Polly of the Circus (found drama film; 1917)

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A still from the film in it's unrestored state as seen in the 2017 documentary Dawson City: Frozen Time.

Status: Found

Date found: 1978

Found by: Dawson City Museum

Polly of the Circus was the first feature film made by the Goldwyn film company which would later become part of Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer.

Plot Outline

Polly of the Circus is a tale about a circus performer who gets injured and has to take a break from her job while she recovers at the home of a parson. The two feel some attraction but she does not wish to leave the circus and he risks losing his flock should he keep her and his congregation forces her to leave. The parson doesn't forget her and when the circus comes back to town a year later he goes to her. The tent catches fire and in the confusion and wreckage Polly is left inside unconscious until she is rescued by the parson and a circus performer, after that brush with death she stays with her rescuer and bids her circus friends goodbye.[1]

Carefully Preserved But Lost

Goldwyn Pictures later became part of Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer and unlike a lot of contemporary companies they sought to preserve their early film history with an extensive film archive of both sound and early talkie pictures. In the early 60's they began a program to transfer all their archive holdings to safety film stock, However before the program was complete there was a devastating vault fire in 1965 which not only resulted in the death of a worker but destroyed every single film print in the building. While the loss of some famous films such as Theda Bara's The Divine Woman and Lon Chaney's London After Midnight were lamented it was the tip of the iceberg and Polly of the Circus was among the fatalities, having not been through the transfer process, with no known prints at any other archive the film was lost.[2]

Frozen Time

In 1929 In Dawson city the Bank Manager had a problem on his hands, He was the overseer of a Hockey team that needed work done to create a permanent ice rink instead of the seasonal pool / rink setup they had and he also had to deal with the storage of unwanted silent film reels which the distributors refused to take back due to them being outdated media. He decided to kill two birds with one stone and while it is not known how many he ended up using crate upon crate of silent film reels were packed into the pool before being covered in a layer of dirt to create a level platform for the new rink where they sat for decades, Though the occasional film strip would surface from the ice to the amusement of local children as they would set them alight.[3]

Years later in 1978 a new recreation facility was planned on the site after the previous one ended up burning down due to a nitrate film fire in 1951, while construction workers starting digging the site the workers started finding the reels with one of the first identified films being an episode of a serial called The Strange Case Of Mary Page (1916). The reels were moved into a nearby wine vault to keep them cool as the finds were checked, after 6 months the film was moved by the military to the Library and Archives Facility in Canada where it arrived just one day after a nitrate vault fire had taken out a huge chunk of their newsreel collection with the films ending up being stored in the gutted vaults as the prints were inspected and sorted.[4] In all 533 reels were rescued with a complete but damaged print of Polly of the Circus being included. The film would later go on to get a full restoration and re-release in the late 1990s and 2000s while clips of the unrestored footage were used in the documentary Dawson City: Frozen Time in 2017, 100 years after it was first released.


The full film.

A trailer for Dawson City: Frozen Time featuring an unrestored clip from the film.

External Links


  1. A review of the film by Movies Silently. Retrieved 29 Jul '21
  2. A blog post talking about studio vault fires. Retrieved 29 Jul '21
  3. Dawson City: Frozen Time (2017)
  4. Dawson City: Postscript (2017)