Notes on the Preservation of "The Young Rajah" by
* Poster image courtesy of Tracy R. Terhune
* Flicker Alley is an enterprising DVD company that is focused on the creation of new, high-quality editions of classic silent films such as Lewis Milestone's The Garden of Eden (1928) and F. W. Murnau's Phantom (1922).
Long unavailable for screenings in any format, the 1922 Rudolph Valentino feature, The Young Rajah is not a film restoration in the true sense of the word (no new film elements were created). It is instead a "digital compilation" using an incomplete 16mm print fragment from a private collection, elements from promotional trailers (private collections), production stills (from the Margaret Herrick Library), and newly created photographic inserts.
The history of the film fragment is fascinating because it is said to have been discovered sometime in the 1960s in an Italian chicken coup in an almost complete state. Funds were then raised to have the footage transferred and preserved by Leslie Flint, the head of the London-based Valentino Memorial Guild , but by the time this work was completed, only the 26 minute fragment survived. The fragment is non-contiguous footage of the last half of the film that was obtained by The Library of Moving Images in Los Angeles through an auction in London a few years back.
More recently, a telecine transfer of the film in high definition was ordered. This work was completed at Ascent Media in Burbank, CA in August and September of last year. Digital restoration work was completed at Advanced Digital Services in Hollywood, CA. In order to try to clean up some of the scratches in the film, a very unusual process was attempted. The 1080 x 1920 pixel high definition image was down-converted first into four 540 x 960 pixel PAL quadrants in order to cut the image into four separate images which were then run through a digital filtering system for image "cleaning" before being stitched back together into one improved Hi-Def image. Once this was done, the Hi-Def image was down-converted a final time to an uncompressed NTSC QuickTime file in order to slow the film down to approx. 21 f.p.s. and to a final NTSC broadcast master output for Turner Classic Movies. The film's image quality is still very rough by current standards, but Valentino fans and silent film lovers will finally be given the opportunity to see this once lost film for the first time.
After the image clean-up work was done, the next step was to recreate both the title text and the look of the original intertitles. This was done through the Paramount Special Collection at the Margaret Herrick Library in Beverly Hills. Newly created explanatory titles based on Paramount's cutting continuity bridge gaps in the story, and Spanish flash titles in the surviving print fragment were replaced with the original text of the titles. Vintage Paramount films from around the time of The Young Rajah (such as the 1923 film, The Covered Wagon, directed by James Cruze) were used as references for the look and placement of the titles themselves.
In order to properly set up the missing narrative of the bulk of The Young Rajah's surviving footage, we identified four major sections to the opening of the story:
1) The opening/flashback in which Amos Judd's father (silent film veteran Charles Ogle) explains to Amos Judd (Valentino), aka The Young Rajah, his origins in India;
2) A section based in India in which a mystic called Narada (Josef Swickward) explains the legend and power of The Young Rajah to a colleague;
3) A Harvard vs. Yale boat race and victory party in which more characters and a central conflict are introduced; and
4) A party sequence in which Amos Judd is introduced to the main love interest Molly Cabot (Wanda Hawley) and her father, Judge Cabot (Edward Jobson, who is also featured in Delicious Little Devil, 1919), the two final main characters.
Film stills of The Young Rajah culled from both private collections and the Paramount Special Collection at the Margaret Herrick Library were used to create storyboards of how these sequences would be laid out. The restored intertitles and "still photo" sequences were worked on separately and then combined in an off-line edit. These sequences were then reviewed by film scholars at both UCLA and the Academy Film Archives in Los Angeles, who suggested areas of clarification to the film's story and to the overall pacing. When The Young Rajah was finally in an approved form, it was given to Jon Mirsalis to score.
With all of its titles in place and speed corrected, The Young Rajah is now an approximately 52 min. program. We hope that this behind-the-scenes preservation account gives you a better idea of how much work goes into saving a previously lost film like The Young Rajah and also how important it is to recognize, applaud and support the efforts of film archives that are dedicated to preserving our film history.