West of Zanzibar (1928)

Laughing Gravy
Balcony Gang, Foist Class
Laughing Gravy
Balcony Gang, Foist Class
Joined: September 1st, 2005, 4:44 am

March 19th, 2018, 4:05 am #1



West of Zanzibar (1928) Dir. Tod Browning
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
65 min. / B&W / Silent with Synchronized Music & Effects / 1.37:1
DVD: Warner Archive

Lon Chaney is a stage magician whose assistant/wife runs off with Lionel Barrymore, but not before Lionel cripples Lon in an accident. A year later, the wife dies, leaving an infant: and Mr. Chaney begins an 18-year-plan to simmer slow, slow revenge. Nearly two decades later, having used his stage tricks to impress an African tribe, he's intent on dragging the young woman into degradation and then throwing her at Barrymore's feet. But things never go as they're planned, or at least, they don't in THIS movie.

Based on a play called Kongo with Walter Huston, who got the 1932 remake (which isn't as good as this one). This is a good movie to show somebody if you want them to see how good Chaney actually was; no fancy makeup here, just two dead legs and a buzz cut. He's terrific here; what a loss to acting when he died only a couple of years later. Warner Baxter is excellent as the alcoholic doctor; Mary Nolan, quite notorious in her own right, is the daughter.

Million-dollar Intertitle:
Lon, on Lionel: "He made me this thing that crawls... Now I'm ready to bite!"

Daughter, on Lon: "How did God ever put a thing like you on this earth?"

This movie could be awful very easily; white guys playing the African natives, a lesser actor in the lead, whatever. But Chaney - as always - dominates every scene and while, let's face, he was a hard guy to write for: he was never gonna get the girl and every film had to be more bizarre than the last, he's never made a movie that I didn't find fascinating to one extent or another. This and The Unknown are two movies to see if you want to see how good he could be (he loved Tell It to the Marines, but I haven't seen that yet). A good print (British, apparently) from Warner Archive.
"I'm glad that this question came up, because there are so many ways to answer it that one of them is bound to be right." - Robert Benchley
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