A magician seeks vengeance upon the man who paralyzed him and the illegitimate daughter he sired with the magician's wife.A magician seeks vengeance upon the man who paralyzed him and the illegitimate daughter he sired with the magician's wife.A magician seeks vengeance upon the man who paralyzed him and the illegitimate daughter he sired with the magician's wife.
It helps that Lon Chaney is starring, however. This is probably what makes it a must-see for me; between just seeing two of his films, this and Phantom of the Opera, he appears to be one of the giants of his time. Maybe even more-so in the case of Zanzibar, one sees Chaney's skills without make-up, with the only gimmick of his "Dead-Legs" not obfuscating what is most interesting about him which is his face and eyes. This man conveys so much without ever, for a second, going too far over the top, at least to how far Browning's melodrama commands. Lionel Barrymore, for the supporting-role time he's on camera, doesn't disappoint either, and character players Mary Nolan and Warner Baxter don't do bad at all, but Chaney just hits it so far out of the park it's without compare in this case.
Playing especially this character, a man with a revenge plot that he has 18 years in the making (sound like that guy in 2009 Star Trek to you?), is a leap of faith, but its one the audience will make since this actor is so determined in this character, invested to the point where we believe how he's a jaded guy, as Doc describes him as despicable and very human at the same time. It's far more complex a character than I would have ever expected going in; the casket he has isn't too shabby, either.
As for Browning fans looking for mood, there's lots of it, especially of the voodoo kind (again, some of it is a little squirm-in-your-seat variety, just in terms of the faces not necessarily the rituals and fire-dances). It's never too laugh-out-loud funny, but it has its moments, like when Maizie's clothes are used for ritual purposes by the tribe-folk. There's also a very sublime touch near the end, perhaps expected in the bittersweet vein but still very satisfying, and I'm sure that was the filmmaker's sensibility all the way. It's a wonderful movie, for fans of the star and director, and if you can see it with a live piano by any chance it's highly recommended.
- Jun 1, 2009