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Reno Nevada Saw LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT'!' What the..'!

Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.

LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT is a notoriously “lost” film. I remember about two years ago, when rumors were fast and furious that someone had found a print of the movie, but nothing ever turned up. When I met Reno Nevada, one of our longtime TalkBackers, in New York this last weekend, he mentioned that he was going to be attending a screening of the film the following day.

Needless to say, I asked him to write to AICN to let us know what the hell that’s all about, and where we might get a peek for ourselves.

Check out what he sent me in response:

Hey Moriarty,

Just wanted to say that I really enjoyed the screenings this past Friday night in NYC and hope to see you guys doing more soon. And now on to what I mentioned to you in the bar, my impressions of Rick Schmidlin's "reconstruction" of the lost silent film LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT.

As you know, the most sought after film of the silent era is Lon Chaney’s collaboration with director Tod Browning’s LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT. Since the only known print was destroyed in a studio vault fire at MGM in the 50s, succeeding generations of film buffs have wondered about the film that has yielded one of the most striking characters of Chaney’s long career- the mysterious top hated man with the wide, wild eyes, mane of shaggy hair and diabolically smiling mouth full of pointed teeth.

Well, now thanks to the effort of film historian Rick Schmidlin, we can at least get an idea of what the film may have looked like. Utilizing some 200 stills, Schmidlin has “reconstructed” the film in a 48 minute presentation (the original ran 62 minutes) that will have its official world premier at an Italian film festival in a couple of weeks. It will also be screened in Los Angeles at the new Motion Picture Academy Theatre on the 25th before airing on Turner Classics Movies on Halloween.

(OK, I know what you’re thinking- How did I get to see this? Well, Schmidlin grew up in my corner of Pennsylvania and he was in the area over the weekend hosting a day long festival screening his restoration work on Von Stroheim’s GREED and Welles’ TOUCH OF EVIL. He brought along LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT as a special treat.)

If you’ve seen the restoration/reconstruction work that Schmidlin did for GREED, then you already have an idea of what to expect from his restoration of LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT. Since no actual film footage is known to exist from the film, the reconstruction is merely a series of stills arranged in story order with inter-titles relating the dialog.

The story is fairly simple. Wealthy London socialite Roger Balfor is found dead and Scotland Yard Inspector Burke (Chaney) is brought in to investigate. Burke is convinced it is suicide (He finds a note, a fell of a detective that Burke) but Balfor’s friend and neighbor Sir James thinks it was foul play.

Cut to five years later. Balfour’s daughter Lucille now lives with Sir James as his ward. Meanwhile, Balfor’s estate has sat abandoned. That is until a rather creepy and suspicious looking man in a top hat rents the property. Lucille is convinced that the new neighbor and his creepy female companion are vampires. Inspector Burke soon arrives and begins to investigate, soon uncover a possible link to the Balfour’s murder from years earlier…

(If this sounds familiar to any of you fans of old films, you may have actually seen this story before. LONDON was remade in 1935 as MARK OF THE VAMPIRE, again directed by Tod Browning but with Lionel Barrymore, Bela Lugosi and Lionel Atwill. TCM will be airing MARK immediately aftre LONDON on Halloween.)

But what it comes down is the question is LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT the true classic that some seem to think it is?

Well, after watching Schmidlin’s reconstruction I still would be hard pressed to give a definitive answer. While this version does give a feel for what they film may have looked like, ultimately it’s the difference between getting a sniff of something that smells delicious while walking past a restaurant and going inside and sitting down to a gourmet meal. The reconstruction gives us a glimpse of what the film would have looked like- there’s numerous more looks at the moody sets of art director Cedric Gibbons, the atmospheric direction of Browning and of course the incredible make up of Chaney.

And until someone does discover a print in some collector’s basement or in a forgotten film vault somewhere this will be as close as we’ll get to discovering how much of a lost classic LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT is.

RENO out.

Outstanding work, man. Thanks a lot.

"Moriarty" out.

Readers Talkback
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  • Oct. 3, 2002, 6:46 a.m. CST

    All this effort

    by GwymWeepa

    All this effort for a film I wouldn't get an once of enjoyment from even if it were found. Well, at least movie buffs can get an idea of what the movie was like.

  • Oct. 3, 2002, 6:57 a.m. CST

    Yeah, I remember reading about this on Movie Poop Shoot a while

    by Cash Bailey

    I'm surprised it never got reported on this site.

  • Oct. 3, 2002, 7:21 a.m. CST


    by workshed

    The stills from this film have lived in my mind as far back as I can remember. CHANEY SNR. WAS THE GREATEST!!!

  • Just to give you some idea of the make-up Chaney devised. His false teeth were fashioned from the jaw of a jackal and a wire device was placed BEHIND his eye sockets to give them that bulging appearance. ps. The Unholy Three is GENIUS.

  • Oct. 3, 2002, 8:15 a.m. CST

    I've seen it a few times

    by NoOpinion

    Grandad usually cranks up the old projector every Halloween and shows this movie London After Midnight. It

  • Oct. 3, 2002, 8:38 a.m. CST

    NoOpinion, that's a crappy thing to say.

    by geekzapoppin

    If your grandfather DOES have a copy of this film, even in 16mm, he's sitting on a goldmine. This is truly one of the most sought after "lost films." I tend to think you just wanted to sound cool. Hate to break it to you, but you come off sounding like a jerk.

  • A collection of stills set in the order of the film, with dialog thrown in? PUHHH-LEEEAAASE, Why doesn't someone take the shooting script (which does exist and is even on the internet), use the stills as a reference, and actually FILM a modern-day remake of it? With modern makeup technology (NOT CGI makeup, fuck that shit) and the right actor (Steve Buscemi perhaps?), they could duplicate Cheney's vampire perfectly.

  • Oct. 3, 2002, 10:50 a.m. CST

    London After Midnight...

    by rev_skarekroe also the name of the world's greatest drag-queen-goth band. sk

  • Oct. 3, 2002, 12:26 p.m. CST

    A smart idea. Good job Reno.

    by Uncapie

    This is the only way the film will be seen as close to its original intention. I'm sure there will be accompanying music and dialogue cards. After all, it was a silent film.

  • Oct. 3, 2002, 1:12 p.m. CST

    Tod Browning Owns Your Ass

    by JustinSane

    ...That's all. "Why, Schlitzie, what's the matter?"

  • Oct. 3, 2002, 1:27 p.m. CST

    London After Midnight

    by MFBlake

    A few corrections..... Rick used over 600 stills from the MGM keybook, which is housed at the Margaret Herrick Library (aka the Academy Library). He also used the original cutting continuity script from the film, as well as the cutting continuity script for the intertitles. By using these materials, he was able to reconstruct as close as possible what the original film looked like. The film has a score by Robert Israel, who also scored Rick's reconstruction of GREED, as well as many other silent films. Chaney DID NOT wear the small, thin wire behind his eye socket, which would be physically impossible and still have his eyesight. For those who want an accurate and detailed description of how he created his makeup, you can find it in my first Chaney book. "London After Midnight" was the highest grossing ($1,004,000) film Chaney-Browning made while at MGM. It was Lon's sixth highest grossing film of the 17 he made at MGM. ("The Monster" was not an MGM production, but a negative pick-up by the studio and does not show up on their ledgers.) According to my records, "London After Midnight" was a 7-reel film, which would give a running time of 70 minutes, give or take a minute. (A 1,000 foot reel ran approx. 10 minutes.) The last known print of the film was housed in Vault 7 at MGM's lot 2 and was destroyed (along with other silent films, including Garbo's "The Devine Woman") in a vault fire around 1965-66. Will we ever find a print of "London After Midnight"? I am always hopeful. I never thought we'd find anything from "Thunder" (Lon's last silent film), but I have approx. 1 minute of footage and the Library of Congress has about 500 feet. (FYI: This footage was used in the Chaney TCM documentary, which will be airing on PBS on Oct. 30.) But we are looking for a film that is now 75 years old. Most nitrate film stock rarely lasts that long before decomposing. It is a race against time, but occasionally we get lucky. About 2 years ago my friend found 3 reels of a 1917 Chaney film ("Triumph"), which included the dark blue tinted intertitle cards, which had been hand-spliced into the film print. So you never know what might turn up.... Michael F. Blake

  • Oct. 3, 2002, 3:19 p.m. CST

    No really Geekzapoppin!

    by NoOpinion

    Well geekzapoppin, not only does he have it on film, he also has a gramaphone record with Lon Chaney talking on it. When you play it alongside the movie it's like a scen specific commentary. The other day when we were breaking the film out for halloween we also found an extra reel with some scenes they never used and a couple of others with Lon Chaney falling over and stuff. Then there's a couple of interviews too. Do you think this might be worth something too? Grandad would be real happy. Well it seems this edition is pretty special then huh? And of course I'm serious here, I mean anyone who'd think I would say this stuff to sound cool must be a little slow.

  • Oct. 3, 2002, 4:12 p.m. CST

    Excellent! Can't wait. Thanks for the heads-up!

    by Son Of Batboy

    I first read about this movie a few years ago after seeing that famous image of Chaney in makeup. For a moment I thought someone had actually uncovered this lost classic. This however is the next best thing. Thanks to everyone who worked hard on putting this together. Last year, Turner Classic Movies showed a bunch of Browning/Chaney collaborations. One of my favorites was THE UNKNOWN costarring a young Joan Crawford. An incredible film. I'm definitely gonna check out all of these films this Halloween. BTW, does anyone know if 16mm prints of LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT were actually made? If so, you'd think one would have surfaced by now.

  • Oct. 3, 2002, 6 p.m. CST

    To my well wishers...

    by RenoNevada2000

    Thanks! After a crappy week a couple of nice pats on the back really hit the spot!

  • Oct. 3, 2002, 6:11 p.m. CST


    by RenoNevada2000

    The figure of 200 stills comes from asking Rick himself after the screening. Of course, at the time there were several people there all firing questions at him so he may have made a mistake. However, the 200 figure has also been substaniated on TCM's website. I myself take responsiblity for flubbing the year, hell the decade, of the vault fire. Thanks for adding the info about the score and the fact that Rick used the original cutting continuity script for his recreation. And Chaney fans take note- some of the pictures of him in make up are so close up you can actually see the wire he used to get his eyes looking the way they do!

  • Oct. 3, 2002, 6:13 p.m. CST

    LA geeks may be able to see it on Oct 25-

    by RenoNevada2000

    Rick Schmidlin mentioned that it will be screened at the Academy's new theater in Hollywood. At that time, the theater will offically be named the Roddy McDowell Theatre as he was reportedly a big Chaney fan and had longed to see LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT.

  • Oct. 3, 2002, 6:14 p.m. CST

    One last thing-

    by RenoNevada2000

    Whenever any of my friends wonder why I watch silent films, I just sit them down and make them watch THE UNKNOWN, one of the all time creepiest films ever made.

  • Oct. 4, 2002, 3:07 a.m. CST

    MFBlake, you rock

    by Jopapa

    Good to see someone who REALLY knows their shit about what went down with LAM and Chaney's makeup. I'd LOVE to have a costume like his this Halloween...

  • Oct. 4, 2002, 8:34 a.m. CST

    He sure does!!!

    by workshed

    Kudos to 'THE MAN'. Harry, at last, someone who knows his stuff. I think MFBLAKE needs a place on the AICN staff immediately.

  • Oct. 5, 2002, 6:01 a.m. CST

    london after midnight

    by gavotnik

    i used to see the stills from this film in "famous monsters of filmland" when i was a kid. they always looked very spooky. hope to see whats left of the film one day