While a lot of people will be posting little April Fools jokes throughout the day, I thought I’d rather spend the time talking about one of the greatest actors that has ever graced the silver screen, who just happened to be born on this day, 139 years ago. His name is Lon Chaney. And I say is because thanks to those wonderful people that have worked on keeping films restored and alive over the years, we can still watch and enjoy, and be amazed at the performances that Chaney gave in his films, meaning he is still with us!
When I first started to really get into horror films, I already knew who the characters of Phantom of the Opera and the Hunchback of Notre Dame was, from photos in my early movie books, to all the parodies or nods to of those characters in so many other films. But the more I read about Chaney, seeing all of these different characters that he turned himself into, even though most of these films weren’t horror films, I was still blown away by his talent of transformation. Then you read of some of the torturous things he would do to himself or put himself through for these characters (while for years some of those tales were slight over exaggerated), it just impressed me even more.
While on my never-ending search for a multitude of different horror films, I was always on the lookout for any of Chaney’s films on VHS that I hadn’t see or have a copy of my own. There used to be a movie memorabilia store in Chicago called Metro Goldwyn Memories, that rented old films on VHS. I found they had a few of Chaney’s titles, like Flesh and Blood (1922) and Outside the Law (1920) and would drive over an hour into the city to rent them, come back home and dupe them, and then drive back the next day to return them. Yes folks, that is some of the stuff us older fans had to go through to see certain films! But I gladly did it, just so I could see Chaney at work.
Now as a horror fan, I really hope that you’ve watched the original The Phantom of the Opera (1925) and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) that Chaney appeared in because they are the foundation, or stepping stones of the genre, and really should be required viewing. And if you haven’t, consider that you’re first bit of homework! However, I would also recommend checking out some of his other titles that are available, that, while some may not be straight out horror, they do have a darker element to them, especially The Unknown (1927), directed by Tod Browning and starring a young Joan Crawford. Just watch the look of Chaney’s face at the end of the film to see true horror!
That is one of the greatest things about cinema, the discovery of a film, no matter when it was made, that can still entrance and entertain audiences today. Let’s keep that thrill and excitement alive.
And thank you, Mr. Chaney, for continuing to inspire and entertain fans for over a century.