What Movie Is This Robot Chorus Line From?

By Matt Novak on at

It’s a fascinating picture of robots and dancing women, all performing for a movie. The photo is supposedly from around 1927. And while I love old movies and I love robots, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what this photo was from when I saw it.

The photo above is licensed by Getty Images, an agency that typically has pretty thorough descriptions of their photos. But for some reason this photo doesn’t include much information at all. The description reads: “circa 1927: A group of chorus girls in an unknown film.” Thanks, Getty.

My first thought was the 1930 film Just Imagine, a musical science fiction movie that’s just weird enough to have a scene like this. But I don’t think that’s it. But what else could it be? The only robot movie from 1927 that I can think of is Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, but obviously that’s not right. Even the extended cut doesn’t have a scene anywhere close to this.

I was inclined to think that maybe it’s a scene from some early 1930s musical that may have gotten lost to history. Sadly, there are quite a few movies that you simply can’t find anymore. It’s estimated that roughly half of all Hollywood movies made before 1950 are totally lost. And perhaps 90 per cent of movies made before 1927.

Clearly I needed the internet's help. When I reached out, it was first suggested that the photo is from the 1924 movie Lilies of the Field, which has indeed been lost to history:

But! It’s probably from the 1930 remake of the 1924 version, as pointed out by John Overholt, Curator of Early Modern Books & Manuscripts at Harvard’s Houghton Library. You can even watch a clip from the film on YouTube, despite the fact that a copy of the full film no longer exists:

Apparently the only reason that this dance sequence, called the “Mechanical Ballet,” survives is because it was re-used in a 1932 film titled The Tenderfoot.

From the Wikipedia description for the 1930 film:

Lilies of the Field is a 1930 American Pre-Code drama film directed by Alexander Korda, and starring Corinne GriffithRalph Forbes, and John Loder. It was a remake of the silent 1924 film Lilies of the Field, in which Griffith had played the same role.Both films were based on a 1921 play of the same name by William J. Hurlbut. Lilies of the Field was Griffith’s first all-dialogue film. The film is notrelated in any way to the 1963 film of the same name, which starred Sidney Poitier.

Great job, internet!


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