14 January 2008 | bensonj
An Atmospheric Adventure film
I have a vivid memory of the condensed version of ISLE OF LOST SHIPS that was shown on the TV program "Silents Please" in 1960-61. The imagery was stunning and atmospheric, a vast array of half-sunken ships from all eras, all floating in thick seaweed, with the players scrambling from ship to ship. But which version was shown on that show--the 1923 or the 1929 film? (Of course, it's possible that footage from the 1923 film was incorporated into the 1929 version since they were both made by First National.)
Steve Joyce at silentsf.com says that the 1923 version is a "lost" film. Janiss Garza at allmovie.com describes that version as though she may have seen it, though she was probably drawing on contemporary descriptions. The great William K. Everson, who had seen just about every movie ever made, said in 1960 of the 1923 version, "how we'd like to see that one!" The occasion of this remark was his showing, at the Theodore Huff Society, a one-reel condensation of the 1929 version that had been made by Robert Youngson for theatrical release. Hal Ericson at All Movie Guide (picked up on many sites) says that this one-reeler is titled AN ADVENTURE TO REMEMBER, a film listed on IMDb as released in 1953, but with no details as to subject.
Both Paul Killiam, who produced the material for "Silents Please," and Youngson were in the same business of repackaging silent films for general audiences of a later era. It's reasonable to assume that the two, each making abbreviated versions of ISLE OF LOST SHIPS at the same general time, were drawing from the same source, namely the 1929 film.
The IMDb site indicates that MoMA has a print, and the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research (wisconsinhistory.org) lists a 16mm print of the 1929 version in their holdings, but neither indicates whether their print is sound or silent. Most references indicate that the 1929 film was made in both sound and silent versions. Everson in his 1960 notes states that it "was one of the early sound-on-disc films for which the discs have been apparently lost," without indicating that there was a silent version. The TV Guide reviewer (tvguide.com) actually seems to have seen the film ("The direction is often atmospheric, though it struggles a bit with plausibility") and, by stating that it was "a remake of a 1923 silent," suggests that a sound version was seen. The contemporary TIME review (11/11/29) seems to suggest that this may have been essentially a silent film with dialogue scenes added: "Occasionally effective camera work fails to make up for stolid sequences of dialog explaining the locale."
But even if some sequences are weak, I remember the scenes shown on "Silents Please" as being so dramatic, atmospheric and mysterious, that I wish this could be released on DVD.