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Learning To Love Silent Films

Regular readers of this blog will know that I love me some Silent films. I’m very sad to have to confess to you all though, that it was not always the case with me. I saw my very first Silent film when I was in my mid teens, it was shown in a film class when I was studying at college. The film shown was Metropolis. I was intrigued to see the film because it was directed by the great Fritz Lang.

Lang was a director who was already well known to me because I was a fan of Film Noir. He directed such classic Noir films as The Big Heat and Scarlet Street. I liked his work, but I had yet to venture into his expressionistic Silent films. Little did I know that the German Expressionism found in some Silent films, was also a major influence on the Noir films that I was loving so much. The use of shadows and lighting in Noir is straight out of those early films, and I was so amazed when I first learnt about that. All Noir fans out there should show some love to those German Silents; without their direct influence, the look of Film Noir would have most likely turned out very differently indeed.  

Metropolis

Before seeing Metropolis, I was already a huge fan of classic era films. I had never before had the slightest interest in seeing a Silent film though. I thought they would be boring and weird to watch. When this film started playing, there I was, still stubbornly convinced that there was no way this was going to be for me.

Then something happened that I can’t really describe. I just became fascinated by the images I was seeing on the screen. I was also extremely impressed with the scale of the sets, the overall look of the film and by Lang’s unforgettable depiction of the future. Before I knew what was happening, there I was, actually sitting there and enjoying a Silent film. 

I have to say that while Metropolis has never become a favourite of mine to the extent that I regularly watch it, I do love and admire it a great deal. The image of the future that it presents to us is an image which is impossible to get out of your head. It’s one of the greatest films that Fritz Lang ever made. Metropolis will always have a special place in my heart for being the film that made me a fan of Silent cinema.

From that point on I started to watch more Silent films. Then I started to laugh at myself for having held such stupid views about Silent films in the first place. Why had I been so hesitant about checking these out sooner? I  think it mainly had to do with the actors not speaking. It was such an alien concept to me after being raised on sound films. I think the lack of speech is still the main problem for people who are hesitant to watch these films today.

While hearing audiences may have difficulty with these films, I would imagine (would love to see some studies done on this)that Silent films can perhaps appeal more to deaf audiences. So often today the subtitles are not always that good on DVD releases, and this can make it difficult for deaf viewers to follow the dialogue. Some TV channels and programmes do not always offer subtitles either, which sadly means that deaf audiences are excluded from some content. Silent films don’t have those problems. In Silent films  you often don’t really need dialogue in many scenes, the actors convey all we need to know. I think it’s also very easy to follow what people are saying in Silent films because we have the title cards popping up displaying the dialogue. Personally I think that Silent films provide quite an inclusive experience to viewers who have hearing difficulties, or who perhaps don’t speak any languages other than their mother tongue and want to watch films from other countries(yes, I know DVDs of sound films have language dubbing :-)).

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Now I am happy to say that I’m a huge fan of Silent cinema. I think that Silent films are incredible. It’s hard to dislike films where all the stunts are done for real; where all the special effects were done by hand or by using practical effects(no CGI to see here, folks), and where even the editing was done by hand. Making these films was a real labour of love and it shows. I also think that many of these films are like paintings brought to life due to a combination of beautiful costumes, colour tinting, uniquely designed title cards, lavish sets etc. You really don’t see films so visually beautiful anymore. I am a huge fan of tinting and especially love the use of blue in the Silent documentary The Epic Of Everest (1924). The blue tinting in that documentary makes me feel the cold of the location somehow. 

Epic of everest

When you see these films today and know that what you see was all done by hand, it just blows you away. The stunning, jaw dropping visuals in these films, are leaps and bounds beyond anything that CGI gives us today. The directors and film crew working at this time were so innovative, and I find their fearlessness in exploring new and exciting ways of making films and creating film effects quite admirable.

Without these films we would most likely not even have films today. Film fans should be watching these films because it is where the medium began. We owe these films, and the filmmakers of this era, a massive debt of gratitude. I think it is vital that we get younger generations interested in these films. We need to preserve and honour these magnificent films. 

The more Silent films I watch, the more that I come to love and appreciate the different acting style. Some of the acting when viewed by us today looks quite theatrical, and I concede that this can be strange to get used to if you’re new to it. Having said that though, it’s important to note that so many performances in Silent films come across as very modern and fresh when viewed today.

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The great Lon Chaney Sr. Image source IMDb.

I think that the acting in these films is all about the actors conveying emotions to us, and in doing so they really make us feel their pain or joy. These actors do not need dialogue because they have the ability to convey to us what’s going on through expression alone. In my opinion no actor of the era was better at conveying emotion than Lon Chaney Sr. Lon was a very unique actor. He created and applied his own make-up to play disfigured characters. I really can’t recommend his films highly enough. I write about him and his career in detail here.  He was such a fascinating man. 

Another thing I love about Silent films is the music. Music is very important in these films. You see despite there being no audible dialogue, these films are not actually totally silent(another myth busted). There is music playing throughout these films, and the music is very important for helping to establish and convey the mood and emotions of characters. I would love to go to one of those silent screenings which have a live orchestra accompanying the film. Has anyone ever attended one of these? What was it like? Silent films also have title cards, which appear at various points in the film, to display to us the dialogue being spoken by the characters. 

New To Silent Cinema?

Have you yet to dip your toe into the ocean of Silent cinema? What are you waiting for? There are dramas, historical epics, experimental films, short and long films, romances, comedies, horror,documentary, crime etc. Forget the damsel in distress cliche as well, because the Silent films provided very strong roles for women. They also had many women working behind the cameras as directors, producers, editors and writers in the Silent era.

Please don’t be afraid of these films. Pick one to watch and give this different film style a chance. Don’t simply dismiss these films as being old, outdated, or weird when you have never actually watched one.

If you don’t try these films, then not only will you miss out on some stunning visuals, powerful stories and memorable characters, but you’ll also miss out on some truly remarkable actors. People like Lon Chaney Sr, Douglas Fairbanks Sr, Lillian Gish, Louise Brooks, Ruan Lingyu, Rudolph Valentino, Buster Keaton, Clara Bow and so many others. You’ll also miss out on directors like F.W Murnau, Charles Chaplin, Fritz Lang, Buster Keaton, Cecil B. De Mille. 

Where To Begin With Silent Cinema?

You are going to watch your first Silent film, but you don’t know which film you should watch first. I would say forget all those famous titles; just go right ahead and pick a Silent film that is from your favourite genre. Don’t immediately try one of the very long feature films like Metropolis for example. You may get lucky as I did and end up really enjoying your first Silent, even if it is a long feature, but on the other hand you may well end up getting bored if your first film turns out to be a drag. So I’d say that you should maybe try something that appeals to your tastes before checking out the acclaimed epics.

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Buster Keaton films are a good place to start for Silent newbies. Screenshot by me from Sherlock Jr.

A good place to start is to try and watch a comedy short. If you’re going to do that, then I would heartily recommend the films of the legend that is Buster Keaton. This comic genius made both comedy film shorts and feature films.

Buster was the master of physical comedy, and he had such perfect timing. He also performed some of the most jaw dropping film stunts ever captured on film. If you like comedy you can’t go wrong with Buster’s work. Charles Chaplin, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle and Harold Lloyd’s films also come highly recommended by me.

If you are interested in seeing the famous stunning visuals, epic running time and visual trickery of Silent films, then these films are ones that I would highly recommend that you watch for various reasons: The Phantom Carriage (1921), Within Our Gates (1920), Battleship Potemkin (1925), Der Mude Tode(1921), Intolerance (1916), The Thief Of Bagdad(1924), Orphans Of The Storm (1921),Ghosts Before Breakfast (1928), A Trip To The Moon (1902), The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari (1920), Metropolis (1927),The General (1926),Nosferatu(1922) , Sherlock Jr (1924) , The Epic Of Everest (documentary from 1924), The Man With The Movie Camera (documentary from 1929).

A Silent Film That I Would Recommend To A Newbie?

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Shooting Stars. Screenshot by me.

1- Shooting Stars (1928) This British Silent is a behind the scenes look at filmmaking. It follows three actors who are caught up in a love triangle. The film is funny, suspenseful and very moving. It looks at the fleeting nature of fame and how we should never take what we have for granted. 

This film was one of the first(possibly the first)films to show audiences what goes on behind the scenes of films, and of how shots are achieved in film. We see how the screen fiction is achieved and made believable to an audience who buys into the illusion of film. You can read my full review of this film here. 

I would also recommend The Artist(2011). This charming film is a homage to the Silent era.It also brings to mind sound films such as Singin’ In The Rain and A Star Is Born. It also features the cutest and most scene stealing dog you’ll ever see. 

I could go on and on about Silent cinema, but I don’t want to bore you all.  🙂  I hope that I have piqued your interest in these films if you have yet to check out any Silent films. Let me know how you get on if you do decide to check out Silent films for the first time.

If you are already a fan I would love to hear from you. How did you become a fan? What are your favourite Silent films? Did you put off seeing them for ages?(like me). I sometimes feel like an oddity because I’m 30 and don’t know anyone else my age (outside of people online) who loves these wonderful films. 

May I also suggest you head on over and see Fritzi at Movies Silently.  Fritzi knows all there is to know about Silent cinema. 

 

 

 

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The Fifth Annual Buster Keaton Blogathon: Sherlock Jr(1924)

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For the fifth year running, Lea at Silent-ology is hosting her annual blogathon dedicated to our beloved stone-faced comedian, Buster Keaton. Be sure to visit her site to read all of the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself. 

I’m writing about Sherlock Jr, which is one of Buster Keaton’s greatest film achievements, as both an actor, and also as a film director.  The film only lasts for 45 minutes, and yet it somehow manages to be more stunning, more inventive, and much more memorable than many other films which last hours longer than this one does.  

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Buster wants to know how to be a detective. Screenshot by me.

Sherlock Jr is a film that shows just what can be achieved on screen by those who make films. It contains sequences and camera tricks that had audiences and fellow filmmakers of the time eager to know how those things were achieved. Watching this film in 2019 has me feeling the exact same way. I like to think that Buster would be proud to know that his stunts, camera tricks, and comedy are still wowing audiences all these decades later.

                      A memorable moment where Sherlock Jr opens a safe and it opens into a street. Screenshot by me.  

This film contains some of Buster’s funniest moments on screen. I especially love the banana gag, which sees Buster setting a banana gag up to make the projectionist’s rival slip, but then Buster falls victim to it himself instead. This slipping gag never fails to make me giggle, and I really love how the gag plays with our expectations about who will slip. I also love the scene where our hero crashes through a window, slides along a table on his back, and kicks the guy sitting at the end of the table straight out the other side of the wooden building. 🙂 The looking for a dollar sequence is hilarious too. 

There’s also a wide range of very impressive stunts in this film. The sequence where he is on his runaway motorbike is a real highlight. I also love the scene in the sinking car. Another sequence,where Buster is hit by a large amount of water on the train tracks, resulted in Buster falling and unknowingly fracturing his neck. He didn’t find out about the injury until many years later when he was examined by a doctor who then discovered the injury. 

                               Buster and his runaway motorbike narrowly avoid a train. Screenshots by me. 

The film also features some truly amazing camera trickery and shots. There are several stunts/camera tricks in this that are so remarkable and flawlessly put together, that I am still scratching my head trying to figure out exactly how they were so seamlessly achieved and put together on film.

There is one trick in particular in this that had me rewinding the DVD several times when I first saw it trying to work out how it was even possible. The scene I’m referring to is the one where Buster leaps into a suitcase held by another person and disappears. This shot was achieved by using an old vaudeville trick which Buster’s dad, Joe Keaton, had apparently invented during his days on stage. There was a trap door behind the suitcase and the actor holding the case lay horizontally with some long clothes hiding the fact that there is no body there. It is such an amazing trick and the scene never fails to have me open mouthed and pointing at the TV trying to figure out how such a thing is even possible. 

The film first began life in 1923, under the working title of The Misfit. The title was later changed to Sherlock Jr, and the film was released in April of 1924. Buster had initially hired his close friend Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle to help him co- direct the film. Roscoe had been Buster’s friend and co-star for many years, and the pair had made a number of short films together.

Roscoe had been falsely accused of the rape and manslaughter of the actress Virginia Rappe in 1921.  After three trials Roscoe was exonerated of the crime, but sadly by that time he had become something of a broken man. Buster stood by his friend throughout the scandal and trials, and he also tried to offer him work on his films. Apparently Roscoe was very difficult on the set of Sherlock Jr, which then led Buster to completely take over directing duties. It is unclear which footage(if any)in the film is the work of Roscoe Arbuckle. Roscoe would finally get to direct some films again under the name of William Goodrich, he died in 1933. 

Upon its release Sherlock Jr would unfortunately become one of the least popular films that Buster had made so far. The film also did very poorly at the box office. It may not have been widely appreciated and loved at the time it was released, but in recent decades it has become one of the most beloved and admired of any of Buster’s films.

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Out for a drive, or is it a boat ride? Screenshot by me.

I think the film works as well as it does not only because of the stunt work and visuals, but also because it is at heart a film about an unlucky, ordinary guy, who we in the audience just want to be happy.

Buster’s performance in this film is also a huge part of its charm in my opinion. Buster’s performance in this is one that I love a great deal. Buster makes his character a really sweet, shy and down on his luck guy; we root for him, we like him, and we feel sorry for him as he suffers injustice and heartbreak. When Buster becomes the detective later in the film his performance changes. I really like how Buster becomes a suave man of confidence when he is in the film within the film.

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A sweet moment between our awkward hero and his lady love. Screenshot by me.

Buster Keaton plays a gentle and shy cinema projectionist/cinema cleaner. He is in love with a girl(Kathryn McGuire)who is from a well off family. He also yearns to be a professional detective. The projectionist has a serious rival (Ward Crane)for the heart of his one true love.

The rival steals the watch of the girl’s father(played by Buster’s dad, Joe Keaton) pawns it at a local shop, and then plants evidence on our poor hero to make out that he is the thief. The father banishes our hero, but the girl doesn’t believe his guilt and she sets out to prove his innocence. 

                                    The leaving the body scene. Screenshot by me. 

One night, while running a mystery film at the cinema, our hero falls asleep. We next see his soul come out of his body (a remarkable sequence achieved by using double exposure) and walk off into the big screen to become a part of the film. In his dreams our hero now transforms into the confident and famous detective Sherlock Jr. The actors playing the girlfriend and the rival replace the actors of the film our hero has entered.

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Sherlock Jr is on the case. Screenshot by me.

What I love about the dream/film within a film scene is how random and mixed up it all, just as dreams are while we are experiencing them.  Once Buster’s film dream gets underway we then have a series of stunts and sight gags to enjoy. Buster somehow controls a runaway motorbike by sitting on the handlebars and driving through heavy traffic. Buster jumps through things, off of things, and into things. Buster also narrowly avoids getting hit by a train in a scene that was apparently shot in reverse, but which doesn’t look like it to me. The film is non-stop action once Buster enters the film within the film. 

I also love that the happy ending of the film basically shows us the projectionist gaining tips from the movies on how to be romantic. The ending also shows us that some things can’t be learnt from films, instead they must be discovered for ourselves off screen in reality. The projectionist has adventures and happiness of his own waiting just around the corner in reality. 

The film is so much fun. I do wish that it had been a bit longer though. I also wanted some more scenes at the beginning between the projectionist and his girlfriend. What is present in the film is very good though.

This is a film which lets us all just sit back and marvel at what we are watching. In my opinion this film stands as a tribute to film making. It also stands as a tribute to the magic of the cinema, and to the timeless appeal of Buster Keaton. I highly recommend this film to anyone who hasn’t seen it. 

What do you think of this film?

 

 

 

Blogathons, Silent Film, Tributes To Classic Stars

The Lon Chaney Sr Blogathon: Day One

The Lon Chaney Sr Blogathon has finally arrived! Over the next two days, 11 wonderful bloggers will be submitting their articles celebrating the life and career of Lon Chaney Sr.

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Lon is one of my favourite actors. I have long wanted to do something to celebrate his life and films, but I wasn’t really sure what I should do to celebrate his work.I eventually decided that a blogathon was the way to go. I was delighted when Ruth at Silver Screenings agreed to join me and co-host this Chaney blogathon. 

I will be your blogathon hostess for today. The lovely Ruth will be your blogathon hostess at her site tomorrow. Please submit your articles to us over the next two days. I can’t wait to read your thoughts on Lon and his films.

                                                                    

                                                            Day 1 Entries

Critica Retro does an excellent job of reconstructing the lost Lon Chaney film: The Miracle Man.

Taking Up Room shares her thoughts after watching her first ever Chaney film: The Hunchback Of Notre Dame.

Speakeasy reviews a Chaney horror film called The Monster.

Ruth gets to the heart of who Chaney is, with her review of the 2000 documentary: Man Of A Thousand Faces.

I take a look at Lon as a character actor and discuss his portrayal of disabled and disfigured characters

 

Blogathons, Silent Film, Tributes To Classic Stars

The Lon Chaney Sr Blogathon: The First Character Actor And His Portrayal Of Disabled And Disfigured Characters

Lon 3This is my entry for the blogathon being co-hosted by myself and Ruth at Silver Screenings. I have wanted to do something to honour the talents of Lon Chaney Sr for a while now. I was overjoyed when Ruth agreed to co-host this event with me to honour Lon. 

Lon Chaney Sr is one of my all time favourite actors. He was such an intense actor and his every move on the screen drew and kept your attention. Lon could also convey more to us with a single look than any line of dialogue could ever convey. I also strongly feel that his performances haven’t dated like some others from this era unfortunately have. His performances are very natural and are not theatrical. I consider Lon to have been the first real character actor to have ever appeared on film.

Lon always acted differently in each role, he played someone different each time he went before the camera. Lon also seemed to take great pleasure in becoming the characters who he was given to play. I actually consider him to be the greatest character actor there has ever been in films because he disappeared so completely into the characters who he played.   

I often get a bit bored with some actors after a while, because they always seem to just play variations of themselves on screen, with Lon however, each performance he gave was different. In so many of his films you can’t even recognise him. The ability to so convincingly disappear into a role is the mark of a good actor or actress in my opinion, if they can convince you of something and make you completely believe they are the characters they are playing then they’ve done a great job. Lon always convinced.

Lon Chaney Sr was known as “The Man Of A Thousand Faces”. He gained this name because he didn’t merely act, but because he was so convincing in the roles he took on that he disappeared into them. He was also quite often buried beneath layers of extraordinary makeup which he himself created and applied, even when he wasn’t made up, he remained one of those actors whose face never seemed the same from one role to another. He was also a very emotive actor and he really made audiences feel what his characters were going through on screen.

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Lon as Quasimodo. Screenshot by me.

I really love his makeup for The Hunchback Of Notre Dame (1923). He did a terrific job of creating Quasimodo’s facial deformity. I especially love the swollen eye and the disfigurement on the lower lip.

Lon also put himself (yet again)through great physical discomfort to play this role. It is a very physical role too, and he does lots of climbing and scenes where he is jumping and swinging off of things, he also captures Quasimodo’s physical effort and discomfort when walking. 

I also quite like his makeup in the film Shadows (1922). In this film he made himself up to be a Chinese man called Yen Sin. I have to say that while I find such a casting decision to be very unfortunate (why not hire a real Chinese actor for the role?)unlike Mickey Rooney’s absolutely atrocious portrayal of a Chinese man in Breakfast At Tiffany’s,Chaney’s portrayal actually does come across as being quite believable. He does a terrific job through his body language of conveying this characters very humble nature. I also like the stoop and dragging walk that he gave to his character. Lon brought Yen Sin to life and he didn’t play the man as a caricature.  

Lon was also especially good at portraying characters who were disabled, disfigured, or who were unlucky in love. He played these people in such an empathic way that he made us feel their pain, their desires, their rage, and also their very deep sadness. He could convey so much to us about them through facial expressions or a single glance.

Although Lon also played many able bodied characters throughout his career, it is the disabled and disfigured characters he played that he is best remembered for by audiences today. He makes us connect with these characters, and he makes us feel for them and experience what they are going through.

I also admire him greatly for the tremendous effort that he went to in order to portray disabled and disfigured characters. Forget actors like Daniel Day-Lewis and Marlon Brando going the extra mile for their roles, because they have nothing on what Lon put himself through when he took on a role!  

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Lon in The Penalty. Screenshot by me.

For example, in The Penalty (1920) Lon had his legs lifted up behind his back in a special harness. He then inserted his knees into two leather stumps, this then created the effect of him being a double amputee with leg stumps.

Lon taught himself to walk on his knees in a way that appeared natural during his scenes. This was extremely painful for him to endure during filming. I think the pain and discomfort certainly paid off though because it looks like he is a real amputee when you watch this film. 

The Penalty is also an interesting film because of Lon’s character, Blizzard. He is a man who has been left as a double amputee after a surgical mistake. Blizzard has become a powerful criminal and he is (quite understandably)a very bitter man who tries to dominate those around him. Blizzard is interestingly never presented as being someone left helpless or dependent on others because of his disability though; he is instead shown as being very independent, self-sufficient, strong and determined. He is also depicted as sometimes getting violent with those who displease him. The film features one of Lon’s best ever performances in my opinion. 

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Lon and his famous makeup case. Image source IMDb.

Lon famously created and applied his own makeup for many of the film characters he played. He had his own makeup kit, which he carried around with him in a fold out leather case. With the help of his makeup, Lon could make himself look old, frail, scarred, rough, ugly or scary. His makeup, coupled with the physical way he used his body in roles, is what makes him unique as an actor in my opinion. He alone decided how his characters should look and act and he alone got to create and apply that look. 

One of the most famous of all his makeup achievements was for the 1925 film The Phantom Of The Opera. In this film Lon plays the hideous masked phantom of the opera. The most famous scene in that film is the scene where the phantom is unmasked. He looks so scary that even the camera goes out of focus slightly when he is unmasked, it’s almost as though the camera is afraid of him too. He really did a remarkable job with the makeup I think.

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Lon in his Phantom Of The Opera makeup. Image source IMDb. 

I love his makeup for this character because he looks so gaunt and scary. His eyes are sunken and he looks in some ways like a skeleton. His nose is also extremely disfigured and stretched. It is a startling sight when you look at it. I like that he also plays the phantom as being very graceful and athletic physically.

Lon makes for quite a commanding screen presence in this role. He is totally terrifying and his hideous makeup helps a great deal. I also like how Lon ensures that we both fear and pity the Phantom at various points throughout the film because of how he plays the role.

Lon’s portrayal of the Phantom also allows us to see how emotionally tortured this man is. Lon manages to convey to us just how angry and sad the Phantom is because he can’t even show his own face in public. 

Lon Chaney Sr was born in Colorado, on April 1st, 1883. His birth name was Leonidas Frank Chaney. He was exposed to disability at an early age because his parents, Emma and Frank, were both deaf mutes. His parents had met and fallen in love at a deaf school that had been founded by Lon’s grandfather in 1874. That school was The Colorado Institute For Mutes. The school still exists today under its current name of The Colorado School For The Deaf And Blind.

Lon could hear and speak normally. He learnt from an early age how to speak to his parents using a combination of sign language, facial expressions and pantomime. These skills served him well later when he became an actor, as he really had the ability to get his characters emotions and intent across to his audience.  

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One of my favourite photos of Lon. Image source IMDb.

I have no proof of this being the case, but I never the less firmly believe that Lon’s regular access to two disabled people ensured that he grew up to have a greater understanding of, and a great compassion for, people in real life who were disabled and disfigured.

To Lon there was nothing odd or frightening about his parents disability. His parents were simply two people who just happened to be deaf. I feel that in some way he felt he should do what he could to make disability more present in everyday life and to help make people see disabled people for who they are, instead of ignoring them or acting awkwardly around them. 

When Lon portrayed disabled and disfigured people on screen he played them in a way that showed audiences that these people were just like everyone else. Lon’s films also show us that the disabled and disfigured can work, create, fall in love, and most importantly can exist just fine along with able bodied people. Lon also depicts the incredible courage of these people in not hiding away from the rest of society. The people he played are often shown as trying their best to get on with their life as normal. Lon also showed us the unique abilities that some disabled people can have, such as using other limbs to compensate for the loss of hands for example, as seen in Lon’s performance as the armless Alonzo in The Unknown

It’s also important for us to remember that in the era that Lon played these characters, disability and disfigurement were very much seen as being taboo subjects for many in society. Mentally ill and disabled people were often sadly shut away in homes and put out of sight and mind. After WW1 ended there were also thousands of veterans returning home from the trenches; these men were suffering from terrible disfigurements and wounds and other people in society were quite shocked and frightened by how they looked. The films of Lon Chaney Sr gave a national and international face to disability and disfigurement. 

Lon’s portrayals of the disfigured and disabled brought all these people and their issues right out into the open for everyone to see. I think that making films featuring characters living with these issues was something that was very daring and brave for Lon and the directors to do at the time.   

Another thing Lon Chaney Sr was able to do so brilliantly, was to be able to convey to us the desperate longing of a character who was unlucky in love. In The Unknown, Laugh Clown Laugh, Tell It To The Marines and He Who Gets Slapped, Lon is able to show us just how much these very different men love women who, for various reasons, they can’t have and how they all end up loving these women from afar.  Unrequited love is a difficult pain to bear. I think that Lon does a super job of conveying his characters longing for the love they so desire. Watch his face in these films because the longing and pain over love are written clearly all over his face. 

In 1926, Lon Chaney made a film called Tell It To The Marines. He called it his own personal favourite film from amongst those that he made. In recognition of his remarkable and totally convincing performance as a tough as nails Marine Sergeant, Lon would become the first actor to be made an honorary US Marine. I thought that was so lovely the first time I read about this as that is a great honour to be given indeed. His being awarded like that speaks volumes to me about how much his performance must have resonated with the men who served in the armed forces at the time.   

In The Unholy Three (1930), Lon appeared in what would sadly end up being his final screen role. This would also be his first and only sound film. At the time he made this film he was very ill, and he was diagnosed with the lung cancer which would sadly kill him just a few months later. In his final film he delivered not one, but five excellent vocal performances. 

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Lon’s final film scene in The Unholy Three. Screenshot by me.

Had Lon lived, then I think he would have done very well as an actor in sound films. I think he could have been quite good in the gangster films of the 1930’s. He had a tough and intense look that would have suited gangster and Noir films well. His voice was very deep and strong and I can see no reason why he couldn’t have easily fit into sound roles. He also demonstrated in his final film that he had plenty of vocal talent as well as his physical acting skills. I’m sure that he would have also done well in radio productions.  

I find his final scene in The Unholy Three to be very moving. As Lon’s character says goodbye to some fellow characters, he is in a way saying goodbye to his film audience too. His final line in the goodbye scene is “That’s all there is to life. Just a little laugh, a little tear”. This line sums up his career to me. Throughout his career Lon Chaney Sr made us cry, he made us laugh, and he also showed us what it was to be human (to experience joy, sorrow, pain, tragedy etc)and he made us feel his characters emotions right along with him. Lon showed us that everyone has feelings and that everyone will experience happy and sad times in life. In life you will laugh, you will cry, and sometimes you may even do both at the same time. Lon Chaney shows us that everybody hides a pain as they go through life.

Lon is one of my favourite actors and he is someone who I dearly wish I could have met. I find him to be a fascinating individual and also a man who was well ahead of his time. I think he would be quite touched to see how his performances and makeup achievements are still admired and beloved today, over one hundred years after his death.  Thanks for all you achieved, Lon. Thanks also for giving disabled and disfigured characters a presence in cinema.   

What are your thoughts on Lon Chaney Sr?

Join myself and Ruth on the 5th and 6th May. Over these two days we will have more posts for you celebrating the life and career of Lon Chaney Sr.