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:
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.
Outstanding work, man. Thanks a lot.