Lon Chaney: The Warner Archives Classics Collection [6 Discs] [DVD]

"Man of a Thousand Faces" Lon Chaney not only created some of the most terrifying monsters ever seen on the silver screen, but he was also an actor of extraordinary discipline and extreme sensitivity to the sometimes grotesque side of the human condition. Now, his one-of-a-kind oeuvre can be seen in this 6-movie collection from Warner Brothers, including He Who Gets Slapped, Mockery, The Monster, Mr. Wu and The Unholy Three, as well as the talkie version The Unholy 3, which proved to be Chaney's final role.
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Overview

Synopsis

Mockery
One of the rare American films directed by Danish auteur Benjamin Christensen, Mockery stars Lon Chaney Sr. as a half-witted Russian peasant. On the verge of starvation, Chaney is hired to guide a beautiful countess (Barbara Bedford) through the treacherous Siberian wastes. Once he arrives at the countess' home territory, Chaney is swept up by the Bolshevik movement. He comes to despise the aristocracy in general and the countess in particular, but the young woman's kindness towards him weakens his revolutionary resolve. Long thought lost, Mockery was rediscovered and preserved in the mid-1970s; the film was based on a story by Stig Esbern. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Unholy Three
A remake of the 1925 Lon Chaney melodrama of the same name, 1930's The Unholy Three makes several concessions to the newly strengthened Hollywood censors, but is still quite entertaining in a macabre sort of way. Chaney reprises his role as Professor Echo, a sideshow ventriloquist who moonlights as a master criminal. Convincingly disguised as a little old lady, Echo stage-manages a series of Park Avenue robberies -- with two of his carnival cohorts, malevolent midget Tweedledee (Harry Earles) and moronic strongman Hercules (Ivan Linow), doing most of the dirty work. Echo's sweetheart Rosie (Lila Lee) plays along with the Unholy Three but changes her mind when their latest burglary, which ended in murder, threatens to send the wholly innocent Hector (Elliot Nugent) to the electric chair. His resolve weakened by Rosie's pleas, Echo contrives to clear Hector in court through a clever vocal trick -- while his two confederates, in true "thieves fall out" fashion, bring about their own gruesome deaths. The Unholy Three creaks a bit at times, and the unintelligibility of Harry Earles often obscures important plot points, but the film is indispensable as the only talkie appearance of Lon Chaney, "The Man of a Thousand Faces," who died only two months after its release. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Monster
It's hard to tell at times whether director Roland West was aiming for laughs or thrills in The Monster, but this ambivalence is all part of the fun. Hallam Cooley and Johnny Arthur, two dumb clerks in Gertrude Olmstead's small-town general store, try to impress Olmstead by joining the sheriff's investigation of a rash of disappearances. The two heroes and heroine discover that a local lunatic asylum has been taken over by mad scientist Lon Chaney, who lures victims into his lair by arranging automobile accidents (it's the old mirror-on-the-highway trick again). Chaney straps poor Olmstead to the operating table, preparing to transform her "immortal soul" to the body of one of his monstrous creations, but Coolley and Arthur come to her rescue. The Monster was based on a play by Crane Wilbur, with a dash of Poe's "Dr. Tarr and Professor Fether" tossed in. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

He Who Gets Slapped
This compelling and exceptionally well-executed silent drama, from new MGM studio executives Irving Thalburg and producer Louis B. Mayer is based on a highly-regarded Russian play and features the studio's biggest stars, Lon Chaney, John Gilbert and Norma Shearer. Directed by noted Swedish filmmmaker Victor Sjostrom, it is the story of a scientific genius who is humiliated by his philandering wife and a major career set-back. To express his pain, bitterness and anger he becomes a circus clown who seems to enjoy the frequently cruel slapstick antics of his new colleagues. While in the circus, he finds a chance at renewal when he falls for a lovely bareback rider. But will he at last find happiness? Or will tragedy continue to be his closest companion? ~ Sandra Brennan, Rovi

Mr. Wu
Previously filmed in England in 1919, the barnstorming Harry Maurice Vernon-Harold Owen play Mr.Wu re-emerged as a Lon Chaney Sr. vehicle in 1927. Chaney essays a dual role, as the titular Wu and Wu's honorable grandfather. After a lengthy prologue, it is established that Wu is a powerful, ruthless Chinese aristocrat who will stop at nothing to defend his daughter Nang Ping's (Renee Adoree) honor. When Nang Ping is seduced and abandoned by wealthy Briton Basil Gregory (Ralph Forbes), Wu begins plotting a horrible revenge, beginning with the killing of his own daughter (who goes to her fate with stoic resignation). He then captures Gregory's mother (Louise Dresser) and sister (Gertrude Olmstead), then forces Basil to watch as he prepares to subject the two women to unspeakable tortures. Wu is ultimately killed by Basil's mother, bringing this bizarre exercise in chinoiserie to a grim conclusion. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Unholy Three
Although Lon Chaney and director Tod Browning had made a couple of films together earlier in their careers, this unique melodrama marked the beginning of a string of chilling, macabre silent films, which included West of Zanzibar, The Unknown, and The Black Bird. Chaney is Echo, a sideshow ventriloquist. He cooks up a scam with two other members of the sideshow -- Hercules, the strong man (Victor McLaglen), and Tweedledee, a midget (Harry Earles). The three of them open up a bird store full of parrots that have impressive vocabularies -- but only when Echo, dressed as proprietress Granny O'Grady, is around. When the buyer takes the bird home and it won't talk, Granny comes around with a baby (Tweedledee in swaddling clothes). While "Granny" (using his powers of ventriloquism) coaxes the parrot into speaking, the midget cases the joint to see if there's anything worth robbing later. Trouble comes when they hire Hector, a simple soul (Matt Moore), as a clerk. Echo's pickpocket sweetheart, Rosie (Mae Busch) falls in love with him. Meanwhile, Hercules and Tweedledee murder a man while they're in the midst of one of their robberies. Hector is arrested for the crime while the others flee. To save Hector, Rosie finally agrees to give him up if Echo saves him. By throwing his voice, Echo makes Hector appear to give testimony which frees him. When Rosie goes to Echo, however, he sends her back to Hector, while he returns to the side show. His two cohorts meet their end when they run afoul of Echo's pet gorilla. This hugely successful film was remade as Chaney's first -- and last -- talkie. Harry Earles (who might also be remembered from his starring role in Freaks) reprises his role as Tweedledee. ~ Janiss Garza, Rovi

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