The Big Parade (1925): In its day, King Vidor’s war epic wasn’t just popular—it was the single biggest moneymaker of the silent era. It ran in some theaters for a year straight. It influenced all subsequent war films. And good luck finding it. Though it was once on VHS, it has never surfaced on digital formats and rarely pops up in repertory. Sorry.
Porgy and Bess (1959): Though its production was troubled, the film of George Gershwin’s all-black “folk opera” went full-stop: Sidney Poitier, Dorothy Dandridge and Sammy Davis, Jr. starred, Otto Preminger directed (after Rouben Mamoulian was sacked), and the lavish production was presented in 70mm Todd-AO. Alas, it underperformed, and the Gershwin estate was displeased enough to pull it from circulation in 1974. They’re still prickly: Spike Lee has spent the last decade trying to get his own version filmed, only to repeatedly run afoul of Gershwin resistance.
The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962): Cinerama—which touted a mega-sized curved screen with three panels—has been understandably difficult to replicate on home video formats. Still, at least you can see How the West Was Won. This George Pal monstrosity has gone AWOL: Reports of water damage to the original negative have kept it from restoration. Or so the story has till now gone. An alleged restored version will be finally screened at L.A.’s Cinerama theater this fall.
The Touch (1971): Few talk about Ingmar Bergman’s English-language debut, which threw an allegedly abrasive Elliott Gould into the filmmaker’s stock company of Bibi Andersson and Max von Sydow. But that’s because, after disastrous reception, it’s gone mysteriously missing, existing only in bootlegs shorn of 15 minutes. For the record, Molly Haskell is a fan.
The Devils (1971): Ken Russell’s reliably OTT spectacle on a real-life bullshit case of demonic possession amongst nuns in 17th-century France originally featured a sequence dubbed “the Rape of Christ.” Even today, in so-called “director’s cuts,” one cannot see a version of the film with this scene intact.
Inchon (1981): A Korean War epic about General MacArthur, starring Laurence Olivier and directed by Bond filmmaker Terence Young. What’s the problem? Apart from that it was financed entirely by the Reverend Sun Myung Moon?