Archive for Wallace Worseley

The Monday Intertitle: His Groping Soul

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , on November 11, 2013 by dcairns


Our Lon Chaney binge reached a fitting climax with a screening of THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME at the Usher Hall (surrounded by people in fancy dress, for it was All Hallows’ Eve, an occasion we take seriously in Scotland) with live organ accompaniment by Donald Mackenzie.

The Usher Hall’s organ is massive — no sniggering! —  it towered from behind the screen, which itself must have been sixteen foot high. There are sixty settings, sixty different sounds it can make, and Mackenzie had to play it with both hands and feet — fortunately his score was improvised, so he didn’t have to follow sheet music at the same time, just the action on his monitor. Though extemporaneous, it did incorporate some well-known classical bits, as well as the original love theme which formed part of the film’s original score upon release.


These screenings attract a big crowd — the joint was packed — the Film Festival, based right across the road, ought to put on an Usher Hall silent every summer — and the audience is not one particularly familiar with silent pictures. Mackenzie’s introduction stressed that while some of the acting might seem humorous today, the film was not a comedy. People did laugh, but never at Chaney, who rivets. It’s a very different performance from Laughton, and though I prefer the 1939 version in absolutely every single respect, Chaney’s very physical, ape-like approach is effective. Fiona was convinced he must have been studying chimpanzees at the zoo, and he even beats his chest at one point. Gargoyles are the other point of reference, hence his introduction, squatting still as a statue on the facade of the cathedral, and hence all that disgusting tongue work.

Rather than laughing at Quasi, the audience vented its ridicule on Phoebus, which is fair enough I suppose. He can take it. The Disney version makes him a buffoon from the off, and that approach works OK.

The comedy relief poet, Gringoire (Raymond Hatton) might actually be the stand-out performance — he’s robbed of Edmond O’Brien’s best moments in the ’39 version, but grabs his own. He was in 365 movies, by the IMDb’s count — you could watch one a day for a year, in a leap year (admittedly, they’re not quite sure about the numbers). In fact, he may be the most historically well-placed actor ever, appearing in the first Keystone cops short, BANGVILLE POLICE, the first Hollywood feature film, THE SQUAW MAN, the first version of THE CHEAT, the first version of HUNCHBACK, FURY, the US debut of Fritz Lang. He finished his career with IN COLD BLOOD in 1967.


A reminder, meanwhile — above you can see Akira Kurosawa thanking a small boy for appearing in what would be the final shot of the final scene of his final film, MADADAYO. Which I hope to finally watch and write about during the week of December 1st-7th, since that is when THE LATE SHOW: The Late Movies Blogathon will be happening here. There are some groovy people already promising pieces or thinking about it, but this does not mean that YOU are no also welcome. No invitation or official decree is needed, just join in and let me know about it!


Intertitle of the Week: Slumdog Millinery

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on May 17, 2009 by dcairns

Blizzard, underworld emperor of the Barbary Coast (Lon Chaney), attempts to conquer San Francisco — with headgear:


Such is the demented plot of THE PENALTY, directed by underrated Hollywood hack Wallace Worsley (THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME). This is the one where Chaney, as Blizzard, is famously truncated at the knees, stumping about in leather stump-boots, an impressive bit of costume and performance trickery. Gasp! as Chaney climbs a wall without benefit of legs! Wince! as he jumps off a table!


Too many good intertitles in this to number. I could take an intertitle a week from this film for a year, without running out of fresh delights, but I might run out of things to say. A few choice ones ~

“Hats and men — what’s the devil up to?”

“That monster ought to be chloroformed and put out of the way.”

“Listen, my baffled hero — if you wish the lady to go free –”

“–you must hand over to me your superb legs.”

“Don’t grieve, dear — death interests me.”

The movie’s chief strategy is to hurl surprise in the audience’s face with the hysterical frenzy of a Japanese schoolgirl in a water balloon fight. And the censor seems to have gotten into the spirit of the thing too, with bizarre decisions which flip conventional morality on its head. When Blizzard is eventually cured of his evil by an experimental brain operation (it wasn’t the loss of his legs that embittered him, it was the “contusion at the base of the skull” which drove him to psychopathy) and allowed to lead an evil life, the moral guardians of the day objected, even though the film clearly states that the character was not legally or morally responsible for his early crimes. So the studio shot an ending where a former criminal associate assassinates Blizzard and flees into the night. Justice is satisfied — in an ending where a good man is murdered and the guy who did it escapes scot-free to continue his criminal empire.


Even after the end title, we get the thrill of seeing the Goldwyn lion (MGM as yet but a twinkle), who does not bestir himself to roar, but merely sits, flyblown and depressed, wondering when is lunch. Based on this experience, I’m starting to think director Wallace Worseley may be a competitor for Tod Browning’s crown, as king of silent insanity. A fresh viewing of HUNCHBACK seems like a possibility.