The Man Who Could Not Sleep (lost silent Edison Studios film; 1915)

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Judge Jeffre with his Valet in a deteriorated still from the film.

Status: Lost

The Man Who Could Not Sleep was an early silent film made by the Edison Company who at the time had also made notable early films like “The Kiss”, “Alice's Adventures in Wonderland” and “The Great Train Robbery”. It was originally released on the 18th of May 1915 [1] starring Marc McDermott as the cursed man "Judge Jeffre" of the title along with Julia Culhoun as the woman called to court and Charles Sutton in the role of the Valet. In the film the plot was that Judge Jeffer had sentenced a woman to thirty days in prison, However in rage against the unfair sentence she angrily says she hopes the judge never sleeps again. The curse plays on the mind of the Judge and over the next three nights he finds himself unable to sleep due to a series of perfectly timed events. After three nights of unease and after being haunted by visions of the woman he talks with the prosecutor who says his ruling was unfair. Another woman arrives in his court along with their child for the offence of sleeping on a bench. He inquires about her sleeping conditions only to discover they live in a squalid flat and face evitction, with a moment of kindness the Judge pays her rent so she can stay however he asks her to pray for him so he might sleep. That night his valet comes into his room expecting to see him awake again but finds him sleeping peacefully. [2]

Edison's Downfall

Edison had not always had the most friendly of approaches to his film work and those practises often ended up harming his studio. In 1908 he'd teamed up with a few other companies to try and strangle the development of smaller film companies by forming “The Edison Trust” which distributed films through “The General Film Co. However in the same year “The Man Who Could Not Sleep” was released The General Film Co were found in court to be guilty of anti-trust violation under federal law, The collective was heavily fined and forced to disband. The result of this was that many of the companies who'd joined the trust to try and gain profit and market dominance now found themselves being made bankrupt and crippled by the consequences of it including Biograph, Sellig Polyscope, Mutual and Kalem. The Edison film studios were no exception as with the turmoil of World War 1 eating away at the market their finances dwindled away until it closed for good in 1918. [3]

Preservation (Or the lack of)

The film inventory was sold off to the Lincoln & Parker Film Company, when they too went bankrupt Edison bought the rights back and re-sold them off to a producer called Robert L. Giffern. The trouble is after that that sale all information about the films and their locations vanishes into thin air leaving many to slowly re-emerge in film archives and private collections over the decades. The Man Who Could Not Sleep was not lucky enough to re-emerge in good shape like some of the other more famous products of the studio and it was discovered by Bill Morrison in 1999 while he was touring a number of film archives looking for footage to use in his film project “Decasia”[4]. The film was in the final stages of nitrate decomposition and had been put aside by archivists to be disposed of due to the extremely dangerous threat the material now posed to their collections, Bill copied footage from the disintegrating reels and used decayed footage from four brief shots for his film; which now are the only known extant examples of footage from the film and along with being re-rendered in slow motion unfortunately lacks any consecutive or complete frames in good condition so barring the occasional semi useable partial still frame this film is considered lost with no intact surviving footage.


External Links


  1. The Catalogue of Copyright Entries for 1914
  2. Moving Picture World Magazine [1]
  3. Library of congress article about the company [2]
  4. Document about the creation of Decasia