Archive for Lon Chaney

Mohr and Blore

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 29, 2020 by dcairns

Thinner than the Thin Man! Saintlier than the Saint! Crimier than the Crime Doctor and more masonic than Perry Mason! Michael Lanyard, the Lone Wolf, is back, accompanied as ever by his faithful manservant, Jamison… wait, how can he be a lone wolf if he’s accompanied?

We sold Marvelous Mary on the idea of a Lone Wolf watch party so she can feed her Eric Blore addiction (for it is he who essays the role of Jamison, apart from one outing where Alan Mowbray stepped in, with Ron Randall in his only appearance as Lanyard — I’m saving that one for a day when it is not only rainy, but SUBMERGED).

Our double-feature was to consist of ONE DANGEROUS NIGHT, Warren the starving lion’s penultimate Lanyard performance, and then THE LONE WOLF IN MEXICO, in which the now ailing WW is subbed out by pod person Gerald Mohr, a Columbia upstart best known for fading into the background of GILDA. Both films acquired in suitably ratty form, poor prints duped from VHS off-air recordings, the latter one graced with massive, decomposing Spanish subtitles crawling over half the image, through which the actors peered like convicted felons, as perhaps they were. A good evening in.

These subtitles are illegible, it’s a good thing I don’t understand Spanish.

Mary suggested we invite our mutual chum Stuart to partake also. Stuart produced my first short film, so would seem to have much to answer for, but he answered for it fully at the time, I can assure you. I don’t know what he’s done since to make him deserving of this cinematic treat, but probably plenty. I sold the show to him as “pre-televisual time consumption units.” There was eventually a Lone Wolf TV show, after Ron Randall murdered the movie series, and it starred Louis Hayward who seems like excellent low-budget casting, which lets face it is all the series ever got. I might check it out, Alfred E. Green directed some and there are exciting guest stars like Denver Pile and Morris Ankrum. Oh goodie!

I am curious about THE FALSE FACES, the silent Henry B. Walthall vehicle which is available purely because Lon Chaney’s in it. Curious about the numerous other silents also, but none is within my grasp, and the part-talkie THE LONE WOLF’S DAUGHTER is considered lost. Maybe I’ll never find out if Bert Lytell was a worthy precursor to the Starving Lion. With a name like Bert, it’s hard to picture him doing the suavity.

Curious also about the early talkies with Melvyn Douglas (pretty classy casting) and Francis Lederer (pretty surprising casting, though Lederer is ALWAYS surprising, not to say alarming, in any role). I can get those.

ONE DANGEROUS NIGHT is standard Lone Wolf stuff, enlivened by WW failing to take himself or anything else seriously, and by Blore’s “bits”: he’s called upon to impersonate an entire 4th of July party, to loudly feign illness, and to fire a prop Tommy gun, all of which he does so with his usual enthusiasm, which rightly should belong to a man twice his size, but who’d pay for the damage?

Blore being a party.

Blore feigning illness.

Michael Gordon directs, having worked his way up from Boston Blackie by way of the Crime Doctor, with Cyrano still in his future.

Sample dialogue from a henchperson: “Kid’s got a bad case of ants, always in a stew.”

Eric Blore gets to say: “We’re being followed, sir. Couple of storybook characters.”

Anne Savage gets to say: “Come on, honeybunch, let’s go places.”

MEXICO, despite Mohr being somewhat overshadowed by his immediately predecessor, is the same kind of fun. Co-writer of DETOUR, Martin Goldsmith, is one of the credited scribes, and the dialogue has zest. It’s directed by D. Ross Lederman, whose first initial and middle name seem to form their own critical commentary.

Weirdly, though Jamison/Blore is characterised as a reformed thief in all the films, these two are the only ones I’ve seen where he’s portrayed as a sort of kleptomaniac, snatching purses in both flicks to jump-start a spare bit of narrative.

Eric Blore gets to say: “What have we done now??” Also he gets to wear a sombrero and sing the “Ay, ay, ay!” song. You know the one I mean.

Last line of the film is a Mexican policeman saying “…I thee-eenk.” More innocent times. Subtitling this for the Spanish market may have been an act of post-war optimism.

ONE DANGEROUS NIGHT stars Paul Kroll; Cedric Cosmo, aka Captain Braceridge Hemingway; Eve Corby; Stephanie ‘Steffie’ Hajos; Eloise Matthews; Vera; Mr. Bel-Goodie; Sgt. Murphy; Noah Joad; Buddy De Sylva; Capt. Delgado; Joe Brody; Count Alexis Rakonin; The College Cad; Gort; Spat; Leatherstocking; Trustee, Boston Waif Society (uncredited); and Steve McCroskey.

THE LONE WOLF IN MEXICO stars Capt. Delgado again; Cedric Cosmo, aka Captain Braceridge Hemingway again; Ann, Cowgirl in Movie (uncredited); Mona Plash; Minor Supporting Role (uncredited); Roy Church; Megalos (uncredited); Reverend Hawthorne (uncredited); Bret Harte (uncredited); Mendoza (uncredited); Reuben Klopek; Cannabis Dealer (as Leon Lenoir); Samaris (uncredited); Spectator at Medusa Presentation (uncredited); and Leatherstocking again.

The Easter Fools’ Day Intertitle: Lon Chaney Big

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 1, 2018 by dcairns

Yeah, sometimes the calendar makes the satirist’s job too easy.

Fiona has announced that we need to see READY PLAYER ONE today — something about it being a kids’ film with geeky references for the over-forties (or over-fifties in our case) — so it looks like we’re doing that. Sadly we missed THE POST which was the proper grown-up Spielberg film for this year — we did manage to make it to Filmhouse for a screening but sadly five hundred other grown-ups had the same idea first. So I feel we may be seeing THE WRONG FILM. I also want to see ISLE OF DOGS but, to quote Peter Falk, “You’re sick, I’ll YUMA ya.”

Our intertitle is from my favourite film of all time — it’s THE BEST FILM THERE IS, folks — HE WHO GETS SLAPPED — because the date seems to demand a martyred clown picture. And Lon Chaney was recently enjoyed in Bo’ness. He’s quite something on the big screen. I still dream of Jane Gardner getting to score this one. That would be REALLY something.

A friend, who was experiencing Chaney for the first time in THE PENALTY, thought he had a Jack Nicholson quality. He certainly does the lowered-chin malevolent glower, known as the Crazy Kubrick Stare, to perfection. It’s like the Lauren Bacall Look, but with added menace. Though I doubt Chaney, like Bacall, was doing it to steady himself against a nervous tremor. And Kubrick is known to have used the line, when directing Vincent Donofrio in FULL METAL JACKET, “Make it big. Lon Chaney big.”

 

Lon Again

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on March 28, 2018 by dcairns

These are my programme notes for Hippodrome Silent Film Fest’s screening of THE PENALTY. As you’ll see, I was aiming to introduce Lon Chaney and his film to an audience who may not be familiar with him, while trying to include less familiar info or observations for those already versed in the Chaneyesque grotesque. Now read on ~

Lon Chaney was born to be a silent film actor, even though the movies didn’t exist at the time of his birth on April Fool’s Day 1883: since his parents were both deaf, he learned to communicate by pantomime from an early age. Becoming an actor, he used make-up and a powerfully expressive face and body in his performances.

Working his way up from supporting roles in the movies, he showed an ability to steal the show with eye-popping characterisations, eventually bringing to Hollywood a taste for the grotesque hitherto unknown, which would mutate in the coming years and decades into a whole new genre: the horror film.

But in Chaney’s day, these were merely melodramas, often with crime themes. But the versatile star’s use of the make-up kit, along with other, more novel tricks, brought to these movies a rogue’s gallery of physical deformities and disabilities, served up with lurid brio.

Wallace Worsley would direct Chaney in one of his signature roles, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, but the two were already regular collaborators, uniting for the first time on 1920’s The Penalty. For this film, Chaney undertook the eye-catching role of Blizzard, a double-amputee gangster running San Francisco’s underworld without the benefit of lower legs.

Within the limits of 1920s special effects, there was no way to show an anatomically whole man moving about without legs, but Chaney undertook the task, strapping his legs up behind himself and walking on his knees, a classic instance of the love of suffering at the root of his art. Audiences of the shuddered as he strutted about with the aid of crutches, gasped as he climbed a wall, and winced as he jumped off a table. They still do.

The star’s masochism is served up with ample sadism too (a perversion that usually has more box office appeal). From its opening maiming, the movie serves up relentless displays of violence: a knifing, vicious hair-pulling,and the savagery of Chaney’s own performance, which dominates the whole film even though he’s nominally the villain.
Blizzard’s megalomania, the result of a cranial injury sustained at the same time as his loss of limb, has led him to plan to loot the whole of San Francisco. His villainy goes beyond normal mob boss ambition and into Bond villain territory. He even has an underground lair and a secret laboratory, but to what malign end?

What all this suggests, apart from an uproarious good time, is that the horror movie as we know it today evolved not purely from Gothic fiction or ghost stories, but from the gangster picture. Chaney’s films (see also The Unholy Three, The Blackbird, Outside the Law) united the dubious pleasures of that form–violence, sadism, law-breaking–with grotesque disfigurements and disguises which could exploit his mastery of make-up and willingness to subject himself to painful transformations. What unites the crime thriller with the monster movie is a thoroughly anti-social appreciation of destruction, mayhem and ugliness, not for their own sake, but as liberating escapes from the strictures of normality, peace and civilisation.

All this unalloyed evil must be punished at the end, of course, to allow the audience to feel virtuous in spite of the vicarious pleasure they’ve just experienced at wanton acts of cruelty and pillage. And so the penalty must be paid, though just how the movie-makers tried to achieve this, and what alterations they had to make to appease the censors, is best discovered by watching the movie. It turns out, however, that the arbiters of morality could be even more blood-thirsty than the filmmakers…