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Chicago Film Archives Discovers ‘Lost’ Silent Film From 1920s

“The First Degree” is listed in the Library of Congress’ records of Lost U.S. Silent Feature Films from 1912-1929.

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EAST PILSEN — The Chicago Film Archives recently uncovered a lost silent film from 1923 in its collection.

“The First Degree” is listed in the Library of Congress’ records of Lost U.S. Silent Feature Films from 1912-1929. There are no surviving elements of the film beyond the one maintained in the Chicago Film Archives, according to a press release.

“The First Degree” is a “rural melodrama” directed by Edward Sedgwick, produced by Universal, and released Feb. 5, 1923, according to Chicago Film Archives.

Frank Mayo, an American actor, had the starring role in the movie as Sam Purdy, a “banker-turned-politician-turned-sheep farmer who is repeatedly blackmailed” by his half-brother because of their love for a woman named Mary, according to Chicago Film Archives.

Olivia Babler, the archives’ director of film transfer operations, identified the print, which has deteriorated very little in 97 years.

C.L. Venard Productions in Peoria distributed the film in central Illinois, according to Chiago Film Archives. The Chicago Film Archives’ print of the film was part of the Charles E. Krosse Collection, which maintained films from the Peoria company.

“Given the abysmal survival rate of American silent films, the emergence of a previously lost complete feature — especially one from Universal — is cause for rejoicing,” Mike Mashon, head of the Library of Congress’s Moving Image Section, said in the press release.

“The CFA’s discovery of ‘The First Degree’ also renews our collective hope of uncovering similar treasures in other archives and collections and underscores the importance of preserving these precious pieces of our cinematic legacy.”

Around 75 percent of American feature films between 1912-1929 are considered “lost,” according to a 2013 study from the Library of Congress.

“The First Degree” — based on George Pattullo’s short story “The Summons” — opened to good reviews from critics in the 1920s.

“There are five reels of bully entertainment in this picture, with no waste material clogging up the action, and a surprise finish that gets across with tremendous effect,” an article from Exhibitor’s Trade Review in 1923 read, according to Chicago Film Archives.

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