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An Extended Saturday Matinee with Lon Chaney, Bela Lugosi, and Boris Karloff
April 9, 2011 7:08 PM   Subscribe

YouTube user deb4tlj has uploaded seven out-of-print titles to YouTube: three silent films starring Lon Chaney -- The Penalty (1920), The Unknown (1927), and Laugh, Clown, Laugh (1928); two films starring Bela Lugosi -- Island of Lost Souls (1932) and Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932); and two films starring Boris Karloff -- The Ghoul (1933), and The Walking Dead (1936). [Notes inside]

The copy of The Penalty linked above is a tinted film. A plain black and white copy is available on Archive.org.

A happy ending for The Unknown was made at the direction of the studio, but has subsequently been lost. The version linked above has a new score by the Alloy Orchestra, who perform and record new scores for old silent films.

Laugh, Clown, Laugh, is an incomplete film, as a portion has been lost, though it doesn't ruin the plot. The copy linked above was recently re-scored by H. Scott Salinas, as part of the annual Turner Classic Movies (TCM) Young Film Composers Competition. A bit of information is available on Salinas' win on the Berklee College of Music website.

Island of Lost Souls is the first film adaptation of
The island of Doctor Moreau
: A Possibility
, written by H. G. Wells and published in 1896. This film was denied a rating in England three times, and finally given an X rating in 1958, specifically for graphic scenes of vivisection.

Murders in the Rue Morgue was the first of a number of loose adaptation to Poe's short story. This film was written in a week, and filmed in four, and was filmed following Lugosi's renowned portrayal of Dracula, but this film didn't have the same lasting impact.

The Ghoul was Boris Karloff's only screen appearance in 1933, which is remarkable given he was in 9 films the year prior, and 18 in 1931. This film was considered lost until a very poor quality copy was found in 1969 in then-communist Czechoslovakia. A far superior copy was found in a forgotten film vault in England, and the film has since been restored. You can read further history and a review from a Boris Karloff biography by Scott Allen Nollen (Google Books preview). The film is also available on Archive.org, but it actually looks worse than the above-linked YouTube version.

Contrary to the title, The Walking Dead is a gangster film, combined with elements of mythology and very gentle terror. The film was one of the five films featuring Karloff in 1936.

deb4tlj has also uploaded Before I Hang (1940), but the film has been removed due to copyright issues.
posted by filthy light thief (15 comments total) 67 users marked this as a favorite

 
:)
posted by clavdivs at 7:17 PM on April 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


A happy ending for The Unknown was made at the direction of the studio, but has subsequently been lost...

Thank God. I have an umpteenth generation VHS of this movie from years ago. That film is searingly, fuckingly, almost ludicrously tragic.
posted by marxchivist at 7:38 PM on April 9, 2011


I recommend anything with a score by the Alloy Orchestra. I've seen them do live scores for silent films before and they're fantastic.
posted by immlass at 7:57 PM on April 9, 2011


A happy ending for The Unknown was made at the direction of the studio

Hard to imagine a film in which the main character opts to have his perfectly healthy arms amputated to win the love of an undeserving woman having any kind of happy ending, but I've never been able to endure watching the entire film so what do I know? Burt Lancaster once said seeing this film was one of the reasons he became an actor, mostly because he was so impressed with Lon Chaney Sr.'s performance.

Lugosi's part in Dr. Moreau can hardly be said to be a "starring" role; I think he's on screen for less than 5 minutes total, which is like 30 minutes for anyone else because his personality is so forceful he practically burns all his make-up off so much does his Lugosity shine through.

Karloff only made the one film in 1933 because he returned to England for the first time since emigrating to Canada in 1909, and the one film he made was The Ghoul, in England of all places. Not prime Karloff material but British horror films were always pretty weak tea so, at least fans got to see Karloff once in a new film in 1933.
posted by motown missile at 8:10 PM on April 9, 2011


I've never been able to endure watching the entire film...

Is that because it is such a downer or do you think it is a bad film?
posted by marxchivist at 9:12 PM on April 9, 2011


I caught The Unknown on one of TCM's Silent Sundays years and years ago, and it definitely made an impression. Motown Missile, you should give it another chance, if only to see a nearly unrecognizable Joan Crawford at the beginning of her career.
posted by Rangeboy at 9:31 PM on April 9, 2011


Wow, I literally *just* got home from performing a score for The Unknown, believe it or not. I hadn't heard of the Alloy Orchestra, thanks! (and I'll email this post to our bandleader ;)

The Unknown - weird weird vibe - it's creepy, tragic, misanthropic, and sometimes very funny. The more I watched it the more I liked it.
posted by audiodidactic at 9:38 PM on April 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


Was anoyone else reading this list, hoping beyond hope to see London After Midnight show up?
posted by ShutterBun at 9:41 PM on April 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Was anyone else reading this list, hoping beyond hope to see London After Midnight show up?

Yes!

I've never been able to endure watching the entire film...

Is that because it is such a downer or do you think it is a bad film?


Because it's so intense, and everyone in it (especially Lon Chaney Sr.) is so emotive, it's too much for me. In no way do I think it's a bad film, but it's just so overwrought I can't sit through the entire thing. And to Rangeboy; I knew Joan Crawford was in it, but I'm not enough of a fan of hers for it to make a difference. Maybe in a few years, just not now.
posted by motown missile at 9:51 PM on April 9, 2011


It wasn't as good as the happy ending version of The Bicycle Thief.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 10:13 PM on April 9, 2011


I just saw Lon Cheney in West of Zanzibar tonight (with Fucked Up providing accompaniment!) and it was great. I'm looking forward to digging into his other stuff.
posted by thecjm at 1:29 AM on April 10, 2011


This is a terrific post.

I'm watching the Unknown right now and it seems so modern. I'm not sure how to describe it exactly.
posted by codacorolla at 8:05 AM on April 10, 2011


That great thanks
posted by cleaning199 at 8:50 AM on April 10, 2011


Wow small world...Autodidatic, my fiancee and 3 of my close friends enjoyed your performance last night. Alas, I was too hungover to leave the couch...
posted by ill13 at 1:39 PM on April 10, 2011


Addendum/edit to my first post - out of print can mean a variety of things, and works may not be re-published for a variety of reasons. In this case, most of these films have not been released on DVD and only exist on old VHS copies. At least one of the above-posted recordings is from a recent television broadcast.

This post was inspired by an A.V. Club article I saw linked from MetaChat, titled "Art in obsolete formats." One person was holding onto what he listed as "the truly great, never-on-DVD H.G. Wells adaptation Island Of Lost Souls," and from there I found deb4tlj's collection. I also found Y2K Family Survival Guide, hosted by Leonard Nimoy, but it's only an Amazon sales page, no video clips.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:32 PM on April 15, 2011


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