Crystal Balls in Film 4

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Further Crystal Balls in Film!

All of the material you have access to here -- the instructive booklets, the nostalgic postcards, the boldly graphic ephemera, and all of the historical information researched and shared from the mind of the woman who is making it all happen -- can easily fit into one 8 x 10 foot room in an old Victorian farmhouse, but you would never see it without the investment of the time it takes to produce such a site and the caloric input such a site requires in the form of food for the writer, graphic designer, and database manager, as well as the US currency needed to pay for the computers, software applications, scanners, electricity, and internet connectivity that bring it out of that little room and into the world.

So, as you can see, this site is the darling of many, and it is growing at a rapid rate ... but although it is "free," there also is a cost. The financial support of my Patreon subscribers -- my Patrons -- underwrites this cost.

Crystal Balls in Film, Part Four

One of the best parts of collecting images of crystal balls in cinema is the prospect of locating the film and watching it. Whether sincere, hokey, spooky, or corny, every one of these movies tells us something about how crystal gazing was seen by the screen writers and directors of the past 125 years, and also how the prop masters and actors dealt with the crystal sphere as an artifact.

We can learn about how fortune telling, prophesy, divination, and the occult have been perceived over the years when we see the role played by the crystal gazer in a fictional story. And because crystals are so flashy, they serve as stand-ins for all means of fortune telling. Prop and character are always linked: There are movies in which we can see horoscopes and astrologers, hands and palm readers, cards and cartomancers, and just flat out clairvoyant seers — but when the sets are dressed, many of those readers end up with a crystal ball somewhere in range of the camera's eye. They are simply too attractive to leave out of the picture.

On the other hand, one of the most frustrating parts of collecting images of crystal balls in cinema is the issue of "lost films." It is shocking how many movies, both silent and sound, simply do not exist anymore. For some of these, we have a few publicity stills, newspaper advertisements, and lobby cards, but for others all that may remain are the notices in theatrical news magazines announcing the commencement or the wrap of shooting, or a review in some hick paper in Indiana that praised the show to the skies, thus adding to our frustration because we will never be able to see it.

Among the most frustrating of these lost films is "The Crystal Ball" of 1914. All that remains is a poster (with a crystal ball), a lantern slide advertisement (of a Hindu swami with a crystal ball), and a plot synopsis from "Moving Picture World" — yet this is the very first movie ever to feature a crystal ball. Also elusive -- although portions of it, and a complete novelization, remain -- is "The Mysteries of Myra," written by the enormously influential paranormal researcher and occult author Hereward Carrington, and featuring no less a personage than the occultist Aleister Crowley (at least according to some researchers). A dedicated group of film historians known as the Serial Squadron has restored and compiled the three episodes that remain, and, working from the contemporary novelization and script, have assembled publicity stills in their proper order to fill in as many blanks as possible -- but we will never see this movie the way it was shown in theaters when it was a weekly chapter-play that thrilled the nation.

Another area of frustration involves my collection of publicity stills featuring actors and actresses (mostly actresses, if the truth be told) holding or gazing into crystal balls -- with no indication as to the date the photo was made or the name of the film — if there was one — to which it can be attached. Sometimes a search through the performer's filmography pays off and the image can be tagged to the right film. But quite a few remain loose and undated.

Then there's the problem that arises when we have seen a film once or even several times, or have read its synopsis, and we know for sure that there is a crystal ball scene in it, but no matter where we search, we cannot find a poster, publicity still, or lobby card of the scene in which the crystal ball appears.

This is especially galling when we use the IMDb database to search for films with the keywords "crystal ball," and neither IMDb's image cache, nor a wider search engine exploration produces a single image, and we do not have the film in our own rather extensive collection. (Okay, frankly, we have thousands of films on DVD; but we are cheap and won't pay more than ten bucks each for them!)

Sometimes we can rent or purchase a purported crystal ball film and make a screen-grab of the crystal ball scene — if the quality of the print is clear. Other times we know the film is not lost, but we cannot locate a copy anywhere. Or, sad to say, we lacked the time to make the screen grab this year, and are putting it off until ... whenever.

With all of that in mind, we have arrived at a plan to make this collection bigger, better, and more eccentric than ever: crowd-sourcing. What follows is a list of films that have crystal balls in them, according to the IMDb keyword database, which is itself crowd-sourced, and thus prone to error.

Still, despite the possibility of crowd-sourcing errors, these are films we have not seen yet — and they are the films from which we want crystal ball screen grabs. If, during a search at IMDb or elsewhere online we have found a publicity still, poster, or lobby card of a man in a turban, we presume that he is a "Swami" or crystal gazer character in the film, and we offer both the character name and the actor's name.

Can you help by supplying a screen shot of a crystal ball scene in any of these movies?

  • 1918: "Betta, the Gipsy"
    • In Wales, a gypsy queen changes her sister's dead baby for one by the same father. The child grows up to marry her daughter.
    • Director: Charles Raymond | Stars: Marga Rubia Levy, Malvina Longfellow, George Foley, Edward Combermere
  • 1922: "Haxan," a.k.a. "Witchcraft Through the Ages"
    • Fictionalized documentary showing the evolution of witchcraft, from its pagan roots to its confusion with hysteria in Eastern Europe.
    • Director: Benjamin Christensen | Stars: Benjamin Christensen, Elisabeth Christensen, Maren Pedersen, Clara Pontoppidan
  • 1924: "The Thief of Bagdad"
    • A recalcitrant thief vies with a duplicitous Mongol ruler for the hand of a beautiful princess.
    • Director: Raoul Walsh | Stars: Douglas Fairbanks, Julanne Johnston, Snitz Edwards, Charles Belcher
  • 1930: "Honeymoon Zeppelin"
    • A jealous fiancee returns her engagement ring and flies off with another man on a blimp bound for Havana. On the voyage, his rival proposes, so the jilted fiance rushes to intercept the zeppelin by seaplane.
    • Director: Mack Sennett | Stars: Nick Stuart, Marjorie Beebe, Daphne Pollard, Edward Earle
  • 1932: "Sinister Hands" — Swami Yomurda (Mischa Auer)
    • During a séance at an elderly millionaire's house, the millionaire is murdered and detectives realize that everyone who was at the séance had a motive for killing the man.
    • Director: Armand Schaefer | Stars: Jack Mulhall, Phyllis Barrington, Crauford Kent
  • 1934: "The Moonstone" — Yandoo (John Davidson)
    • A valuable gem from India is stolen in an old dark mansion and it is up to Scotland Yard to find out who took it.
    • Director: Reginald Barker | Stars: David Manners, Phyllis Barry, Gustav von Seyffertitz, Jameson Thomas
  • 1937: High Flyers
    • Two men running a carnival airplane ride are hired to fly to retrieve what they think are photos for a reporter; actually, they are retrieving stolen diamonds.
    • Director: Edward F. Cline | Stars: Bert Wheeler, Robert Woolsey, Lupe Velez, Marjorie Lord
  • 1939: "A Star is Shorn"
    • Bumbling talent agent Danny Webb tries to help a struggling actress get work.
    • Director: Del Lord | Stars: Danny Webb, Mary Treen, Ethelreda Leopold, Eugene Anderson Jr.
  • 1941: "Playmates"
    • Lulu Monahan, the press agent for John Barrymore, is attempting to get a sponsor for a radio program.
    • Director: David Butler | Stars: Kay Kyser, John Barrymore, Lupe Velez, Ginny Simms
  • 1942: "The Falcon Takes Over"
    • The Falcon and reporter Ann Riordan try to solve a string of murders after an ex-wrestler, released from jail, goes looking for his girl friend.
    • Director: Irving Reis | Stars: George Sanders, Lynn Bari, James Gleason, Allen Jenkins
  • 1943: "No News Is Good News"
    • Robert Benchley ("The Answer Man") answers questions sent in by people.
    • Director: Will Jason | Stars: Robert Benchley, John B. Kennedy, Lon Poff
  • 1946: "Aladin"
    • A Filipino adaptation of Aladdin and the Magic Lamp.
    • Director: Vicente Salumbides | Stars: Norma Blancaflor, Jaime de la Rosa, Naty Bernardo, Salvador Zaragoza
  • 1947: "Le tempestaire"
    • In a village in Brittany, a worried young maid asks for help from a mysterious old man and his magical crystal ball in order to calm down the rough seas.
    • Director: Jean Epstein
  • 1955: "Black Cats and Broomsticks"
    • An RKO-Pathe Screenliner short subject. Superstitions are examined in the context of mid-20th century America. Walking under ladders, spilt salt, stepping on cracks, haunted houses, voodoo dolls, and such illustrate the widespread belief in the supernatural.
    • Director: Larry O'Reilly | Star: Peter Roberts
  • 1955: "A Time to Kill"
    • In the grounds of a dark, deserted mansion, a blackmailer collects money from his victim.
    • Director: Larry O'Reilly | Star: Peter Roberts
  • 1957: "The End of the Fortune-Teller" ("Konec Jasnovidce")
    • Private clairvoyant Mathias Scibolini carries out his work with honesty and to the full satisfaction of his clients.
    • Directors: Ján Rohác, Vladimír Svitácek | Stars: Milos Kopecký, Frantisek Filipovský, Jirina Bohdalová, Vladimír Mensík

See Also

Lovely Ladies and Their Little Balls

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Thank you.

catherine yronwode
curator, historian, and docent
Your Wate and Fate

Special thanks to my dear husband and creative partner nagasiva yronwode for illustrations, scans, and clean-ups.