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(Review originally written at 3 February 2007)

"London After Midnight" is perhaps the most sought after movie, that is presumed lost. The only remaining print of it was destroyed in a fire in the late '60's. I tend to say no. Remaining still existing pictures of Lon Chaney in full make-up effect added to the hype of this movie and also the fact that this Tod Browning movie features vampires, 4 years before he made the horror-classic "Dracula", starring Bela Lugosi. In 2002 a reconstruction, made from still photographs of the 1927 was made and aired on TCM. It's an attempt to retell the story and show how the movie must have been like, also with the help of persons who had actually seen the 1927 movie at the time of its release. It's an interesting experiment and attempt to reconstruct a lost movie, though it of course doesn't work out as good as the moving images would had.

The movie purely consists out of photographs. It makes the sequence feel rather limited in terms of its mood, acting and overall storytelling. It's a flat and far from engaging way of film-making, that is not always easy to watch. I mean, you can just as good read a paper version of this movie with pictures in it and let your own imagination do the work. It perhaps would work out way better than this movie eventually did.

The movie features a whole lot of characters that don't get properly introduced (but then again, how could they). It makes the movie confusing and also from an engaging one to watch.

The story and its plot really don't work out because of the way of storytelling. The movie is more of a murder-mystery than a horror-movie, like you perhaps would expect from persons like director Tod Browning and actor Lon Chaney. I suggest that if you want to understand the story, you watch "Mark of the Vampire". A 1935 sort of remake of this movie, also directed by Tod Browning and starring Lionel Barrymore and Bela Lugosi.

But was the 'real' "London After Midnight" really a great classic movie? I tend to say no. At the rime of its release the movie already got mixed reactions from the critics, though the movie still was the highest grossing Tod Browning/Lon Chaney movie.

The story was too weak and messy to make this a classic must-see. It isn't a very intriguing story and the movie misses tension, a good solid main plot and likable main characters. But of course it's impossible to say this with a 100% certainty, since I haven't seen the 'real' moving full length version of this movie, for the obvious reason.

It really looked like Lon Chaney's presence uplifted the movie though, both with his looks and performance. He looked genuine creepy in his role, with some great make-up effects and mimics from 'the man of a thousand faces'. It's the reason why this movie is still probably better than the average one from the same genre, especially for 1927 standards. Also Edna Tichenor as Luna the Bat Girl looked impressive in her role.

The sets looked good and it must had given the movie a real good and creepy kind of atmosphere, I assume. Like mentioned before, the make-up effects also looked really convincing and are now part of the movie its legacy and status among movie lovers.

This movie forms a good enough alternative to still be able to watch this lost 1927 movie from legendary director Tod Browning and actor Lon Chaney, until the real movie shows up again somewhere, though this isn't very likely to ever happen.

7/10

About Frank Veenstra

Watches movies...writes about them...and that's it for now.
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