London After Midnight (1927)
Status: Missing and presumed lost. The only known copy was destroyed in the 1967 MGM vault fire.
One of the most sought-after lost silent films, Lon Chaney and Tod Browning combined forces once again to create a tale of murder and… vampires?
Marceline Day and co. move into a house with a history: the last tenant committed suicide. But was it suicide or… murder? And then Miss Day spots what look like vampires! Oh my! What is afoot in the old dark house?
Photoplay thought that the film was excellent, though the creepy bits worked better than the normal bits:
Lon Chaney has the stellar role in this mystery drama and the disguise he uses while ferreting out the murder is as gruesome as any he has ever worn. The story attempts to prove that a murderer, when hypnotized, will enact again every detail of his crime. The suspense is marvelously sustained. Chaney plays a dual role, and, when conventionally clad, is a little less convincing than usual. In the other role, perfect.
Variety found the whole affair to be decidedly meh:
Will add nothing to Chaney’s prestige as a trouper, nor increase the star’s box office value. With Chaney’s name in lights, however, this picture, any picture with Chaney, means a strong box office draw. Young, Browning and Chaney have made a good combination in the past but the story on which this production is based is not of the quality that results in broken house records.
London After Midnight does have one advantage over other lost films: It’s absence is noted and lamented. Because of this, TCM aired a 2002 reconstruction of the film. While nothing can compare to the real film, this reconstruction gave audiences a taste of what they were missing.
Director Tod Browning remade the film in 1935 as The Mark of the Vampire with Bela Lugosi (of course) as the is-he-or-isn’t-he bloodsucker. This version is widely available on DVD and currently may be streamed from Warner Archive’s instant service.
The interest in London After Midnight is easy to understand. Lon Chaney is one of the few dramatic silent film stars who still enjoys mainstream popularity. And his tragic death in 1930 meant that he just missed the release of some of the greatest horror classics: Frankenstein, Dracula, The Mummy… Seeing him play a horror creature as iconic as a vampire (spoiler: it’s all just a disguise to trap a murderer) would be a rare treat. Plus, is not this makeup awesome?
So, enjoy the reconstruction and the remake and hope that someone has a print stashed in their secret lair.