gui (Zhong Kui the Ghost Buster, 1939)
As mentioned above, the Chinese film industry, in its horror films in the 1930s, did everything Hollywood writers and directors would later attempt. This included Scream-like metatextual commentary on other horror films. Veteran director Wong Toi, who had previously made some horror films himself, had grown increasingly dissatisfied with the direction that Hong Kong horror films were taking, so he made Zhong Kui Zhuo Gui. The hero of the film is the mythical ghost-fighter Zhong Kui. In the film he is an eccentric "ghost catcher" who makes a living by traveling from town to town and catching bothersome or evil ghosts and demons. Each of these demons and ghosts, from the Coffin Ghost to the Spirit of the Broom, appeared in previous Hong Kong horror films, and in each case Zhong Kui vanquishes them with a comment about their inferiority. Image by lgliang on Deviant Art.
Zinda Laash (Resolute Laash, 1932)
The Indian film industry of the 1930s did not produce as many horror movies as most other countries' film industries, but they did make a few. Premankur Atorthey Zinda Laash was one such. In the film, set in India centuries ago, an evil spirit occupies the body of an Indian prince. The possessed prince terrorizes his kingdom and is finally killed by the noble warrior Laash.