Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES -- Long-missing comedy shorts including 1927’s "Mickey’s Circus," featuring a 6-year-old Mickey Rooney in his first starring role, and 1917’s "Neptune’s Naughty Daughter"; as well as 1925’s "Fifty Million Years Ago," an animated introduction to the theory of evolution, are among the American silent films recently recovered at the EYE Filmmuseum in Amsterdam.

EYE and the San Francisco-based National Film Preservation Foundation have partnered to repatriate and preserve these films, many of which either don’t exist in the U.S. or exist only in inferior prints.

The announcement was made Sunday in Amsterdam at the EYE museum with a public screening of the first film saved from the project: "Koko’s Queen," a 1926 "Out of the Inkwell" cartoon, which had been available in the U. S. only in substandard video copies.

Annette Melville, director of the National Film Preservation Foundation, said EYE contacted the NFPF after learning of its partnership four years ago with the New Zealand Film Archive, which repatriated nitrate prints of nearly 200 silent U.S. films, including a missing 1927 John Ford comedy, "Upstream." The following year, the NFPF and the New Zealand archive also identified the 30-minute portion of the 1923 British film "The White Shadow," considered to be the earliest feature film in which Alfred Hitchcock had a credit.

"We took responsibility for funding the preservation of a good number of the 176 films," Melville said, referring to the EYE discoveries. "and preserving them."

With support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the NFPF last year sent researcher Leslie Lewis to Amsterdam, where she spent two months examining more than 200,000 feet of highly combustible 35 millimeter nitrate film.

"There’s a good reason these films haven’t been preserved," said Melville, noting that credit sequences on many of the titles had decayed over the years. "Many of them haven’t been identified because the way films sit on their reels, sometimes the credits are most exposed to the atmosphere."

Twenty-six of the short films have been shipped for preservation at Colorlab in Rockville, Md., under the guidance of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Library of Congress. And just last week the NFPF received a $260,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities for the preservation and Web presentation of the nonfiction films.