20 February 2004 | BobLib
Chaney and cast deliver in the first MGM film
Bravo to Turner Classic Movies for making available, once again, the cinematic art of one of the best actors ever, Lon Chaney. As Andreyev's disappointed scientist turned circus clown, Paul Beaumont, Chaney makes the most of every scene he's in, and never disappoints. We feel the agony of his hopeless love for the lovely bareback rider Consuelo, as well as the seething anger toward the man who ruined his life, the despicable Baron Renard. It's a far better performance, in my opinion, than his similar role four years later in "Laugh, Clown, Laugh," much more understated and, therefore, much more involving.
But that's not to take away from the other performances, by any means. Norma Shearer, in her first major role as Consuelo, is suitably attractive and gives a good performance, but to see her at her best is to see such '30's classics as "A Free Soul" and especially "Marie Antoinette." There, she was a mature actress; here, she was a promising newcomer. John Gilbert already shows that he had the goods to become one of the top leading men of the '20's, managing to convey virility even in multicolored tights. And Marc McDermott and old veteran Tully Marshall make two of the best silent villains ever as the aforementioned Baron and as Consuelo's father, an impoverished nobleman ready to force his daughter into marrying the Baron just to improve his fortunes, respectively. You're genuinely glad, at an almost visceral level, when they wind up getting what they deserve in the end.
I don't know who composed the music score used in the print seen on TCM, but it's excellent and really compliments the action.
Victor Seastrom's moody direction is perfect, especially his use of a globe-spinning clown to serve as sort of a Greek chorus at various points in the film.
In short, this is a true silent classic, silent film making at its' best, and well worth seeing.