The Film Mystery
26. A Cigarette Case
Kennedy's face betrayed only a remote interest. "Have you any copies of that particular
"Just the negative, I believe."
"Could I have that for a few days?"
"Of course!" Manton seemed to wish to give us every possible amount of co-operation;
yet this request puzzled him. "Would you care to go down to the negative vaults with
First we stopped in a lengthy corridor in the rear building, where there were no great
signs of life. Through a door I could see a long room filled with ornaments, pictures,
furniture, rugs, and all the vast freak collections of a property room. Along the side of the
hallway itself was a line of steel lockers of recent design.
Manton called out to an employee and he appeared after a long wait and unlocked one of
them. At Kennedy's direction I put the traveling bag in the lower compartment, pocketing
the key. Then we retraced our steps to broad steel stairs leading up and down. We
descended to the basement and found ourselves in a high- ceilinged space immaculately
clean and used generally for storage purposes.
"The film vaults," Manton explained, "are at the corner of the west wing. They have to be
ventilated specially, on account of the high inflammability of the celluloid composition.
Since the greatest fire risk, otherwise, is the laboratory and printing departments, and next
to that the studios themselves with the scenery, the heat of the lights, the wires, etc., we
have located them in the most distant corner of the quadrangle. The negative, you see,
represents our actual invested capital to a considerable extent. The prints wear out and
frequently large sections are destroyed and have to be reprinted. Then sometimes we can
reissue old subjects. All in all we guard the negative with the care a bank would give
actual funds in its vaults."
In our many visits to the Manton studios I had been struck by the scrupulous cleanliness
of every part of the place. The impression of orderliness came back to me with redoubled
force as we made our way around in the basement. Nothing seemed out of its proper
position, although a vast amount of various material for picture making was stored here.
We passed two projection rooms, one a miniature theater with quite a bit of comfort, the
other small and bare for the use of directors and cutters.
Finally we saw the vaults ahead of us. The walls were concrete, matching the actual walls
of the basement. There were two entrances and the doors were double, of heavy steel,