Accidentally Preserved Volume 5

by Glenn Erickson Apr 13, 2024

It’s what a real movie marquee might have offered in the second half of the 1920s. Disc producers Jon C. Mirsalis and Ben Model give us four ‘rescued’ attractions, which include a western, a soap opera, a zany comedy with bathing beauties, and a jungle adventure featuring a woman raised by a gorilla. Each was scanned by the Library of Congress, and each comes with a stereophonic piano or organ music score by Mirsalis. Who can resist these titles?: Lorraine of the Lions,  Love at First Flight,  Hoofbeats of Vengeance, and  The Fourth Commandment.

Accidentally Preserved Volume 5
Undercrank Productions
1925-1928 / B&W & Tinted / 1:33 Silent Ap / 207 min. / Street Date April 9, 2024 / Available through Undercrank Productions / 29.98
Original Music: John C. Mirsalis
Disc produced by John C. Mirsalis and Ben Model

Just a year ago we reviewed a fine silent western double bill from Undercrank Productions, an outfit with a catalog of silent fare bound to intrigue collectors of the pre-talkie art form.

In the 1930s and ’40s, more than one company struck 16mm reduction copies of silent pictures, to be sold or rented for home viewing use. These were often abridged, but many were almost intact. The ‘Accidental Preservation’ referenced here occurred because the 16mm reduction copies were printed on safety film: they survived long after the original 35mm negatives and prints had perished, either through nitrate decomposition, or by being junked as worthless. In the late 1980s, silent movie authority Michael Peter Yakaitis came over one night to screen his pristine 16mm Kodascope ‘home’ copy of the 1925 The Lost World. It was practically a digest version compared to the newer restorations. But the quality was excellent.

In 2013 Undercrank initiated an ‘Accidentally Preserved’ series of DVD discs, to gather together silent pictures that survived by this unexpected means. The previous releases ahve logged a wealth of silent treasures that might otherwise have been lost forever. The earlier DVDs were produced by Ben Model, who also provided new music scores on piano or theater organ. The sub-title for each disc was “Rare / Lost silent films from vintage 16mm Prints.”

Accidentally Preserved Volume 1        Accidentally Preserved Volume 2
Accidentally Preserved Volume 3        Accidentally Preserved Volume 4

Some of the discs were Kickstarter projects; the fourth was produced in association with the USC Hugh Hefner Moving Image Archive, and our friends at Greenbriar Picture Shows.

Undercrank continues the series with Accidentally Preserved Volume 5, now produced in Blu-ray by the musician / film expert Jon C. Mirsalis. The earlier collections were mainly short subjects, but Volume has three full features, partly cut-down.



The lead-off attraction is 1925’s Lorraine of the Lions, a loopy fantasy that the late Robert S. Birchard would have smilingly called ‘a simple story for simple people.’ The preposterous story has a San Francisco millionaire resorting to psychics to locate his young granddaughter Lorraine, who was lost 12 years ago in a South Seas sinking of the ship carrying her parents and their circus menagerie. Yes, that exact same thing happens all the time. Real psychic Don Mackay (Norman Kerry) prompts the millionaire to begin a search on his yacht, as in a Jules Verne story.

Sure enough, sweet Lorraine is alive and well concealed on a shelf on an uncharted island. She had an uncanny ability to communicate with the circus animals; her ‘pet’ Gorilla Bimi rescued her as well as some lions. An elephant made it to shore as well. Grown to womanhood (now Patsy Ruth Miller of The Hunchback of Notre Dame), Lorraine is surprised when grandfather arrives to bring her home. Lorraine and Don are clearly meant to be together, but another relative has other ideas, as he was next in line to inherit grandfather’s estate.

We’re struck by how much of King Kong and especially Mighty Joe Young seem inspired by this storyline’s ‘Bimi’ character (movie cowboy and stuntman Fred Humes). The ape loves Lorraine and returns with her to civilization, only to become violent and flee to the top of a building. In one scene he swings on a rope, over the heads of tuxedo’ed partygoers.

Fred Humes also donned a gorilla suit for 1944’s Nabonga; it’s an unusual suit, with a smallish head. Bimi gets wet twice, in the ocean and also a decorative fountain. When soaked he looks much better than Toho’s Wet Rat Kong in a noted Kaiju wrestling match. Otherwise the film is absurd escapism: we just have to accept that both Lorraine and Don have ‘special psychic powers,’ and that a circus ape could rear a small girl unaided. The first morning on the island, the lions and the elephant drive off a band of South Seas cannibals, played by black actors. The director is Edward Sedgewick, who worked a lot with Buster Keaton and then Red Skelton and Lucille Ball.



The second title on the first disc is Love at First Flight, a two-reel Mack Sennett comedy seemingly improvised from thin air. Two aviators crash their plane to rescue some bathing beauties, who then entertain them at a beach party. The gag-oriented humor is fairly primitive, especially for 1928. Goofball comedienne Daphne Pollard woos the aviator’s silly assistant. Her ballet leaps are augmented by wire work. The Aviator (Lige Conley) ends up with the fashion-plate flapper Nita Nutti (Madeline Hurlock). Several shots of dancers performing in butterfly outtits were filmed in Technicolor, but reproduced for 16mm in another process, and look very dark and contrasty.

At 18 minutes, it looks like Sennett regular Eddie Cline made this one up off the top of his head. He made uncounted, now obscure comedy shorts and features, but remains immortal for his credits on several W.C. Fields classics.


Disc two starts off with Hoofbeats of Vengeance, an excursion into a different kind of fantasy that could only happen at the movies. Canadian Mountie Sgt. Jack Gordon (Jack Perrin) pursues smugglers along the U.S. border. The true-blue smiling cop in red wool could be the template for Dudley Do-Right. A romance is involved, with rancher Helen Foster (Mary Martin, but not that Mary Martin). But the well-directed story nominates horses as the leading players. Top-billed is Rex The Wonder Horse, a Steed for All Seasons. Rex made twenty starring film appearances, sometimes billed as ‘The King of the Wild Horses.’  This is the kind of movie where the hero will give verbal instructions to a horse, who will then go and fetch someone. Rex is his own boss. He runs wild in the hills, seeking to avenge his murdered master, a Mountie.

The human relationships take second saddle to the horses. Rex has his own sweetie, a white mare called Starlight. The villain has a villain horse with odd markings on its face — Markee is his name, podner. Markee was a one-shot wonder, but Starlight is billed in more titles than was Rex. Were these oat-eating actors replaced as needed, without SAG being informed?

The hero tends to be tied up in a room while horses fight it out. For comedy relief, a couple of mules sneak into a shed and drink a bucket of booze. But Henry MacRae’s clever direction makes good use of special effects. The villain’s traumatized, guilty face is crowded by superimposed pounding hooves, representing his awareness that ol’ Rex isn’t going to relent until justice is served. A flashback to the murder of Rex’s master takes place in a picture frame. Of course, whenever things get slow, we’re treated to another chase scene. Hoofbeats of Vengeance is utter nonsense, but very cleverly made. We can easily imagine theaters full of happy tots cheering on the equine hero.



The final item in the set is the serious drama The Fourth Commandment, a tale of family woe, guilt, sin and forgiveness that must have been pitched to the movie crowd that expected morally uplifting messages with their racy thrills. It’s something of an Edna Ferber knock-off, a multi-generational story that assures us that following the old rules is the only way to happiness. If you didn’t get the memo, you’ve got it now: Mother Love is the most powerful force in the universe, and all those selfish daughters-in-law had better start behaving better.

The thick-soap storyline is nicely performed by Belle Bennett (of the silent Stella Dallas), and especially Mary Carr, who started in 1914 and made it all the way to a bit part in 1956’s Friendly Persuasion. After a prologue depicting the San Francisco Earthquake, a widowed mother (Mary Carr) raises her son Gordon (Henry Victor) in San Mateo. He becomes a junior architect, and is earning a\ subsistence salary when he marries the vivacious Virginia (Belle Bennett). She becomes bored staying at home to take care of their boy, Sonny. Old mother Graham moves in to mind Sonny, while Marjorie is pursued at work by her unscrupulous boss, Stoneman.

The emotionally confused Virginia thinks that her mother-in-law is stealing the affections of both Sonny and Gordon. The 4th Commandment is ‘honor thy mother and father,’ but misunderstandings and frustration lead the jealous Virginia to demand that the old lady pack her bags. When Gordon won’t banish Ma from the house (into a freezing downpour!) Virginia moves out. Years later, Virginia has married the wealthy Stoneman and lives like a queen — but she still hasn’t found happiness. The philandering Stoneman kills himself over embezzlement charges. His creditors toss Virginia into the street and she has no choice to move in with the grown Sonny and his young wife … and history repeats itself with a vengeance. Where will Virginia go when she’s thrown out of her son’s house?


Boys love their mothers, and nothing better get in the way of that, says this twisted storyline — along with the message that women that expect anything for themselves beyond babies and a kitchen are going against nature and God. And don’t cross grandma, as nothing can drive a wedge between mothers and sons.

Just the same, actor-turned-director Emory Powell fashions The Fourth Commandment with efficiency and style, communicating important story points with pantomime and clever imagery. For a ‘spiritual’ effect, a crucifix on the wall glows brightly, assuring us that God’s power is alive and well. When our heroine waxes emotional over the family she fled, they appear superimposed like ghosts, expressing her feelings of loss.

These effects remind us of early Lois Weber classics like Where Are My Children?  We wonder if art director Charles D. Hall was responsible for the film’s good design work and nicely judged imagery … he would later work on classics by Charlie Chaplin, Paul Leni, Pál Fejöos, Robert Florey, Tod Browning (Dracula) and Jame Whale (Frankenstein).

We’re told that The Fourth Commandment was reduced by a full reel when this 16mm ‘Show-at-Home” version was made.The cast list indicates as much, when it names characters that don’t appear in the movie, like a ‘Count Douglas Von Rosen.’ Undercrank appears to have transferred the 16mm print exactly as it was found. A few splices jump a bit, and there’s actually a negative assembly error, when two shots in one scene are repeated.

A few views of a neighborhood in The Fourth Commandment look very much like Hollywood residential streets, even today.


Undercrank Productions’ Blu-ray of Accidentally Preserved Volume 5 gives us three features and one short subject that, without this special intervention, would likely have been lost to time. They are proudly described as obscure gems.

The disc is listed as an Undercrank Productions/Library of Congress release. The Library of Congress performed 2K scans on the vintage 16mm prints made 90 +/- years ago. Occasional damage appears, but as archival copies they are quite good. The new musical scores by Jon C. Mirsalis are stereophonic.

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Accidentally Preserved Volume 5
Blu-ray rates:
Movies: Good
Video: Good
Sound: Excellent Silent with score (stereo)
Full Contents:
Lorraine of the Lions (1925) 76 mins
Love At First Flight (1928) 18 mins
Hoofbeats of Vengeance (1928) 47 mins
The Fourth Commandment (1927) 66 mins.
Deaf and Hearing-impaired Friendly? YES; Intertitles: English
Packaging: Two Blu-rays in Keep case
April 9, 2024

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About Glenn Erickson

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Glenn Erickson left a small town for UCLA film school, where his spooky student movie about a haunted window landed him a job on the CLOSE ENCOUNTERS effects crew. He’s a writer and a film editor experienced in features, TV commercials, Cannon movie trailers, special montages and disc docus. But he’s most proud of finding the lost ending for a famous film noir, that few people knew was missing. Glenn is grateful for Trailers From Hell’s generous offer of a guest reviewing haven for CineSavant.

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Jerome Wilson

I wonder how many people are going to get the “concealed on a shelf” reference.


Laughed out loud at the Bob Birchard shout-out.

Next time you see IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT, see how many Birchard catchphrases you can find.
The above-cited is but one…


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