||What can I do to make a video release of London After Midnight happen?
Actually... nothing. (SEE UPDATE BELOW FOR LATEST INFORMATION)
Like those who really believed there was a vampire in Sir Roger Balfour's house... you've been had. Sadly, London After Midnight, like many more worthy films, is really and truly a lost film.
Here are the real facts as written up for the alt.movies.silent FAQ:
Q. I heard that a collector has LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT and is waiting for its copyright to expire so he can release the film. Is this true?
A: Almost certainly not.
Tod Browning's LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT (1927), starring Lon Chaney Sr. in a dual role as a Scotland Yard inspector and as a pointy-toothed vampire, is the most famous of lost films -- mainly because Forrest J. Ackerman, with the aid of the film's admittedly tantalizing stills, spent a lot of energy hyping it as a lost masterpiece in his teen-oriented horror magazines. The reality is that those who saw the film as late as the 1950s, such as William K. Everson and David Bradley, considered it well short of a masterpiece -- inferior to Browning's talkie remake, MARK OF THE VAMPIRE (1935), with Bela Lugosi, and not even the most desirable lost film of Chaney's career.
The most persistent rumor about LAM is that some collector has the film and has been waiting for the copyright to expire in 2002. The legend probably dates back to the early 70's, when a New England rental source named Cecil Miller listed LAM among his upcoming titles, presumably as a gag. (Later versions of the same gag have included reviews of the film on the Internet Movie Database and April Fool's discussions of showings on Turner Classic Movies in alt.movies.silent.) This mythical collector is in for a longer wait now -- copyright law has been changed, making the date LAM would become public domain 2022. For that reason, it is likely that any such collector who wanted to cash in during his own lifetime would have already come forward to make a deal with the current copyright holders (Time Warner).
In fact, the odds are not high that any print ever got loose in the first place. According to Jon Mirsalis, MGM "was very diligent about collecting prints after the completion of their print run, making it unlikely that a retired projectionist has a copy hiding in his attic... The last time the film was inspected by MGM was in 1955. It was stored in vault 7 and a vault fire (circa 1967) in vault 7 destroyed the last known print. All the MGM nitrate material was subsequently donated to Eastman House, but by then the print and camera negative were gone." As Bob Birchard further points out, "MGM did a worldwide search when it decided to copy its nitrate to safety in the 1970's," and turned up nothing.
Even so... another MGM film that vanished around the same time was Victor Sjostrom's THE DIVINE WOMAN, with Greta Garbo. Yet a ten-minute fragment of that film subsequently turned up in Eastern Europe. So the possibility that LAM will turn up in some unexpected place cannot be ruled out completely. Just... nearly completely.
In the meantime, the closest you are likely ever to come to seeing LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT is in the pages of Philip J. Riley's book LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT, published by Cornwall Books in 1985 -- and by watching MARK OF THE VAMPIRE.
As you probably know, since this prank site was first created, LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT has come out on DVD-- in the form of a 45-minute "slide show" reconstruction made out of the surviving stills, assembled and edited by Rick Schmidlin. Though not an actual movie, this reconstruction gives a vivid sense of what London After Midnight was like-- the best we are likely to ever have. It airs on TCM occasionally, and is available on The Lon Chaney Collection DVD set-- along with Chaney and Browning's true masterpiece, THE UNKNOWN.
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