Okay, in terms of film preservation discoveries, it doesn't rank with the missing footage from Fritz Lang's 1927 Metropolis that turned up in a Buenos Aires basement in 2008. And no, the eight hours MGM cut from Erich Von Stroheim's 1924 masterpiece Greed remain missing, the Holy Grail of film preservationists since time immemorial.
Nevertheless, via the real-life cinema detectives over at The Serial Squadron, now comes news that the more-or-less "lost" film that I, personally, have most longed to see over the years has, in fact, been found. And is heading for DVD (more about that later).
I refer, of course, to the absolutely astounding 1941 Republic serial Drums of Fu Manchu, starring the criminally underrated Henry Brandon as the definitive screen Fu.
I first wrote about the film back in April; if you missed it, suffice it to say that DOFM is a corker. Directed by Republic's great William Witney and John English team, then at the height of their powers, and featuring a terrific cast besides Brandon (let's hear it for that great neurotic presence Dwight Frye), it's on most critic's short list for the Top Five All-Time Cliffhangers, and with good reason; slick even by Republic's standards, it's perhaps the only chapter play out of Hollywood that feels feature film quality.
As for the whole lost deal, the original film elements of the serial were destroyed in an accident at Republic (most likely in a fire, although there's some dispute over this) in the late 60s; as a result, the only versions available for screening since then -- including numerous video versions, ranging from bootlegs of dubious legality to the 2004 DVD released by VCI Entertainment -- have derived from soft-looking second generation 16mm sources of at best barely adequate quality.
Now, however, the good folks at Serial Squadron -- who have done truly remarkable yeoman restoration work on such presumed lost serial classics as the original 1938 Lone Ranger -- have discovered a heretofore unsuspected copy of DOFM in the hands of a private collector. According to Squadron honcho Eric Stedman, it was duped at Republic, legally, from the original elements shortly before they were destroyed, and by somebody with a high level of technical expertise who really knew what they were doing; it has now been transferred to video and l am told it looks like a pristine 35mm print.
Be still my beating heart.
In any case, Stedman assures me that the Squadron edition of Drums will be commercially available by the end of this year. He has not, however, made a final decision as to whether to make it available in DVD or Blu-ray; feel free to head over to the Squadron website and vote for the format you'd prefer. And rest assured, we'll keep you posted on further Fu developments as they shake out.