LONDON (Reuters) - A forgotten short film featuring footage of comic legend Charlie Chaplin is expected to fetch over 100,000 pounds ($165,000) when it goes under the hammer next month, auctioneers Bonhams said on Tuesday.
“Charlie Chaplin in ‘Zepped,’” believed to be a propaganda film made in Britain during World War One, was discovered inside a battered old film reel tin which collector Morace Park bought for 3.20 pounds on the online auction site eBay.
According to the auctioneer, the seven-minute film which shows Chaplin taking on a German Zeppelin aircraft, features some of the earliest animation in cinema history.
“At first I had no idea what I had,” Park said. “I visited film experts in Europe and the USA and ... one comment was common: none of them had ever seen this type of film before.”
Chaplin probably never knew of the movie’s existence, said film critic and Chaplin biographer David Robinson.
He said the anonymous maker had put together out-takes from three earlier Chaplin pictures — “His New Profession” (1914), “A Jitney Elopement” (1915) and “The Tramp” (1915) — and included sequences of stop-motion animation and other effects.
Park came across an advertisement for a trade screening of the film in the publication Manchester Film Renter and discovered that it was probably sent to Egypt on a morale-boosting mission to British troops stationed there.
German Zeppelin airships attacked Britain during World War One, and Bonhams said “Zepped” was probably designed to defuse the unease caused by the raids.
The film was never widely distributed, however, possibly reflecting the sensitivity of the attacks at the time of its release in 1916.
Bonhams said it was the earliest film known to combine real action sequences with animation, and it is expected to fetch a “significant six-figure sum” when it is offered at an entertainment memorabilia sale in London on June 29.
“The fact that this fragile and flammable nitrate film has survived from 1916, features the most iconic film star of the period and has never previously been seen by the wider public, is incredible,” said Bonhams specialist Stephanie Connell.
“It will no doubt become a significant contribution to the history of early film.”
Although Chaplin played no part in the production of “Zepped,” he famously satirized Nazi leader Adolf Hitler in the 1940 movie “The Great Dictator.”
Reporting by Mike Collett-White; Editing by Steve Addison