LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT
(USA, 1927)What to do until this lost film is found...
December 17th, 1927, was the American premiere of an unusual Christmas movie. Starring Lon Chaney and directed by regular collaborator Tod Browning, this proved to be their biggest hit at the box office.
The book includes a reminiscence from Forrest Ackerman (who saw London After Midnight when it first opened), original publicity material, shots of the sets, and even Lon's special 'location' make-up box just used for this film.
Even back in 1985, there was a longing to to reclaim this film, Riley's astonishing research providing this superbly detailed book. My first chance to experience London After Midnight. And also quite a deflation of my expectations. Not the film you'd expect from the photos of Chaney's vampire. I was hoping for another Dracula.
|The 1928 novelisation includes photos from the film|
An unprecedented attempt to rebuild an entire movie from its publicity photographs was initially disappointing. Partly because of the amount of talky melodrama. There are many creepy scenes in the film, but these pass by too quickly. I'm sure many films from this era would also have an uninspiring effect, given the same presentation.
But for me, there's still room for improvement. The photos have been filmed overusing movements that wouldn't have been in the film. The rostrum camera swoops across the photos in ways the camera wouldn't have. It would have been static shots - wide, medium and close - with most camera moves only tracking as a wide shot. More importantly, the editing style often fails to identify which character is speaking the lines shown in the intertitles, making it harder to follow.
Admittedly Barrymore was one of the few actors who could attempt to replace Lon Chaney. But I liked him far more in The Devil Doll (1936), again for director Browning, in a dual role that echoes Lon Chaney's two versions of The Unholy Three.