Outside the Law (1920) | Tod Browning’s silent gangster thriller starring Lon Chaney sure packs a punch
From the director who gave us Dracula (1931) and Freaks (1932) and the legendary silent screen star who was the Man of a Thousand Faces, comes the gritty 1920 American crime drama, Outside the Law, on Blu-ray (from a 4k restoration) as part of Eureka! Entertainment’s The Masters of Cinema Series.
While under contract at Universal Studios (1919-1923), director Tod Browning crafted a string of melodramas with strong female protagonists, including nine features with the studio’s leading actress of the era, Priscilla Dean, who was best known for her anti-heroine tough girl roles. Following his breakout role in 1919’s The Miracle Man, Lon Chaney became America’s foremost character actor thanks to his acting prowess and his incredible make-up skills.
Chaney and Dean first paired together in Browning’s 1919 melodrama The Wicked Darling, and on the back of that film’s success were reunited for Outside the Law, which not only showcases their talents but also Browning’s burgeoning aesthetic for melodrama and the grotesque. It also heralded the beginning of Chaney and Browning’s 10 picture collaborations which would result in some of their finest work on screen.
Set in San Francisco’s Chinatown, Outside the Law sees Dean playing tough gangster Molly Madden, the daughter of mob boss Silent Madden (Ralph Lewis) who is trying to go straight with the help of Confucianist philosopher, Chang Lo (E Alyn Warren). When he is framed for murder by notorious hoodlum Black Mike Sylva (Lon Chaney), Molly seeks out safecracker Dapper Bill (Wheeler Oakman) to stage a double-cross to get revenge. Let the chase begin!
Boasting elaborate set design, stylised camera compositions, meticulous editing, and thrilling action sequences, including a very bloody and violent climax that gives even today’s big-budget crime dramas a run for their money, Outside the Law is one of the most exciting, intelligent, psychological driven American silent crime dramas that makes it a certified genre classic.
While Dean is certainly the star of the film, it’s Chaney who steals every scene, and he gets to show his range and make-up skills in two very diverse roles: that of the vicious Black Mike and as Ah Wing, the heroic Chinese servant who ends up saving the day. Now, I know this is a [SPOILER], but Chaney gets to shoot himself in a cleverly-constructed scene that took two weeks to film. For that scene alone, it’s worth seeking out this gorgeous restoration release.
Now while much effort has gone into the preservation of the film, two short sequences were impossible to repair – and while it is unfortunately this happens during a crucial moment in the film, it is still great to see Outside the Law restored and made available to a new generation of cinema lovers more than a century after it was released.
- 1080p presentation on Blu-ray from a 4K restoration conducted by Universal Pictures
- Musical score by Anton Sanko
- New video interview with author/critic Kim Newman
- 1926 re-release alternate ending (from a rare Universal Show-At-Home 16mm print)
- A collector’s booklet featuring an essay by Richard Combs
Available to order from: Eureka Store https://eurekavideo.co.uk/movie/outside-the-law/
The Phantom of the Opera (1929) | Is this the definitive release of the celebrated silent cinema horror classic?
BEHOLD THE PHANTOM
In the first-ever screen adaptation of Gaston Leroux’s 1910 novel, Lon Chaney, gives his most famous performance as the deformed Erik, a former Devil’s Island escapee who commits murder and mayhem in a bid to turn the woman (Mary Philbin) he is infatuated with, into a star.
THE MASTERPIECE OF HORROR THAT SHOCKED CINEMA FOR DECADES!
The 1925 film was a hugely lavish production, with a scaled-down replica of the Paris Opera house being built on a dedicated soundstage (that’s still used today). Despite numerous production problems, the film was a box-office hit that launched the Hollywood gothic style of the 1930s, beginning with Tod Browning’s Dracula and James Whale’s Frankenstein, while Chaney’s skull-like make-up was so horrific it made some cinema patrons scream and faint.
With the arrival of sound, Phantom was re-issued, but only fragments now survive. Original prints of the film were also fully tinted, with some sequences in two-colour Technicolor, and a rooftop scene using a special process that enabled the Phantom’s cloak to show red against the blue night sky. This Photoplay restoration re-instates all these effects, and is accompanied by Carl Davis’ celebrated 1996 score which draws heavily on Charles Gounod’s Faust – the opera that is performed in the film. Rent the film now on BFI Player (£3.50).
THE BFI RELEASE
The UK 3-disc dual format edition includes the following:
• A newly-restored 2k scanned presentation of the tinted and toned 1929 version comprising elements from three sources (the 35mm George Eastman House master positive, a 35mm colour dupe negative of the masked ball made in 1996, and 35mm dupe negative sections made in 1996 from an original 16mm print), new opening and closing titles, and a 5.1 mix of Carl Davis‘s 1996 Channel 4 Silents Series score.
• The 103min 1925 version newly transferred in high definition from the Photoplay Productions 16mm print and digitally remastered, with a newly commissioned piano accompaniment by Ed Bussey.
• Original 1925 trailer (featuring Bussey’s music) and 1929 sound re-issue trailer (featuring recreated soundtrack).
• An edited version of Reel 5 from the lost 1929 sound re-issue (12 mins).
• The ‘man with a lantern’ footage believed to have been shot for non-English speaking territories.
• Lon Chaney: A Thousand Faces documentary (2000, 86 mins, DVD only).
• Booklet featuring new essays, including extensive notes on the film’s restoration history.
• Channel 4 Silents restoration souvenir programme on PDF.
If you want to know more about the enduring legacy of The Phantom of the Opera, check out the documentary Unmasking the Masterpiece from the folks at The Witch’s Dungeon (who supplied the photos above) over in the US. Click here for more information.
Unmasking the Masterpiece is a 105-minute long visual retrospective of the famed 1910 Gaston Leroux novel, which has spawned numerous film, stage and television adaptations; turned the character of the Opera ghost into one of the most recognisable and iconic images in popular culture; and influenced famous horror films from House of Wax to The Abominable Dr Phibes and The Phantom of the Paradise.
Focusing on the three classic film versions in which Lon Chaney, Claude Rains and Herbert Lom each gave their own distinctive portrayal of the Phantom – in 1925, 1943 and 1962 respectively, this labour of love from Cortlandt Hull, the owner of The Witch’s Dungeon classic horror movie museum in Connecticut, features interviews with a 103-year-old Carla Laemmle, the only surviving cast member of the 1925 film, and Ron Chaney, the great grandson of Lon Chaney.
Fleshing out the retrospective, famed make-up artist Tom Savini talks about how he was inspired by Chaney, while film historians Michael Blake, Steve Haberman and Daniel Roebuck trace the making-of the three films, highlight the differences in the 1929 international version, and profile James Cagney’s 1957 Lon Chaney biopic, The Man of a Thousand Faces. The anecdotes told here will certainly thrill classic film buffs (who knew set designer Charles Gemora was also one of the famed gorilla suit actors of the golden age of cinema?) and there’s a peek inside Chaney’s famous make-up box – without doubt the important artefact in the history of film make-up.
Almost 1000 rare movie posters and photos have been carefully restored to accompany the interviews, plus there’s a tour of the actual opera set on soundstage 28 of the Universal Studios lot which was built for the original 1925 film, and is today the oldest standing set in Hollywood. Bringing the Phantom’s legacy up to date, Hugh Panaro, the current Broadway star of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical, closes the proceedings with a look at the secrets and makeup used on the stage version, which is celebrating its 25th year.
Phantom of the Opera: Unmasking the Masterpiece is available on DVD (NTSC only) (click here to order from Amazon).
The restored UK Blu-ray version of 1925’s The Phantom of the Opera is available from the London BFI store (click here).
DID YOU KNOW?
It was on this day (25 November) in 1925 that Lon Chaney’s The Phantom of the Opera went on general release in the United States?