London After Midnight (film)
|London After Midnight|
English language theatrical release poster. A direct copy of this poster was also printed in Spanish.
|Directed by||Tod Browning|
|Produced by||Tod Browning
Irving Thalberg (uncredited)
|Written by||Waldemar Young (scenario)
Joseph W. Farnham (titles)
|Based on||"The Hypnotist"
by Tod Browning
Henry B. Walthall
|Cinematography||Merritt B. Gerstad|
|Edited by||Harry Reynolds
Irving Thalberg (uncredited)
|Language||Silent (English intertitles)|
London After Midnight, (also known as The Hypnotist in the UK), is a 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 short story "The Hypnotist" also written by Browning.
The last copy of the film known to exist was destroyed in the 1965 MGM vault fire, making London After Midnight one of the most famous and eagerly sought after of all lost films. In 2002, Turner Classic Movies aired a reconstructed version, produced by Rick Schmidlin, who used the original script and film stills to create this version.
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 (the 1932 film The Mummy had held the previous record for a poster's sale at public auction, selling for more than $453,000 in 1997).
In a cultured and peaceful home on the outskirts of London, the head of the household, Roger Balfour, is found dead from what initially appears to be a self-inflicted bullet wound, despite the insistence of Balfour's friend and neighbor, Sir James Hamlin, that his friend would never have taken his own life. Nonetheless, Balfour's death is officially declared a suicide by an Inspector Edward C. Burke of Scotland Yard.
Some five years later, with the case still unresolved, a sinister-looking man dressed in black with pointed teeth arrives at the household accompanied by a cadaverous-looking woman in a long gown; the arrival of these two individuals prompts Sir James Hamlin, the friend and neighbor of the late Roger Balfour, to call Scotland Yard. This in turn prompts Inspector Burke to travel to the household, where he discovers that three individuals now present in the household had been the only three who had been present five years previously when Roger Balfour had died. Initially, Burke remains skeptical that any of these three individuals (Balfour's daughter, his butler, and Arthur Hibbs, the nephew of the neighbor who had placed the call to Scotland Yard) may have been involved in his murder, until Balfour's body disappears from its tomb and an individual looking distinctly like him is seen around the household. This, in addition to other eerie acts such as instances of singular gunshots being heard in Roger Balfour's former bedroom occurring in the household while Burke is there and the sinister-looking man in black repeatedly terrifying those within the household, prompts him to determine to identify Balfour's killer by reproducing the former crime scene and using hypnosis to induce the culprit into re-enacting the murder.
- Lon Chaney as Professor (or Inspector) Edward C. Burke / The Man in the Beaver Hat
- Marceline Day as Lucille Balfour
- Henry B. Walthall as Sir James Hamlin
- Percy Williams as Williams, Balfour's Butler
- Conrad Nagel as Arthur Hibbs
- Polly Moran as Miss Smithson, the New Maid
- Edna Tichenor as Luna, a Bat Girl
- Claude King as Roger Balfour / The Stranger
- Andy MacLennan as Bat Girl's Assistant
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."
In the film, Chaney in the role of Burke, adopts different disguises, but the film "even lets the audience into the secrets of his makeup, when, as the detective, he applies a disguise before the eyes of the audience." To add an eerie authenticity to both Chaney's character and the atmosphere within the household used as the location of the movie, the purchasing agent ordered 100 bats to be used within the household as the storyline progresses.
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.
The film grossed $1,004,000 at the box office domestically against a production budget of $151,666.14, becoming the most successful collaborative film between Chaney and Browning, and the tenth highest-grossing film of 1927. 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 and "nonsensical" by Harrison's Reports, was a common point of criticism.
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.".
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."
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." 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.
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.
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."
In 2002, Turner Classic Movies commissioned restoration producer Rick Schmidlin to produce a 45-minute reconstruction of the film, using still photographs. The following year, the reconstructed version was released as a part of The Lon Chaney Collection DVD set released by the TCM Archives.
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- "After Six in Warren". The Warren Tribune (Warren, Pennsylvania). 31 January 1928. p. 3. Retrieved 6 August 2014.
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- 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
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