Holland's hoard of BFI's 'most wanted' silent films


Geoffrey Macnab
Monday 28 April 2014 14:01

If you want to track down missing British or Hollywood silent cinema classics, the Netherlands is the place to start.

A few weeks ago, a print of Love, Life And Laughter (1923), starring Betty Balfour, British cinema’s “Queen Of Happiness” and directed by George Pearson, turned up in the small town of Hattem (near Zwolle).

This follows on from the discovery of Rudolph Valentino film Beyond The Rocks (1922) in Holland a few years ago.

Love, Life And Laughter was among a number of film cans in the possession of Margreet van Egmond-Hoogland in Hattem. They had originally belonged to the local cinema, Theater De Vries, which was active from 1929 to 1932.

When the cinema closed down, the owners gave the film cans to the their friend, who ran the local blacksmith’s. He was a keen film enthusiast who used to build his own projectors. He kept the film cans safe but never opened them.

Years later, when relatives were dismantling the blacksmith’s premises, they discovered the film cans.

“They (the film cans) stayed in our garage for about 10 years,” recalls Margreet’s husband Jos van Egmond. “We didn’t look inside them. They were rusty cans. Then, two years ago, my wife thought, well, we should do something with it (the film material.)”

They phoned the local TV station and asked them to see if there were any films of local interest in the collection.

A local TV employee, Mr. Van der Worp, looked at the cans and quickly realised they were made of nitrate - and therefore highly flammable.

Access unlimited streaming of movies and TV shows with Amazon Prime Video Sign up now for a 30-day free trial

Sign up

His first instinct was to preserve them so he offered the cans to The Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision, who didn’t want them. They were therefore offered to EYE, the Dutch Film Museum, instead. That was in 2012.

When EYE finally got around to looking inside the cans, they discovered that they contained one of the titles on the British Film Institute’s list of “most wanted” missing films.

Now, thanks to the Dutch blacksmith, the British are about to rediscover Betty Balfour, who ranked with Ivor Novello as the most popular British star of the 1920s but is little remembered today.

Balfour, who starred in Alfred Hitchcock’s Champagne (1928), was best known for playing a cheery, Eliza Doolittle-like flower seller in the “Squibs” comedies.

When she tried to reinvent herself as a sophisticated flapper type, her star quickly waned. Love, Life And Laughter, made when she was at the height of her fame, is expected to be shown in its restored version next year.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments