TCM Archives - The Lon Chaney Collection (The Ace of Hearts / Laugh, Clown, Laugh / The Unknown)
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Lon Chaney Collection, The (DVD)
Long before teams of technicians used computers to bring monsters and superheroes to the screen, one man equipped with little more than a makeup kit and a remarkable acting talent dazzled moviegoers with his ability to transform himself into all manner of men, monsters and outcasts. That man was Lon Chaney. This 2-Disc Chaney celebration includes three of his major works. The Ace of Hearts, - a tale of murderous intrigue, Laugh, Clown, Laugh - Chaney as a love-smitten circus clown, and The Unknown - where Chaney is a armless knife thrower. These are in their most complete surviving versions. Narrated by Kenneth Branagh, Turner Classic Movies' compelling documentary Lon Chaney: A Thousand Faces explores Chaney's diverse career and very private personal life. They are a few of this genius's thousand faces - faces that continue to amaze and entertain]]>
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Read the review by Douglas M. If you want a good detailed review.
The earliest film, from 1921, is "Ace of Hearts" a static and melodramatic story of a vigilante group who draw cards to select who will commit murder. The print is fairly poor and the film suffers from a snail pace and overacting. The second film is "The Unknown", released in 1927. The film, we are told, is possibly the best of the partnership of the director Tod Browning and Chaney. The story is bizarre, the powerful tale of a circus performer who cuts off his arms to win the girl. Joan Crawford, in a very early role, plays the object of Chaney's love. The film follows the common theme of unrequited love which appeared in many of Chaney's films. As well as observing Chaney's art, there is excellent photography and Crawford displays a rawness which is probably much closer to who she was before she became THE Joan Crawford. The print is good. The final film is "Laugh Clown Laugh", apparently Chaney's own favourite of all his films. Once again, the theme is unrequited love. Chaney plays a clown who makes the public laugh while he is heartbroken inside. This time, the object of his affection is the virginal and teenage Loretta Young who displays the purity of emotion which was in all of her best performances pre 1935. The print is very good.
The set also includes a reconstruction of an early version of the vampyr legend, "London after Midnight". This is a much coveted lost film but on the evidence of a few interviewees who saw the original film, the script and the stills, it looks like it might have been extremely melodramatic. While the reconstruction has been lovingly done, the result is static and rather boring, which is to be expected, I suppose.
Both "Laugh Clown Laugh" and "The Unknown" are missing scenes but what remains preserves Chaney at the height of his powers. They demonstrate that, in fact, his reputation as a horror star is misleading. He was a character actor who changed his appearance to suit the role in the same way Charles Laughton and Paul Muni did much later. His talent for pathos is outstanding. Of the generous extras included in the set, the best may be the marvellous documentary about the star and the short films about the competitions which TCM ran to locate new scores for the films.
The DVD set is excellent value.
In the age of frenzied speed and intrusive media, classics of the silent era are all too often forgotten or overlooked. People wrongly assume that they wouldn't have the patience to sit through an hour of dialogue-less cinema. But these films, in contrast to current films, unfold like visual poetry, slowly inviting you in, winning you over, and awakening in your heart powerful feelings of love and loss, and hope and pain. It is Chaney, despite any of his characters' endings, that always emerges triumphant. This collection preserves his legacy, which is one of commitment, compassion, and true artistry-- a master craftsman in every role, with any face.