We’re back with some more unboxing! This time around, we’ll be taking a close look at a pair of October releases from Undercrank Productions. Both discs contain rare and obscure material that would never have been released under normal circumstances, so we are very fortunate to have them.
Thanks to Ben Model and Undercrank for the review copies!
Accomplished accompanist and Lon Chaney aficionado Jon Mirsalis has spearheaded and scored this release of three early Chaney appearances. Two of the three films are from the Dawson City find. (A cache of silents discovered under an old swimming pool in a Yukon Gold Rush town… pretty crazy stuff.)
A Mother’s Atonement (1915) is a Cleo Madison (pioneering leading lady and director) vehicle, while If My Country Should Call (1916) and The Place Beyond the Winds both star Dorothy Philips. (You will recall that Philips played the nurse Erich von Stroheim disrobed with his teeth before throwing a baby out a window in The Heart of Humanity.)
Accompanist Andrew E. Simpson ran a successful Kickstarter campaign to release this dark duo of silents and this disc is the result.
Whispering Shadows (1921) is an embezzlement yarn with no major stars but atmosphere to burn. The Devil’s Assistant (1917) features a bonkers scene on the river Styx and stars Margarita Fischer, whose 1910s films are none too easy to come by.
Are we excited yet?
Lon Chaney: Before the Thousand Faces
This is a very exciting disc as the films do not survive intact and so have never been slated for home video release. We are provided with explanatory title cards to paper over the missing sequences, which work rather well, and thus get a chance to see three Chaney performances that would otherwise have missed.
There are signs of decay because, hello, these films were FOUND UNDER A SWIMMING POOL, so I think we can easily and happily forgive any imperfections in light of the rareness of the material.
Here are some samples:
A Mother’s Atonement
(That’s Lon in the beard!)
If My Country Should Call
The Place Beyond the Winds
Mirsalis provides excellent musical accompaniment for each film (I’ve been a huge fan since hearing his score for Waxworks) and the presentation is quite enjoyable.
Whispering Shadows with The Devil’s Assistant
What do we want? Obscure silent films! And when do we want them? Whenever wonderful people launch Kickstarters!
This disc has incredibly rare stuff, which makes it all the more valuable. Here are some samples:
The Devil’s Assistant
And we get a splendid organ score from Andrew Simpson. Obviously, I very much approve of this.
Not only do these releases showcase rare performances from Lon Chaney and wonderful creepy atmosphere, they also provide an opportunity to see silent leading ladies in action. These women may have been just names in a film history textbook but now you get to see them in action.
These releases would make an ideal gift for the film nerd who has everything because I can guarantee that they don’t have these. (Unless, of course, they supported the Kickstarter.)
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