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The Forgotten: Mr. Monster

Lon Chaney didn't speak during early childhood, as his parents were deaf and mute, and he communicated with them via sign language. When silent movies came along, he was a natural. And at the end of his life, stricken with throat cancer, he lost his voice and again relied on pantomime to make himself understood. He came from silence and went back to silence.

Chaney was a unique kind of movie star, in that his success rested more on variety than reliability: if his audiences had any expectations going into a Chaney film, surely they must have been expectations of surprise, perhaps of an encounter with the unfamiliar and bizarre.

Outside the Law (1920) was Chaney's second film for director Tod Browning, whose concerns seemed to merge with his own in a particularly conducive way: separately and apart, both men pursued stories of humiliation, disfigurement, and revenge, featuring bizarre, displaced menageries and elaborate and uncomfortable disguises.

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