UCLA Film & Television Archive presents

Through Sunday, March 12

Lon Chaney was born in 1883 to parents who were deaf-mutes. Out of necessity he developed a repertoire of gestures to communicate with them. He came to Hollywood in 1912 and by the mid-20s became a screen legend. Tod Browning ran off to join a circus at 16 and began his cinematic career with D.W. Griffith in the mid-1910s. By 1917 he was directing routine melodramas and adventure stories. In 1921, with both of their careers on the rise, the two worked together for the first time in OUTSIDE THE LAW. Chaney went on to become a star for Universal with THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME and THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. Then in 1925, MGM’s production chief Irving Thalberg approved Browning’s project THE UNHOLY THREE with Chaney as the lead. Browning’s work with the star proved a breakthrough for the director.

The two went on to collaborate six more times in the late 1920s, doing much of their best work together. In their films together and separately, Chaney and Browning created a world that proved the antithesis to the free-spirited Jazz Age; their twilight domains were filled with tension, obsession and the omnipresent threat of physical mutilation. Bringing together the gothic and the modern, the two helped found the Hollywood horror genre.

In Lon Chaney, Tod Browning found an actor willing to break convention, and their collaboration allowed Browning to create characters and stories that would shock and enthrall audiences. Chaney’s antiheroes stretched the boundaries of human personality and experience. His acting style was blunt, prosaic and decidedly sexual. The fact that he was MGM’s most popular male star of the period illuminates his vital necessity at a time when soldiers were returning from war traumatized and a full-on economic depression was looming.

Chaney died in August 1930, less than two weeks after the sound version of THE UNHOLY THREE was released. Browning, of course, went on to create his masterpieces DRACULA (which was originally to star Chaney) and FREAKS. His filmmaking career ceased in the late ’30s and he died in 1962 at age 82.

*All silent films will be presented with live musical accompaniment.

Friday, February 24
7:30 pm
(1926) Directed by Tod Browning
Lon Chaney plays a Jekyll-and-Hyde dual role in this film, set in London’s Limehouse district. Chaney is “the Blackbird,” a notorious cockney thief who eludes police by posing as his brother, the severely crippled but kindly missionary, “the Bishop.” The Blackbird is in love with Fifi (Renée Adorée), a beautiful music hall puppeteer, who prefers the attentions of the Blackbird’s suave rival in crime, West End Bertie (Owen Moore). The rivalry between the two men leads to murder and threatens to unmask the Bishop and his status as a beloved missionary. Chaney played this dual role without the aid of makeup, distorting his body and using facial expressions to create two distinct personalities.
MGM. Producer: Irving G. Thalberg. Scenarists: Waldemar Young, T. Browning. Cinematographer: Percy Hilburn. Editor: Errol Taggart. With: Lon Chaney, Renée Adorée, Owen Moore, Doris Lloyd. 35mm, silent, 77 min. (20 fps).

(1921) Directed by Tod Browning
Once again Lon Chaney savors a dual role, this time as criminal gang leader Black Mike and as Chinese shopkeeper’s assistant Ah Wing. Black Mike frames rival San Francisco gang leader, Silent Madden (Ralph Lewis), for murder, compelling Madden’s daughter Molly (Priscilla Dean) to seek revenge. The ensuing gang warfare leads to a climactic showdown between Black Mike and Ah Wing. The final battle reportedly took two weeks to film and required the construction of a special set with movable walls to capture the fight from different angles. The Los Angeles Times wrote of Chaney’s first impersonation of a Chinese character that “[as] Ah Wing, he is astounding. For, despite the fact that Chaney is a master of make-up, there is something about his characterization that has nothing to do with grease paint.”
Universal Pictures. Producer: Carl Laemmle. Scenarists: Lucien Hubbard, T. Browning. Cinematographer: William Fildew. With: Priscilla Dean, Wheeler Oakman, Lon Chaney, Ralph Lewis. 16mm, silent, 94 min (20 fps).

Sunday, February 26
7:00 pm
(1925) Directed by Rupert Julian
Based on Le Fantôme de l'Opera, a 1910 novel by Gaston Leroux, this PHANTOM is the definitive version of all phantoms before or since. Lon Chaney is magnificent as a disfigured maniac composer who covertly guides a Paris Opera understudy to stardom by unleashing a series of terrors that force the leading soprano to step down. When the Phantom begins to collect on his Faustian bargain by forcing the beautiful young singer to give up her fiancé, she rebels, and the Phantom absconds with her to his underground chambers. In the grand finale a raging mob pursues him through the streets of Paris. This cinema classic had an inauspicious beginning when a preview audience panned it. It was withheld from release for two years, reworked into a swashbuckling comedy, then reconverted to horror melodrama. Ultimately, THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA pulled in huge box office for Universal Pictures and launched Lon Chaney into superstardom.
Universal Pictures. Producer: Carl Laemmle. Scenarists: Elliott Clawson, Walter Anthony. Based on the novel by Gaston Leroux. Cinematographers: Charles Van Enger, Milton Bridenbecker, Virgil Miller. Editor: Maurice Pivar. With: Lon Chaney, Mary Philbin, Norman Kerry, Arthur Edmund Carewe. 35mm, silent, 93 min. (24 fps).


(1923) Directed by Wallace Worsley
With THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, this is perhaps Chaney’s most popular and famous role. With makeup that daily took several hours to apply, and constrained by a 50-lb. artificial hump, Chaney physically produced the unforgettable human oddity Quasimodo. But it is Chaney’s ability to capture the spirit and humanity of the malformed character that has deeply affected audiences for over 80 years. Deaf and half-blind, the hunchback bellringer Quasimodo lives high in the towers of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in 15th-century Paris. When the beautiful gypsy Esmeralda (Patsy Ruth Miller) takes pity on Quasimodo, he becomes her loyal friend, protecting her from the villainous ex-priest Jehan (Brandon Hurst), who has failed to win Esmeralda’s love.
Universal Pictures. Producer: Carl Laemmle. Scenarists: Edward T. Lowe, Jr., Percy Poore Sheehan. Based on the novel Notre Dame de Paris by Victor Hugo. Cinematographers: Robert Newhard, Tony Kornman. Editors: Sidney Singerman, Maurice Pivar, Edward Curtiss. With: Lon Chaney, Ernest Torrance, Patsy Ruth Miller, Norman Kerry. 16mm, silent, 93 min. (22 fps).

Wednesday, March 1
7:30 pm
(1928) Directed by Tod Browning
English music hall magician Phroso (Lon Chaney) performs macabre magic tricks (such as using a coffin to turn his wife, Anna, into a skeleton), but a fight between Phroso and his wife’s ivory-trading lover, Crane (Lionel Barrymore), paralyzes Phroso. Retreating to the African jungle where he is known as “Dead-Legs,” Phroso uses his magic and influence over the natives to stymie Crane’s business, all the while seeing to it that his dead wife’s love child is raised in the lowest brothel in Africa. But Phroso risks extinguishing his humanity in his relentless quest for vengeance. Lon Chaney and Tod Browning chillingly explore the lengths to which a man will go to torment an enemy.
MGM. Producer: Irving G. Thalberg. Scenarists: Elliott Clawson, Joe Farnham. Based on the play Kongo by Charles de Vonde and Kilbourne Gordon. Cinematographer: Percy Hilburn. Editor: Harry Reynolds. With: Lon Chaney, Lionel Barrymore, Mary Nolan, Warner Baxter. 35mm, silent, 65 min. (24 fps).

(1926) Directed by Tod Browning
After his wife dies giving birth, sea captain Joe (Lon Chaney) leaves his infant daughter Rosemary to be raised by a priest in a Mandalay convent. Years later, Joe is the hard-living, half-blind operator of a brothel who has engaged in shady business with “the Admiral” (Owen Moore). Unaware of her father’s identity, the innocent Rosemary (Lois Moran) falls in love with the Admiral, a situation that Joe finds intolerable. Tragedy ensues when Joe intervenes in his daughter’s plans to marry the Admiral, who has reformed his wild ways. Chaney played the scarred, tattooed, one-eyed Joe with the aid of a specially made optical glass shield to mask his left eye.
MGM. Producer: Irving Thalberg. Scenarists: Elliott J. Clawson, T. Browning, Herman Mankiewicz. Cinematographer: Merritt B. Gerstad. Editor: Errol Taggart. With: Lon Chaney, Lois Moran, Owen Moore, Henry B. Walthall. 35mm, silent 74 min (24 fps).

Saturday, March 4
7:30 pm
(1925) Directed by Tod Browning
The “Man of a Thousand Faces” adopts drag in this crime drama. A little person, a strongman, a ventriloquist and their female accomplice Rosie (Mae Busch) team up to commit robbery. Disguised as an elderly woman, Echo (Lon Chaney) sells parrots that fail to talk once their buyers take them home. This ploy allows the little person (dressed as a baby) and the “lady” bird shop owner to check out the homes of their wealthy clients. When the thieves frame Rosie’s innocent love interest Hector (Matt Moore) for a robbery and murder, the crooks’ scheme begins to fall apart. Chaney and Harry Earles would reprise their roles in the 1930 talking version directed by Jack Conway, Chaney’s final film.
MGM. Producer: Louis B. Mayer. Scenarist: Waldemar Young. Based on the novel by Clarence Aaron Robbins. Cinematographer: David Kesson. Editor: Daniel J. Gray. With: Lon Chaney, Mae Busch, Matt Moore, Victor McLaglen. 35mm, silent, 86 min. (20 fps).

(1924) Directed by Victor Seastrom (Sjöström)
Sensitive scientist Paul Beaumont’s (Lon Chaney) work and wife are stolen by his duplicitous benefactor, Baron Regnard (Marc MacDermott). Humiliated by the academy and his wife, Paul drops out of society to become the popular circus clown “HE,” whose comedy act involves being slapped by his fellow clowns when he tries to speak of his scientific theories. Paul’s bleak world is enlivened by the appearance of Consuelo Mancini (Norma Shearer), a girl forced by her penniless aristocrat father to work in the circus. When he learns of Count Mancini’s (Tully Marshall) plans to marry Consuelo to his nemesis, the Baron, Paul plots his revenge. Throughout the film, director Victor Seastrom uses the metaphor of a globe surrounded by clowns to represent fate and the futility of man’s struggle.
MGM. Producer: Irving G. Thalberg. Scenarists: Carey Wilson, V. Seastrom. Based on the adaptation by Gregory Zilboorg of the play by Leonid Andreyev. Cinematographer: Milton Moore. Editor: Hugh Wynn. With: Lon Chaney, Norma Shearer, John Gilbert, Marc MacDermott. 35mm, silent, 82 min. (20 fps).

Sunday, March 12
7:00 pm
(1927) Directed by Tod Browning
Tod Browning’s fascination with carnivals and sideshows surfaces once more in this film, one of his few at MGM made without Lon Chaney. It retains many of the elements of a Chaney-Browning film, however, including a love triangle, a murderous villain, death and macabre forms of entertainment. Budapest scalawag Cock Robin (John Gilbert) has a sideshow that includes a mermaid, a woman’s head in a spider web and Cleopatra’s hand. Cock Robin himself re-enacts the beheading of John the Baptist several times a day with the aid of Salomé (Renée Adorée) and an axe-wielding executioner known as “the Greek” (Lionel Barrymore). When the Greek commits murder, he takes advantage of the opportunity to frame Cock Robin for the crime in an attempt to clear himself and eliminate his rival for Salomé’s love.
MGM. Scenarists: Waldemar Young, Joseph Farnham. Based on the novel The Day of Souls by Charles Tenney Jackson. Cinematographer: John Arnold. Editor: Errol Taggart. With: John Gilbert, Renée Adorée, Lionel Barrymore, Edward Connelly. 35mm, silent, 70 min. (24 fps).

(1932) Directed by Tod Browning
His pet project for over five years, FREAKS represents the highpoint of Browning’s fascination with carnival people and his recurring theme of outsiders versus insiders. Beautiful but cruel acrobat Cleopatra (Olga Baclanova) seduces carnival dwarf Hans (Harry Earles) into marriage when she learns he has a hidden fortune. But fellow little person Frieda (Daisy Earles) truly loves Hans and fears for his life when she suspects Cleopatra is conspiring with Hercules the strongman (Henry Victor) to commit murder. The Siamese twins, the human torso, the pinhead and the other carnival freaks unite to aid Frieda and Hans, dishing out a horrifically appropriate punishment for Cleopatra. Due to its controversial reception, several of the creative team members denied their association with this film, perhaps the most unlikely movie ever produced by a major studio.
MGM. Screenwriters: Willis Goldbeck, Leon Gordon. Based on the short story “Spurs” by Tod Robbins. Cinematographer: Merritt B. Gerstad. Editor: Basil Wrangell. With: Wallace Ford, Olga Baclanova, Leila Hyams, Roscoe Ates. 35mm, 64 min.

VENUE: All films screen at the James Bridges Theater in Melnitz Hall, located on the northeast corner of the UCLA Westwood campus, near the intersection of Sunset Boulevard and Hilgard Avenue.

TICKETS: Advance tickets for films screening at UCLA are available for $8 at www.cinema.ucla.edu.

Tickets are also available at the theater one hour before showtime: $7 general admission; $5 students, seniors and UCLA Alumni Association members with ID.

PARKING: There is free parking on Loring Ave. after 6pm on weekdays and all day on weekends. Parking is also available adjacent to the James Bridges Theater in Lot 3 for $8.

INFO: www.cinema.ucla.edu / 310.206.FILM..

[News & Notes] [The Features Page] [The Store] [At the Movies] [The Calendar]
[The Speeding Sweethearts] [Silent Era Facts] [Silent Star of the Month]