From 1912 until his death in 1930, Lon Chaney aka The Man of A Thousand Faces starred in more than 160 films. Having began his career in the age of silent movies, Chaney only spoke on-screen in his final film, 1930’s The Unholy Three remake, both of which are featured during TCM’s Monday, August 15 Summer Under The Stars marathon. The remainder of their tribute to Chaney consists of 15 of his silent films, including his two most famous roles: The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Phantom Of The Opera.
Up first at 6am/5c is 1921’s The Ace Of Hearts. Its a crime drama in which Chaney stars as Mr. Farallone, a member of a secret society assigned to commit murder.
Chaney’s aforementioned final film is up next at 7:30am/6:30c. As a petty thief operating out of a pet shop, Chaney takes on the task of playing five characters, it’s easy to see how Chaney earned his nickname. While he had previously created those thousands of faces without the aide of vocalization, for his sole talkie, Chaney enhanced his multiple roles by affecting his voice to suite each character.
1922’s Oliver Twist is next at 9am/8c, with Chaney in the role of Fagan, the gruesome leader of a band of ne’er-do-well street urchins, among them, Jackie Coogan stars as young Oliver.
At 11am/10c, Chaney stars 1922’s He Who Gets Slapped from 1924. It’s officially my new favorite movie, if for the title alone. This film is historic in that it was the film feature film made entirely under the MGM banner and it also marks the debut of their trademark lion at the beginning of the film. It’s a heady little movie based on a Russian play in which a scientist works for years to prove the origin of mankind, only to be double-crossed by an associate. Adding insult to injury, he looses his wife to the same associate. Years later, humiliated, he now performs as a circus clown who’s act consists of getting slapped by other clowns. He even relives the humiliating circumstances of his former life by way of a reenactment as part of his circus act. Norma Shearer and John Gilbert costar.
Next, it’s The Monster from 1925, in which Chaney plays a mad scientist. Despite the title and lead character, it’s a comedy which also stars Johnny Arthur, Gertrude Olmstead and others. A once brilliant scientist, hie now intends on performing experimental operations in oder to discover the secrets of eternal life. His plans are thwarted by the appropriately named Johnny Goodlitle (Arthur) who not only saves the day, but wins the heart of the doctor’s would be guinea pig, Betty (Olmstead).
For those who think Chaney only acted in monster movies, TCM proves them wrong at 1:45pm/12:45c as they present 1926’s Tell It To The Marines. Chaney, sans makeup, plays a hard-boiled Marine Sergeant named O’Hara who trains new recruits to become fearless officers. William Haines co-stars as one of O’Hara’s recruits, Private George Robert Skeet Burns.
For 1927’s Mockery, airing at 3:30pm/2:30c Chaney plays a Siberian peasant who befriends a countess (Barbara Bedford) during the Russian Revolution. Regarded as one of Chaney’s worst films in his career, for years, the film was thought to have been lost until original prints were discovered in the mid-1970s.
For 1927’s Mr. Wu, airing at 4:45pm/3:45c, Chaney not only had the dual task of playing the title character, but also his grandfather, but he also had to play both roles at various stages in their lives. For the grandfather character, that meant aging form 80-years-old to one hundred. Based on the New York stage play by the same name, Mr. Wu decides to get revenge on the Englishman who seduces his daughter (Renee Adoree). Chaney’s The Monster co-star Gertrude Olmstead and Anna May Wong are also featured.
1928’s Laugh, Clown, Laugh features Chaney at Tito, a circus performer whose Flick the clown looks similar to his He Who Gets Slapped character. Then-15-year-old Loretta Young co-stars as Simonetta, the daughter he’s raised since finding her abandoned as a child. Typical for Pre-Code filmmaking, limits are pushed when Tito stops his adopted daughter from marrying Count Luigi (Nils Asther) when admits he has feelings for her. Simonetta admits she loves Tito as well, and breaks her engagement. Despite her admission, Tito feels she’s said she love him out of pity. The film has two endings. Both involve Tito falling from a highwire act. In one ending, he dies, freeing Simonetta to marry. In the alternate ending, Tito survives, but Simonetta marries Luigi and Tito resumes the role of her father and they go on with his blessing.
Two of Chaney’s most famous roles are next with an 8pm/7c presentation of his 1923 classic, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and a 10pm/9c airing of The Phantom Of The Opera.
At 12am/11c, it’s Chaney’s original 1925 version of The Unholy Three. Then it’s 1927’s The Unknown at 1:30am/12:30c. Chaney stars as Alonzo the Armless Wonder, a circus sideshow artist who throws knives using his feet. Joan Crawford stars as his assistant, who has a fear of being touched by men. Off-stage it is revealed that Alonzo has two perfectly functioning arms, which he uses to murder his assistant’s father. By accident, she witnesses the murder, but only sees that the murderer has a distinguishing mark on his hand, a double thumb. Realizing she won’t love him if he ever reveals he has arms, and knowing she’d also be able to identify him as a killer, he leaves feigning illness. While gone, he undergoes a horrific operation to actually have his arms amputated an returns to resume his relationship with her. More creepy stuff happens upon his return.
From armless to a man whose legs are paralyzed, its’ 1928’s West Of Zanzibar at 2:30am/1:30c.
Then at 3:45am/2:45c, Chaney stars in 1929’s Where East is East. For this film, the final collaboration between the star and his frequent director, Tod Browning (The Unknown, London After Midnight and 1925’s The Unholy Three among them), Chaney stars as an animal tracker in Southeast Asia who is intent on protecting his daughter Toyo (Lupe Velez) from an American suitor, (Lloyd Hughes).
The aforementioned London After Midnight from 1927 rounds out TCM’s Lon Chaney marathon at 5am/4c. Monday night’s TCM showing will mark the debut television screening of this newly reconstructed presentation of a film whose original prints were lost in a fire in the 1960s. For this presentation, film archivist Rick Schmidlin reconstructed the story by weaving together more than 200 original stills, while using a continuity script from the original produciton. Five years after Germany’s Nosferatu first presented moviegoers with cinema’s first vampire, Chaney’s more human take contains elements still associated with vampires today.
TCM’s Summer Under The Stars continues Tuesday, August 16 with 13 films showcasing the career of Joanne Woodward.
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