No, this entry has nothing to do with the hit TV series of that title, but for every classic movie fan, "lost" is the ultimate four-letter word. Scores of films have disappeared from sight, even some that were significant hits in their day. It's frustrating for any film buff who vainly seeks some cinematic record of these movies beyond production stills and promotional information.
Many of these "lost" pictures are silents, but a sadly surprising number of early sound films have also seemingly slipped through the cracks of history, apparently irretrievable.
And for decades, it appeared one of Carole Lombard's sound films -- one featuring an equally legendary co-star -- was in this group.
"I Take This Woman," released in mid-1931, co-stars Gary Cooper, who was coming off successful turns in "The Virginian" and "Morocco." At the time, he was considered a reliable leading man, but had not yet fully established himself as a versatile star; more often than not, he was stereotyped in cowboy or other "western" roles. So it is here, in a story based on the novel "Lost Ecstasy," as Cooper plays a rancher who marries a spoiled New York socialite sent out west by her father. Her struggles with a sudden change in lifestyle are a pivotal part of the film.
"I Take This Woman" was just another programmer in the Paramount arsenal; it made the rounds of theaters, did decent business, and then was quickly shelved and forgotten. Worse, a fire at the Paramount archives destroyed many films, "I Take This Woman" among them. It was feared lost.
But treasure can be found in many places -- you may have heard the story earlier this week about a painting worth a million dollars found in the trash on a New York City street. In this case, treasure was found in the basement of a Maine mansion.
Mary Roberts Rinehart was a popular novelist during the 1920s, and when "Lost Ecstasy" was adapted into the film "I Take This Woman," the book was reissued with images of Cooper and Lombard on the cover, and four stills from the film inside.
As part of her deal with Paramount, Rinehart received a 16mm print of the film. In 1998, film historian and researcher Tom Toth found that copy, the only print known in existence, and spent three years restoring it.
On June 25, 2001 -- two days shy of the 70th anniversary of its initial release -- "I Take This Woman" was shown again, as part of the month-long pre-Code program, "Ladies They Talk About," at Film Forum in New York. In August, the film was shown as part of a Cooper centennial tribute in his hometown of Helena, Mont., at the Myrna Loy Center. (Cooper and Loy never made a film together, alas.) It has since been periodically shown at revival houses, but has not yet been issued on DVD.
More's the pity, according to one reviewer of the film at the Internet Movie Database, who said of Lombard's performance:
"What's great and unique about Lombard is her obvious intelligence and maturity. Everything her characters do is thoughtful, even when her emotions are in play, but never intellectualized. She is never 'feminine' in the way of other players of intelligent women from the period such as Claudette Colbert. I respond to her as a modest and unassuming person with great maturity and character. Someone you'd really like to know very well."
In ensuing years, let's hope many more of us get to know this film very well...especially since we came so sadly close to never knowing it at all.