London After Midnight (film)

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London After Midnight
London After Midnight Poster 1927 MGM.jpg
English language theatrical release poster. A direct copy of this poster was also printed in Spanish.
Directed byTod Browning
Written byWaldemar Young (scenario)
Joseph W. Farnham (titles)
Based on"The Hypnotist"
by Tod Browning
Produced byTod Browning
Irving Thalberg (uncredited)
StarringLon Chaney
Marceline Day
Conrad Nagel
Henry B. Walthall
Polly Moran
Edna Tichenor
Claude King
CinematographyMerritt B. Gerstad
Edited byHarry Reynolds
Irving Thalberg (uncredited)
Production
company
Distributed byMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date
  • December 3, 1927 (1927-12-03) (United States)
Running time
69 mins[1][2]
47 mins (TCM reconstructed version)
CountryUnited States
LanguageSilent (English intertitles)
Budget$151,666.14[3]
Box office$1 million[4]

London After Midnight (also marketed as The Hypnotist) is a lost 1927 American silent mystery film with horror overtones directed and co-produced by Tod Browning and starring Lon Chaney, with Marceline Day, Conrad Nagel, Henry B. Walthall and Polly Moran. The film was distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and was based on the scenario "The Hypnotist", also written by Browning.

The last known copy was destroyed in the 1965 MGM vault fire, along with hundreds of other rare early films, making it one of the most sought-after lost films of the silent era.[5] In 2002, Turner Classic Movies aired a reconstructed version,[6] produced by Rick Schmidlin, who used the original script and film stills to recreate the original plot.[7]

Plot[edit]

Roger Balfour is found dead in his London home one night. Burke, a representative of Scotland Yard, after questioning everyone present, declares the death a suicide despite objection from Balfour's neighbour and close friend, Sir James Hamlin.

Five years later, the Hamlin residents witness strange lights within the now-forsaken Balfour mansion before realising the new tenants to be two vampiric figures of a man in a Beaver-skin top hat with long hair and sharp teeth, and a silent pale woman wearing long robes. This prompts the baronet, Sir James, to call Burke in once again who discovers that Hamlin and the others there (Balfour's daughter, Lucille, his butler, Williams, and Hamlin's nephew, Arthur Hibbs) had been the only other persons in the Balfour home when he died. After noticing the new lease to the Balfour mansion bears the exact same signature as the deceased Roger Balfour's, Burke remains skeptical about the existence of the undead, and, along with Sir James, exhumes Roger Balfour's tomb to find it empty. After a series of grisly events; from the maid Miss Smithson's eccentric recollection of encountering the Man in the Beaver Hat manifesting in a bedroom, to the vampire girl flying down like a bat from the ceiling of the Balfour mansion, and witnessing the living corpse of Roger Balfour, Burke reveals to Lucille that he believes her father to have been murdered.

After taking the precaution to protect Lucille's bedroom from vampires, the girl is taken to the Balfour mansion. As Sir James is instructed to venture to the mansion, he encounters the Man in the Beaver Hat (revealed to be Burke) and is hypnotised into thinking it is five years earlier. Within the mansion, the events leading up to Balfour's death are recreated and re-enacted and all secretly watch as Sir James kills Roger Balfour and fakes his suicide so as to ultimately marry his daughter Lucille, against the deceased's will. Once apprehended, Burke lifts the trance and identifies Sir James as the killer.

Cast[edit]

Production notes[edit]

Lon Chaney's makeup for the film included sharpened teeth and the hypnotic eye effect, achieved with special wire fittings which he wore like monocles. Based on surviving accounts, he purposefully gave the "vampire" character an absurd quality, because it was the film's Scotland Yard detective character, also played by Chaney, in a disguise. Surviving stills show this was the only time Chaney used his famous makeup case as an on-screen prop.

The story was an original work by Tod Browning, with Waldemar Young, who had previously worked with Browning on The Unholy Three and The Unknown, as the scenario writer. Young was previously employed as a journalist in San Francisco, during which time he covered several famous murder investigations, a distinction which saw him lauded as knowing "mystery from actual experience."[9]

In adding an eerie authenticity to both Chaney's character and the atmosphere within the haunted house scenes, bats, armadillos, and owls were used.[10]

Lon Chaney, bat pose, in London After Midnight

When London After Midnight premiered at the Miller Theater in Missouri, set musicians Sam Feinburg and Jack Feinburg had to prepare melodies to go with the film's supernatural elements. The musicians used Ase's Todd and Eritoken by Greig, Dramatic Andante by Rappe, the Fire Music from Wagner's The Valkyrie along with other unlisted aspects of Savino, Zimonek and Puccini.[11] Often, a special overture to the Danse Macabre was used prior to the film's showing.

Reception[edit]

The film grossed $1,004,000 at the box office domestically against a production budget of $151,666.14,[3] and became the most successful collaborative film between Chaney and Browning. However, contemporary accounts by filmgoers and critics suggest it was not one of Chaney and Browning's strongest films. The storyline, called "somewhat incoherent" by The New York Times[3] and "nonsensical" by Harrison's Reports,[12] was a common point of criticism. Nonetheless, the commercial success of London After Midnight saw Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer renew Tod Browning's directorial contract.[13]

Lon Chaney as the "Man in the Beaver Hat" in London After Midnight

A positive review ran in Film Daily, calling it "a story certain to disturb the nervous system of the more sensitive picture patrons. If they don't get the creeps from flashes of grimy bats swooping around, cobweb-bedecked mystery chambers and the grotesque inhabitants of the haunted house, then they've passed the third degree."[12]

The Warren Tribune noted that Lon Chaney is "present in nearly every scene, in a dual role that tests his skill to no small degree." The review highlighted that this subdues Chaney's prominence and allows the plot to be better communicated, but it also causes the film to "not rank among his best productions."[14]

A review by The Brooklyn Daily Eagle noted: "It is pleasant to report also that there is none of the usual stupid comedy relief in London After Midnight to mar its sinister and creepy scheme. That ought to make it the outstanding mystery film of the year."[8] It however found fault in Tod Browning's direction because the film's atmosphere did not recapture "the intensely weird effect" found in The Cat and the Canary.[8]

Cinema lobby card

Variety wrote that "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, adding that, since Burke was "a detached character, mechanical and wooden", he failed to meaningfully connect with the audience.[15]

Lon Chaney showing a makeup case used in London After Midnight

The New Yorker also wrote that the "directing, acting and settings are all well up to the idea," but "it strives too hard to create effect. Mr. Browning can create pictorial terrors and Lon Chaney can get himself up in a completely repulsive manner, but both their efforts are wasted when the story makes no sense."[16]

Remake[edit]

Tod Browning remade the film as a sound film in 1935. This film, called Mark of the Vampire, starred Lionel Barrymore and Bela Lugosi in the roles Lon Chaney had performed in London After Midnight.

Reconstructions and novelisations[edit]

A novelization of the film was written and published in 1928 by Marie Coolidge-Rask.[2]

In 1985, Philip J. Riley published the first photo reconstruction of the film's plot compiled of all the surviving production stills at MGM.

In 2002, Turner Classic Movies commissioned restoration producer Rick Schmidlin to produce a 45-minute reconstruction of the film, using the same still photographs.[7] with added camera motion. This was released as a part of The Lon Chaney Collection DVD set released by the TCM Archives.[17]

In 2016, Thomas Mann published the book, London After Midnight: A New Reconstruction Based on Contemporary Sources, upon the discovery of a previously-unknown 11,000-word Boy's Cinema magazine published in 1928. A second edition was published in 2018 upon the discovery of an alternative French novelization for the film.

Theatrical poster[edit]

In 2014, the only contemporary poster known to exist for the film was sold in Dallas, Texas, to an anonymous bidder for $478,000, making it the most valuable movie poster ever sold at public auction. This bidder was later revealed to be Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett.[18] The poster is in his displayed collection at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.[19] (The 1932 film The Mummy held the previous record for a poster's sale at public auction, selling for more than $453,000 in 1997.)[20]

In popular culture[edit]

Batman co-creator, Bob Kane, recalled in 1992 during a discussion with Stan Lee of the Penguin for Batman Returns that the character bore a striking resemblance to "Lon Chaney in London After Midnight; I don't know if you ever saw that silent movie..."

Director Jennifer Kent has stated that images of Lon Chaney's character from London After Midnight inspired the look of the titular character in The Babadook.[21]

In 2010, film director Jonathan Morrill wrote and produced the short subject "Lon Chaney After Midnight". The five and a half minute "mockumentary" premiered at the Egyptian Theatre in 2008, and was uploaded to the internet database of the Library of Congress in 2014. It is viewable there and on Youtube, and recreates a short sequence as "newly discovered footage" found at the Silent Movie Theatre (Fairfax Theatre), in West Hollywood, California.

In 2012, episodes 5 and 6 of Whitechapel featured a killer obsessed with London After Midnight who owned a surviving copy.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Workman, Christopher; Howarth, Troy (2016). "Tome of Terror: Horror Films of the Silent Era". Midnight Marquee Press. p. 316. ISBN 978-1936168-68-2.
  2. ^ a b Giles, Jane (November 8, 2013). "London after Midnight The literary history of Hollywood's first vampire movie". Electric Sheep Magazine. Retrieved August 6, 2014.
  3. ^ a b c Mirsalis, Jon (2008). "London after Midnight (1927)". lonchaney.org. Retrieved April 20, 2019.
  4. ^ Blake, Michael F. (January 1, 1997). A Thousand Faces: Lon Chaney's Unique Artistry in Motion Pictures. Vestal Press. ISBN 9781461730767 – via Google Books.
  5. ^ The Vampire in Folklore, History, Literature, Film and Television: A Comprehensive Bibliography ISBN 978-0-786-49936-6 p. 148
  6. ^ "Photo Finish for 'London After Midnight'". The Los Angeles Times. October 27, 2002. Retrieved May 31, 2017.
  7. ^ a b Vogel, Michelle (2010). Olive Borden: The Life and Films of Hollywood's "Joy Girl". McFarland. p. 146. ISBN 978-0-786-44795-4.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "At the Capitol". The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York). December 12, 1927. p. 30. Retrieved August 6, 2014.
  9. ^ "Lon Chaney Star in London After Midnight Palace". Corsicana Daily Sun. Corsicana Daily Sun (Corsicana, Texas). December 12, 1927. p. 5. Retrieved August 6, 2014.
  10. ^ "Odd things are Required Among Properties Needed in Making Feature Films". The Evening Independent. May 13, 1932. Retrieved April 16, 2017.
  11. ^ "Lon Chaney Comes to Miller on Wednesday". The Daily Capital News. The Daily Capital News (Jefferson City, Missouri). January 1, 1928. p. 3. Retrieved August 6, 2014.
  12. ^ a b Soister, John; Nicolella, Henry (2012). American Silent Horror, Science Fiction and Fantasy Feature Films, 1913–1929. McFarland & Company. pp. 335–336.
  13. ^ "London After Midnight". Northern Star. October 11, 1928. Retrieved June 25, 2019.
  14. ^ "After Six in Warren". The Warren Tribune. The Warren Tribune (Warren, Pennsylvania). January 31, 1928. p. 3. Retrieved August 6, 2014.
  15. ^ "Film Reviews". Variety. New York: Variety, Inc.: 18 December 14, 1927.
  16. ^ Claxton, Oliver (December 17, 1927). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker. New York: F-R Publishing Company. p. 103.
  17. ^ Cline, John; Weiner. Robert G., eds. (2010). From the Arthouse to the Grindhouse: Highbrow and Lowbrow Transgression in Cinema's First Century. Scarecrow Press. p. 39. ISBN 978-0-810-87655-2.
  18. ^ "Metallica Guitarist Kirk Hammett's Private Collection of Sci-fi and Horror Movie Posters". The Toronto Sun. July 24, 2019. Retrieved August 26, 2019.
  19. ^ https://www.rom.on.ca/en/exhibitions-galleries/exhibitions/its-alive-classic-horror-and-sci-fi-art-from-the-kirk-hammett-0[bare URL]
  20. ^ "Poster for 'London After Midnight' Sells for $478K". NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth. Retrieved May 6, 2017.
  21. ^ "Interview with the Babadook's Writer Director Jennifer Kent". Mountain XPress (Asheville, NC). December 9, 2014. Retrieved July 10, 2019.

Further reading[edit]

  • Everson, William K. (1974). Classics of the Horror Film. Citadel Press. ISBN 978-0-80650-437-7
  • Jacobs, Louis B. "Plastic Dentistry: New Hollywood Art," Photoplay, October 1928. Features London After Midnight.
  • Melton, J. Gordon (2011). The Vampire Book: The Encyclopedia of the Undead. Visible Ink Press. ISBN 978-1-57859-281-4
  • Riley, Philip J. (2011). London After Midnight – a Reconstruction. Bear Manor Media. ISBN 978-1-593-93482-8
  • Soister, John; Nicolella, Henry (2012). American Silent Horror, Science Fiction and Fantasy Feature Films, 1913–1929. British Library. ISBN 978-0-78643-581-4

External links[edit]