Hollywood Gothique
LA Cinema Gothique

Lon Chaney Festival & Article

Event Date & Time: Lon Chaney/Tod Browning: The Unholy Two – Film Festival
Location: James Bridges Theatre in Melnitz Hall on the UCLA campus, near the intersection of Sunset Blvd and Hilgard Avenue

At the Los Angeles Times, Kenneth Turan has an article about the legacy of Lon Chaney, entitled “The Most Fiendish Face in Movies,” which was written to tie in with the UCLA Film & Televsion Archives’ festiva, “Lon Chaney/Tod Browning: The Unholy Two.”

Chaney was a silent film star who became famous for playing grotesque characters, often utilizing elaborate makeup that he himself created. Perphas his most famous roles were as the Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1923 and the Phantom of the Opera in 1925. Because of this, he has retroactively become known as a horror star, although that term did not in fact exist in his lifetime.

Tod Browning was the director who helmed many of Chaney’s best films (though not HUNCHBACK or PHANTOM). When DRACULA was a big hit on the Broadway stage, he concocted a rip-off called LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT as a vehicle for Chaney. Later, Univeral Pictures had bought the rights to the play, hoping to cast Chaney as Dracula, but the actor’s death from throat cancer at the age. Browning went on to direct the film with Bela Lugos as the Count, which launched the first wave of American horror films.

The Turan article is not bad by the LA Times standard of film criticism, but Turan does make the absurd mistake of claiming that Chaney is “sui generis, without descendants, a star unlike any other before or since.”

This broad statement ignores that Universal Pictures spent the next two decades presenting actors as the “new Lon Chaney.” First, there was Lugosi, who replaced Chaney in DRACULA. Then there was Boris Karloff, who took the mantle when he played beneath ghastly makeups in FRANKENSTEIN and THE MUMMY. And of course, Chaney’s son Creighton eventually changed his name to Lon Chaney, Junior, and played a series of monsters in heavy makeups in the 1940s.

Of course, we can debate about whether any of these actors really filled the elder Chaney’s shoes. Chaney, Junior certainly never did, and Lugosi, with his suave Continental air was another species entirely; Karloff, however, really did manage something similar, playing working class rogues who nevertheless exuded a human element that evoked sympathy.

The UCLA film festival, which runs through March 12, includes such titles as THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, WEST OF ZANZIBAR, and THE UNHOLY THREE. You can call (310) 206-FILM for showtimes.