Rediscovered Clara Bow Movie ‘The Pill Pounder’ to Screen for First Time in 101 Years This April

Liem Soeng

Rediscovered Clara Bow Movie ‘The Pill Pounder’ to Screen for First Time in 101 Years This April

Every time a presumed-lost silent film is rediscovered, it’s cause for celebration. When elements were found to restore complete versions of “The Passion of Joan of Arc” and “Metropolis,” the resulting restoration premiere was a major cinematic event. For his part, the late silent film historian Kevin Brownlow told me he thinks a treasure trove of lost silents is just awaiting rediscovery in the archives of the Cinemateca de Cuba.

One major new find occurred right in the United States, however. Filmmaker Gary Huggins was hoping to buy a celluloid reel for a cartoon as part of the auction of films an Omaha-based distributor had held, after the distributor folded. He had to purchase a number of other films as well in order to get the one he wanted, and among those other titles? A presumed-lost 1923 movie with silent film megastar Clara Bow (not yet quite at the peak of her wattage, as she would become one of the key inspirations for Margot Robbie’s character in “Babylon”) called “The Pill Pounder.”

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Clara Bow, ca. 1930

A fun broadcast report for Omaha station WOWT 6 News (obviously put together by a reporter who’s a true film lover) tells the story of how “The Pill Pounder” was rediscovered. It’s only a 20-minute film, but provides a crucial glimpse of Bow’s path to superstardom. Bow biographer David Stenn helped to restore the footage, which was a master copy made off the original nitrate (hence why it remained intact, while the highly flammable nitrate itself usually degrades, resulting in the vast majority of all silent films being lost, including over half of Bow’s own body of work).

Bow has been called the original “It” Girl. That’s because she literally starred in a 1927 film called “It,” that’s believed to be the origin of the term. She brings an unusual energy to her movies — when you watch her, she truly seems timeless, like an actress who could exist in 2024 as easily as 1924. That may be why, as Swifties are aware, the closing track on Taylor Swift‘s upcoming album “The Tortured Poets Department” is called “Clara Bow” — prompting People magazine to reach out to Bow’s descendants for a response. Hopefully this will result in a general resurgence of interest in silent film that will peak with the premiere of the restored seven-hour version of Abel Gance’s Napoleon this summer. (And far from a silent, but here’s hoping the expedition in Brazil to find the full workprint of “The Magnificent Ambersons” still bears fruit.)

Bow famously walked away from Hollywood fame after continuing to appear in movies after the introduction of sound. How amazing that there are still new things that we can learn about her work?

Watch the segment about the rediscovery of “The Pill Pounder” below.

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