Monday, October 27, 2008

The Blackbird (1926) Film Review - Lon Chaney

Plot Summary - Silent film melodrama/love triangle, directed by Tod Browning. In foggy London's Limehouse district, full of painted ladies and seedy characters, we meet thief Dan Tate (Lon Chaney), aka "The Blackbird", as he sneaks into his hideout at the local mission ("Come Ye and Rest"), up through a trapdoor and in through the back of a closet. Dan secretly leads a double life as he plays an elaborate ruse posing as "The Bishop", his kindly (obviously twin - though never stated) brother who runs the mission - a deformed cripple who goes about on crutches and is beloved by all of Limehouse. Dan goes to see the show at a local Limehouse music hall one evening, where a monocled, well-dressed swell known as "West End Bertie" (Owen Moore) arrives "going slumming" with friends from the fashionable set. Dan and Bertie soon both have a lustful eye on the charming, pretty French girl, Fifi (Renee Adoree), who performs a rather delightful puppet act using her own face as part of her French maid female puppet. Dan actually meets Fifi by sending her a gift backstage - um, a pistol. When Fifi admires a woman's "diamond collar", he secretly has in mind to steal it for her - but turns out his rival Bertie is a notorious crook who gets his men to rob his own circle of friends of their jewelry, including the diamond collar. The two men agree to split the take half and half, as Dan points out that since the crime was committed in Limehouse, he and his men will be suspected by the "coppers". But soon Bertie takes Fifi out and gives her some bejeweled rings, thus winning her over for himself. Jealous Dan schemes to break the two of them apart, and he gets in more trouble with the law - but gets some help from his ex-wife who still carries the torch for him.

Review - This is a nicely done, albeit rather strange silent film, showcasing Lon Chaney's talent for distorting his body when playing a man with a deformity - not to mention his range at playing different character types, both a good man and a bad man. I always love the charmer Renee Adoree - now for some reason her character, though portrayed as sweet and innocent, doesn't seem all that put out when she finds out her man's a crook, but then he is kind of cute. Now I don't know if I'd put so much trust in him when he claims he's giving up his old ways for love - what happens when the seven-year itch comes in their relationship and he gets itchy fingers for some new jewelry to steal? Lon Chaney is one of my favorite silent era actors, and though I wouldn't say this is one of my most favorite of his films, it's still pretty good. The film, as shown on TCM, featured a nice orchestral score done by Robert Israel. One thing I wonder about - how come no one in town wonders why they never see The Blackbird and The Bishop at the same time, especially considering they both supposedly have a room at the mission?! Rating - 8/10 stars

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