Lon Chaney – Just in Time For Halloween 2019

I used a variety of software applications to put together this short video dedicated to the Man of 1,000 Faces, Lon Chaney (Sr.).  While I barely made a dent in reviewing Lon’s incredible number of faces, at least it’s a start. I used Photoshop to restore dingy old photos to a like-new B/W sheen, and then turn them into color images. Each finished color image was then sent to the Motion Portrait software demo to create the illusion of movement from still photos. As a finishing touch, I used Magix Audio Lab to clean up and restore the sound quality to a 1922 acoustical record of Gounod’s “Funeral March of a Marionette,” more popularly known as Alfred Hitchcock’s theme from his TV series.


The New 2018 Gallery of Color Transfers

Here is the latest roundup of color transfers taken from vintage black & white photographs by your blogmeister. Enjoy!

Lon Chaney poses in a gift chair given to him by the crew of HE WHO GETS SLAPPED (1924), which was the first film produced by the then-newly formed MGM. Alas,inquiries indicate that this chair no longer exists:

Dolores Costello does her bit to publicize the construction of Warner Bros. new theater in Los Angeles circa 1928:

In one of his more unusual roles, Humphrey Bogart plays a Mexican bandit in VIRGINIA CITY (1940). On the left is Randolph Scott, on the right is George Regas:

W.C. Fields in one of his rare silent films, IT’S THE OLD ARMY GAME (1926) recently released on Blu-ray:

A very young Joan Crawford in the lost film, DREAM OF LOVE (1928):

Monty Woolley confers with Al Jolson as they prepare for a radio broadcast on the Colgate Show in 1943:

The ill-fated Olive Thomas circa 1920:

Pola Negri in BELLA DONNA (1923):

Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy in one of their last silent films, WRONG AGAIN (1929):

High up on the roof of the Paris Opera House Lon Chaney’s Phantom dressed as the Masque of Red Death spies on the lovers Norman Kerry and Mary Philbin. The film of course is THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925):

Director Sam Taylor welcomes Camilla Horn (left) and Lupe Velez on the set of TEMPEST (1928):

Vintage Glass Slides Celebrate Classic Horror Films + An Interview with Colin Clive!

Halloween 2015 gives us a good reason to take a fresh look at some of the greatest horror film classics ever made. But not by viewing the familiar artwork found in vintage posters and lobby cards. Instead we have found several rarely-seen and extremely fragile glass slides that were projected onto movie screens over 80 and 90 years ago. Let’s begin the tour.

DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1920) is often credited as the first American horror film. Although filmed many times beginning in 1911, this 1920 silent film version starring John Barrymore in his “breakthrough” movie performance is generally regarded as the best film version. This takes nothing away from at least two excellent sound film versions made in 1931 and 1941. The 1920 version is readily available today on Blu-ray, DVD, and streaming video:
Jeykyll Hyde slide

Before Lon Chaney frightened audiences in THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (1923), the Man of 1,000 Faces created chills in this 1922 film, which alas, is lost:
Chaney A Blind Bargain

Decades before JURASSIC PARK let loose an army of angry dinosaurs, movie audiences were awed by living prehistoric creatures in THE LOST WORLD (1925). Based on the popular novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, this film is available on DVD:
Lost World copy_edited-Final

Lon Chaney scored a huge hit with one of the most memorable films of all time. New generations today find THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925) is still a potent brew. The enduring popularity of the Chaney film has resulted in this PHANTOM being available on Blu-ray as well as DVD. We are also lucky to have TWO glass slides for this classic:
Phantom slide_edited-Final
Phantom_edited-1 copy

Chaney Sr. did not rest on his laurels with PHANTOM, but followed it up with edgy dramas such as THE ROAD TO MANDALAY (1926), which only partially exists today:
Road to Mandalay 1

American horror films didn’t become established until the talkie era with DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN, both released in 1931. A lesser-known film released in 1932 is THE WHITE ZOMBIE starring Count Dracula himself, Bela Lugosi. This low-budget film has grown in stature through the years and today is considered a classic. As a sign of its stature, ZOMBIE is available on DVD and even Blu-ray:
White Zombie

One of the best of the early 1930s horror classics is THE INVISIBLE MAN (1933), based on a novel by H.G. Wells, and starring Claude Rains in his first film. The romantic lead was Gloria Stuart who 60 years later appeared in TITANIC (1997):
Invisible Man Final

1933 was a banner years for classic films and horror movies were no exception. In addition to THE INVISIBLE MAN, the public was treated to KING KONG:

The public barely had time to catch its collective breath when later in 1933 the sequel to KONG was released. While not as good as the original, SON OF KONG is enjoyable on its own terms:
Son of Kong Glass Slide

Another early horror talkie that has grown in stature is THE BLACK ROOM (1935) starring the Frankenstein monster himself, Boris Karloff. And yes, it’s available on DVD:
The Black Room 1935 copy

It was only a matter of time before those Twin Princes of Horror Films, Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, were co-starred. THE RAVEN (1935) is the second of several successful films from the Karloff-Lugosi team and, yes, is on DVD:
Raven Final

Is there a consensus on one classic horror film that is considered the best ever made? Well, if there is, that film would be the sequel to FRANKENSTEIN (1931). Filmed under the working title of THE RETURN OF FRANKENSTEIN, this stunning film would be known to the world as THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935). Of course, this one is available on Blu-ray and DVD:

British actor Colin Clive played Dr. Henry Frankenstein in those first two films of the series, FRANKENSTEIN (1931) and THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935). Here is a candid of Colin Clive and Valerie Hobson on the Universal backlot in January 1935 during the filming of BRIDE:
Clive_ Hobson-copy_Final

Colin Clive was regarded as a gifted actor but a troubled individual. He passed away in 1937 following years of alcohol abuse complicated by tuberculosis. Typical of many actors of that time, Mr. Clive was unhappy with his being cast in these so-called “horror films.” But unlike other actors, he had no hesitation to go public with his concerns. Here is a rare interview with the man that many consider to be the definitive Dr. Frankenstein:
Clive Interview


April 1st is Lon Chaney’s Birthday – No Foolin’

I haven’t done the math but today is the natal anniversary of Lon Chaney’s birth in 1883. The occasion gives us a good reason to take a look at a few more of Chaney’s 1,000 Faces.

THE PENALTY (1920) – Lon’s “legs” and coat are now in the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History:


THE TRAP (1922):

THE TRAP, again, and the same character now in anguish:

HE WHO GETS SLAPPED (1924) with Norma Shearer:

As another clown in LAUGH CLOWN LAUGH (1928):


I’d better include at least one photo from THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925):

LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT (1927), perhaps the most famous “lost” American film:

Happy Birthday, Lon!

On the Set with …

Lon Chaney Sr. was the granddaddy of the Character Actor-Star in American films, and in many ways he single-handedly created the horror film genre. Lon is remembered mainly for two films where he played the grotesques of the title: THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (1923) and THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925). In fact, almost all his other films were melodramas, bizarre to be sure, but not exactly horror films. Reclusive by nature, the studios publicized him as the “man of mystery.” Chaney worked in silent films before makeup artists entered the field and developed his own makeup so skillfully and could appear so different from film to film that he was eventually dubbed “The Man of A Thousand Faces.”

Lon labored in the vineyards of film-making from 1914 on playing in support of some well-remembered stars such as William S. Hart and many forgotten ones. Many of these early works are now lost including his breakthrough film, THE MIRACLE MAN (1919), where he played a phoney paralytic. Here is Chaney as himself (more or less) and in character:

In 1922, Lon appeared in a photo spread displaying his craft in conjunction with the film A BLIND BARGAIN (another lost one). Here he displays his makeup case that can be seen today at the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History:

Lon tries out some fangs in planning the appearance of his “apeman” character in the film. Enlarging this photo shows the time on Chaney’s wrist watch as 2:50:

Lon combs out his apeman wig (the time is now almost 2:55):

Lon’s Asian characterizations are remarkable. This portrait, scanned directly from a negative, is from OUTSIDE THE LAW (1923), a film that not only survives but is available on dvd. This photo is striking in black & white but if color film were available, the photographer might have attempted a lantern-light effect such as this:

At a time when movie villains were typically handsome and well-dressed, Chaney displayed evil in characters usually portrayed sympathetically such as the disabled. Another photo scanned directly from a negative, here Lon plays a malevolent cripple in THE SHOCK (1923), another film available on dvd:

Chaney waits between camera setups in perhaps the most famous scene in THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (1923). Note the two reflectors on the right used to redirect the sunlight to brighten up shadows on the buildings across the plaza:

A fine study of Quasimodo from THE HUNCHBACK. In the film Chaney seems unrecognizable under his makeup, but here you can almost see Lon’s face:

Circa 1923, Lon poses for some “mug shots” to demonstrate how he arranges his features and uses dental appliances to suggest a character:

Lon would apply adhesives to pull his skin taut but here he demonstrates how he developed his characterizations more informally:
Both photos above are scanned directly from negatives.

Lon wrings out his sleeve after emerging from the underground lagoon beneath the Paris Opera House in THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925). Chaney’s makeup design for Erik the Phantom was arduous enough but now it also had to be waterproof:

The Unused Ending – preview audiences rejected this finale where Erik dies of a broken heart and the film went back into production to create a new ending:

THE PHANTOM was not the only big hit Lon had in 1925:

Lon frequently teamed up with director Tod Browning to create a number of macabre masterpieces. One of their best collaborations is THE UNKNOWN (1927) where Chaney portrays a murderer posing as a bogus armless circus performer. To escape detection and impress a woman, he has his arms amputated!

In this publicity photo for THE UNKNOWN, Chaney demonstrates his “skill” at writing with his foot for actress Claire Windsor. Actually, Chaney was doubled in the film where he uses his feet as hands:

Lon plays three generations of an Asian family in Mr. Wu (1927). Here he takes a break from filming by conducting a student orchestra visiting the MGM studio:

Perhaps the most famous “lost” American film, LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT (1927) where Lon plays a vampire but only as a ruse (no harm giving away the ending since the film is lost) to expose a murderer:

Another direct negative scan, this is one of Lon’s lesser known Thousand Faces from the opening scene in WEST OF ZANZIBAR (1928):

A restored lobby card: pictured are Lionel Barrymore, Lon, and Mary Nolan:

WEST OF ZANZIBAR plays South of the Border:

Another restored lobby card from WHILE THE CITY SLEEPS (1928) where Lon played it straight without resorting to one of his “faces”:

By popular request after we published this post – an original lobby card in original colors:

A detailed study of the subtle makeup used by Chaney to suggest an older character. This photo from LAUGH CLOWN LAUGH (1928) is scanned directly from a negative:

Yet another restored lobby card from 1929, Lon’s next-to-last silent film is the final collaboration between Chaney and director Tod Browning, and featured Lupe Velez and Lloyd Hughes:

A fanciful shot of Chaney as he might have looked in his 60s from his last silent film, a railroad drama titled THUNDER (1929). Alas, only a few minutes survive:

Lon Chaney made only one talkie, the very successful THE UNHOLY THREE (1930), which was a remake of his 1925 hit. Filmed during April 1930, the Man of a Thousand Faces spoke in five different voices, including as an old lady, a parrot, and a ventriloquist’s dummy pictured here in what turned out to be Lon’s final photo session:

Chaney’s death from lung cancer on August 26, 1930, shocked the world. He was only 47. The old story of how Universal wanted Lon for DRACULA (1931) has been discredited but then Universal didn’t want Bela Lugosi either. But that’s another story to be told in our next post (in anticipation of Halloween), On the Set with Bela Lugosi.

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