In many cases, some of the earliest Movies ever made have been lost. No known copies exist in the world anymore. According to CBS, about 75 percent of silent films have been lost. In the early days of cinema, there weren't as many copies of movies made as there would later be. In moves that would shock many people now, film studios would sometimes destroy their copies of their projects, for reasons such as lack of storage space.

Sometimes, the last remaining copies of early movies have disintegrated with age. Even some of the most successful films of the time aren't immune to this. For example, only one-quarter of the 1928 movie "The Patriot" is known to remain still.

Even though it won an Academy Award for Best Writing and was nominated for four more. Including Best Picture and Best Actor. But every now and then, a surprise can be discovered.

Copy of long-lost movie 'The First Degree' found in Illinois

The Chicago Film Archives is an organization that focuses on film preservation. Unbeknownst to them, they'd been in possession of something uniquely special for well over a decade.

How the organization got ahold of it can be traced back to Charles E. Krosse. An executive with Caterpillar Inc., the world's largest manufacturer of construction equipment. Krosse had acquired a collection of early films and decided to donate them to the Chicago Film Archives.

In 2006, some of the collection was sorted through.

The reason was to look for footage of barn dancing. Aside from that, the collection was left mostly untouched. But the COVID-19 pandemic meant Olivia Babler had some extra time on her hands. Babler, director of the CFA's film transfer operations, decided to sort through the film reels. And to her surprise, she found a copy of "The First Degree," long thought to be lost to the world.

Even the Library of Congress considered it so.

And it's not just a partial copy of the film. But the whole thing. Almost immediately, preparations began to scan the film digitally. At some point, the CFA hopes to put "The First Degree" online. Copyright laws regarding the movie have most likely expired.

They've even been considering putting on a showing of the film in its original form. But it would probably depend on things like COVID-19 and the condition of the film.

For decades, the movie had been kept in a basement near a water heater. Something that, as noted by the Chicago Tribune, is actually quite dangerous.

'The First Degree' stirred controversy when it was originally released

"The First Degree" was released in 1923. Its plot includes murder, sibling rivalry, and a love triangle. In a time when cinema was in its infancy, the storyline was considered to be rather controversial.

It took its inspiration from a shorty story called "The Summons" by George Pattullo. Pattullo had previously been a war correspondent during World War I.

He was the first correspondent to report on Alvin C. York, often referred to as 'Sergeant York.' Another of his stories was turned into the Roscoe Arbuckle film "Gasoline Gus."

Benjamin H. Kline was the cinematographer of "The First Degree." His son, Richard H. Kline, would become one of the most prolific cinematographers in history.

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