The Unknown (1927) A Silent Film Review

Lon Chaney plays a serial killer with two thumbs on one hand who hides out from the cops by posing as an armless knife-thrower in a traveling circus. He falls in love with Joan Crawford, who is afraid of men’s hands. After strangling her father, Chaney decides to cut off his own arms for real in order to win Crawford’s love, as one does. Chaos ensues. I did not make any of that up.
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Fun Size Review: The Phantom of the Opera (1925)

An incompetent director feuding with the star, romantic leads who couldn’t act their way out of a paper bag, a flurry of last-minute cuts, a print slashed apart in a bizarre attempt at sound conversion… and yet The Phantom of the Opera remains one of the iconic films of the silent era. Strong source material, set design and the hard work of Lon Chaney pay off in the end. This is an inconsistent film but also strangely charming. Not to be missed.

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Missing the Silents: London After Midnight and Mark of the Vampire

Hello and welcome to a new series! As you may already know, a good number of silent films have been lost, some of them quite famous. However, many of these films were remade as talkies. Some of the remakes even used the original silent as reference material before it was lost. Missing the Silents is going to focus on these remakes and examine how they can help us imagine what the original might have been like.

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The Phantom of the Opera (1925) A Silent Film Review

Here’s a movie that no one really wanted to make. Its production was troubled from the very beginning. From professional spats to last-minute recuts and reshoots, it had disaster written across it. So how did this hellish production end up as one of the most iconic and memorable horror films of all time? Does it live up to its reputation? Is it worth seeing for the casual viewer? We are going to engage in a little silent movie archaeology in order to find out.

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Fun Size Review: Nomads of the North (1920)

Kindred spirits.

Lon Chaney! Famed the world over for his portrayal of monsters, psychopaths, men on the path to self-destruction and… lovey-dovey backwoods fur trappers? Yes, Mr. Chaney was tapped as the romantic lead in this hot mess and the result was not pretty. The miscast Chaney is further hampered by a very strange script, which features talking animals, an overstaffed RCMP and a villain named Bucky. For superfans only.


(You can read my full-length review here.)

[toggler title=”How does it end? (click here for a spoiler)” ]Lon Chaney survives (!) and wins the heart and hand of his true love (!!!) Bucky burns to death in a forest fire.[/toggler]

If it were a dessert it would be:


S’mores Burger. Some things that are good on their own just do not belong together. Lon Chaney and lumberjack movies are two of these things.

Availability: Released on DVD by Image along with another Chaney film, The Shock. The Image release has a cheeky, fun score from Robert Israel, which adds considerably to its entertainment value. It has also been released as a budget disc by Alpha. I have not seen this version but the print is likely poor and the score is likely canned.

The Penalty (1920) A Silent Film Review

Lon Chaney as we know him really arrived with the release of this movie. It has everything we love about him: impressive makeup, criminal mischief, madness, murder and scenery chewed with rare abandon. Who wouldn’t want to see a movie about a double amputee criminal mastermind who plans to take over San Francisco with a gang of anarchists wearing stylish straw hats?
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Nomads of the North (1920) A Silent Film Review

A real rarity for Chaney fans: Our beloved monster plays a straightforward leading man. Lon Chaney and Betty Blythe are a pair of Canadian lovebirds who must flee when he is framed for murder. Lewis Stone plays the Mountie charged with bringing Chaney to justice. And he won’t give up because as the Hollywood Mounties say: “We always get our man!”

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The Wicked Darling (1919) A Silent Film Review

Priscilla Dean stars as Mary, aka the Gutter Rose. Pickpocket, purse snatcher and general shady lady, Mary’s world changes when she encounters a real gentleman for the first time. This does not sit well with her partner in crime and would-be lover, Stoop (Lon Chaney). This film is the very first collaboration between Chaney and director Tod Browning.

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