A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Blackbird (Tod Browning, 1926)

The Blackbird begins with an atmospheric re-creation of Victorian Limehouse, with set designs by Cedric Gibbons and A. Arnold Gillespie impressively lighted and shot by cinematographer Percy Hilburn. But it turns into a routine melodrama showcase for Lon Chaney, who plays both the title character, a thief, and his alter ego, the Bishop, who pretends to be a missionary in the district. No one seems to suspect that the Blackbird and the Bishop are the same person, because in the latter persona Chaney contorts himself, holding one shoulder higher than the other and twisting one leg into an impossible position. Eventually, this masquerade will prove the truth of your mother's adage that if you keep contorting your face or body like that, it'll freeze that way. But in the meantime, the Blackbird falls for a music hall performer, Fifi Lorraine (Renée Adorée), who is also being pursued by a society toff (Owen Moore) known as West End Bertie. He's a thief, too, but in his case love for Fifi proves stronger than larceny. Browning, who also wrote the story (with Waldemar Young), handles this nonsense well. Adorée is charming, and her slightly risqué puppet show is fun, but the only real reason to see this movie is to admire Chaney's unfailing commitment to his considerable art.

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