So, in case you hadn’t noticed, I’ve got a love for film trivia in general and Oscar trivia in particular. I also love to make lists. Last night, these twin loves led to me staying up way too late making a list of every single film ever nominated for best picture. As I looked down at that list, I thought to myself, “That’s not even a 1,000 movies. Why it would only take a few years for me to see and then review every single film ever nominated.” So, I am now a woman on a mission. Well, actually, I’m on several missions but this is definitely one of them.
Unfortunately, there is one nominee that its doubtful that I — or anyone else will ever see — and that is 1928’s The Patriot. Not only was it the last silent film to be nominated for best picture but it’s also the only nominee to subsequently become a “lost” film. With the exception of a few publicity stills and the film’s trailer, all trace of The Patriot has vanished. Maybe there’s a copy of it sitting in the corner of someone’s attic. It has happened in the past, after all. More likely though, the Patriot is simply gone.
Here’s the trailer:
The Patriot was based on the 1801 assassination of Tsar Paul I of Russia. Paul was played by Emil Jannings who, the previous year, had won the very first Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in The Last Command. Paul’s assassin — the patriot of the title — was played by character actor Lewis Stone who later played almost everyone’s father in the 1930s. Director Lubitsch was, like Jannings, a relatively recent arrival from Germany.
The Patriot was an expensive, “prestige” presentation that was pretty much doomed the moment that Al Jolson spoke in The Jazz Singer. With audiences now obsessed with “talking pictures,” the silent Patriot was a box office bomb. Paramount hastily withdrew the film from circulation, added a few sound effects (though no dialogue because of Jannings’s thick German accent), and then re-released the film with the little success. The Patriot — the last silent film nominated — lost to the first sound film to win Best Picture, Broadway Melody.
The box office failure of The Patriot pretty much drove the last nail into the coffin of the silent film era. Jannings reacted to the coming of sound by returning to his native Germany and continuing his film career there. He co-starred with Marlene Dietrich in Josef von Sternberg’s The Blue Angel. As Germany’s most distinguished actor, Jannings was a supporter of Adolf Hitler and he appeared in several Nazi propaganda films during World War II. In 1945, following the fall of the Third Reich, Jannings reportedly carried his Oscar with him as he walked through the streets of Berlin. He died in Austria in 1950 at the age of 65.
Lewis Stone, meanwhile, prospered in sound films and was a busy character actor until he died of a heart attack in 1953. Reportedly, he dropped dead while chasing some neighborhood children who had been throwing rocks at his garage.
Ernest Lubitsch also had a very succesful career in Hollywood and specialized in sophisticated romantic comedies and musicals. While Jannings was making propaganda films for Hitler, Lubitsch was directing the anti-Nazi comedy, To Be Or Not To Be. He died of a heart attack in 1947, reportedly while having sex with a starlet who was auditioning for a role in his latest film.
The Patriot remains lost.