The silent era is a continuing source of fascination and frustration for Bible-movie buffs. Fascination, because religious themes were very common then, and filmmakers were often quite bold — for better and for worse — in how they developed these themes. And frustration, because so few of these films exist any more.
I am reminded of this once again because The Villages Daily Sun in Florida posted a story the other day on Dr. Edgar J. Banks, an archaeologist and so-called “original Indiana Jones” who also made some films — all of them, apparently, now lost to us:
Separating fact from fiction is difficult. Very little has been written about the adventurer who looked for the Ark of the Covenant, climbed Mount Ararat in search of Noah’s Ark, and left behind an impressive array of artifacts. . . .
The following facts are irrefutable: Banks excavated Bismya (the ancient city of Adab) during an expedition sponsored by the University of Chicago in 1903-04; he sold thousands of artifacts after returning to the States; and he spent several years lecturing and writing books and magazine articles.
And he made motion pictures with famed director Cecil B. DeMille. . . .
“They were involved in a company known as Sacred Films,” Wasilewska said. “The films were not only ‘Sacred,’ they were secret. The company wasn’t registered anywhere. But it really did exist.”
That incredible claim is supported by about 200 old movie stills from sets of Biblical epics Banks’ late daughter, Daphne McLachlan, left to her children.
“In 1920, at the beginning of moviemaking, a lot of people were making movies about Biblical events. But they were all poor-quality, low-budget productions,” Wasilewska said. “This was very different. This was high-class, very professional. It was a secret company, but many important people were involved, including famous actors and actresses.”
What became of the films is one of many puzzles related to Banks. . . .
I would very much like to get a peek at those old movie stills. I wonder if any of them might actually be from other biblical films of the era, however obscure, that we do know about.
(Hat tip to FilmStew.com for linking to the Daily Sun story.)