7 June 2006 | zpzjones
One of Chaney Sr's Few Supernatural Horror Films
Pity!, that A BLIND BARGAIN is a lost film. A text reconstruction was published in 1988 by Philip Riley with help from legendary horror aficionado Forrest Ackerman. Their book uses a multitude of still pictures that survived from the production and at least arranges the story in a manner that is close to the shooting schedule. This book is a similar reconstruction that Riley & Ackerman did with the lost London AFTER MIDNIGHT(1927).
ABB is one of the few Lon Chaney Sr movies/stories that can be classified as horror in the 'supernatural' sense that we know it today. His horror reputation has come down through the years due to fantastic makeups in films like Phantom of the Opera, Hunchback of Notre Dame & London After Midnight. All great make-ups. But most of Chaney's classic silent movies centered around deformed people, emphasized make-ups or criminal melodrama. At the time this was very groundbreaking stuff in movies and bad behavior and criminal machinations was considered horrific enough to most adult movie goers who had been raised in the 19th century. Supernatural horror had only been explored in movies sporadically in primitive 1-2 reel versions of Frankenstein & Dr Jekyll/Mr Hyde. ABB, judging from Riley's synopsis is about a scientist, Dr Lamb(Chaney Sr), who experiments in his lab blending human & simian aspects into his nimble assistant(also Chaney Sr in dual roles). From what one can decipher of where the story goes, the simian experiments using the assistant go awry and out-of-control. From here the story starts to look familiar to the Dr Jekyll story and it also curiously has a bit in common with Lon Chaney Jr's THE WOLFMAN made 20 years later. Riley's book has some very good stills of Chaney Sr during the course of production on ABB and some fascinating shots of Chaney Sr in various stages of makeup showing the human-on-the-way-to-simian stages of the haywire experiments. Like Dr Jekyll & Frankenstein & Wolfman & The Fly this shows a human blending into something other than human giving credence to the supernatural. THE Vampire in London AFTER MIDNIGHT was a faux paux, meaning he was not a real vampire, he was used by a very human & crafty detective to leaven a story thus rendering him non-supernatural. Chaney's makeup as the vampire is very horrific and has erroneously been linked to supernatural by some. The experiments in ABB are quite of the supernatural as we expect them today.
This was the third or fourth time Lon Chaney Sr worked with his friend director Wallace Worsley. They had made the excellent THE PENALTY in 1920 and were a year away from making HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME(actually begun in 1922). Personally I don't think Worsley was good at directing big super productions like HUNCHBACK but he was excellent at smaller more intimate Chaney pictures like THE PENALTY, ACE OF HEARTS & VOICES OF THE CITY. The great cinematographer, Norbert Brodine, was a young up-and-coming cameraman then and ABB is one of his earliest assignments working with Chaney & Worsley. Towards the end of his life Brodine provided some insight into the making of this movie by reminiscing about the production. Hopefully a copy of ABB will resurface somewhere, in some country. Keep those fingers crossed.