Released 12/3/27 by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer; Director: Tod Browning; Assistant Director: Harry Sharrock; Screenplay: Waldemar Young, from The Hypnotist by Tod Browning; Cinematography: Merritt B. Gerstad; Film Editor: Harry Reynolds; Titles: Joe Farnham; Settings: Cedric Gibbons and Arnold Gillespie; Wardrobe: Lucia Coulter; 6 reels (5692')
CAST: Lon Chaney (Inspector Burke/The Vampire), Marceline Day (Lucille Balfour), Henry B. Walthall (Sir James Hamlin), Percy Williams (Williams, the Butler), Conrad Nagel (Arthur Hibbs), Polly Moran (Miss Smithson), Edna Tichenor (Luna, the Bat Girl), Claude King (The Stranger), Jules Cowles (Chauffeur), Andy McLennan (Detective)
SYNOPSIS: Roger Balfour is found murdered in his London home. Inspector Burke of Scotland Yard is on hand to interrogate everyone in the house: the Butler, Sir James Hamlin, and his nephew Arthur Hibbs. Burke finds a suicide note from Balfour and the case is closed. Five years pass, and the vacant house is again to have tenants. Miss Smithson, the new maid, and Thomas, the groom, are arriving to open the house when they see a light in the window. Two eerie creatures, a man with sharp pointed teeth, and a woman with a ghost- like face, creep through the house and into the yard, frightening the maid and groom away. On the adjoining estate, Sir James hears Miss Smithson swear that she saw vampires in the Balfour house. Inspector Burke arrives and is staying as Sir James' house guest. Sir James is convinced that Balfour was murdered, and that the strange creatures in the house are linked to his death. Lucille Balfour, Balfour's daughter, is living with Sir James, and swears that she has heard her father's voice in the garden. Burke and Sir James enter the tomb where Balfour was buried and find it empty! Smithson screams from upstairs, and swears that a vampire appeared in Lucille's room and terrorized her. Arthur is in love with Lucille, and promises to protect her. Burke tells Lucille that he is convinced that her father was murdered, and asks her to do whatever he tells her so that he may catch the killer. That night, strange sounds and lights emanate from the Balfour house. Burke and Sir James investigate, and find Roger Balfour alive in the house. Later, Burke puts Hibbs in a trance and takes him back to the night of the murder. That night, a hooded figure enters Hibbs' room, but Burke is in the bed, draws his gun and fires, but the creature escapes. Burke finds a blood stain and knows that he hit the intruder. Hibbs awakens from his trance, and walking down to Lucille's room, he finds the room ransacked and Lucille missing. Luna, the mysterious woman, leads Lucille to the Balfour house where she sees the vampire. Burke sends Sir James to the Balfour house while Hibbs tries to rescue Lucille, but is restrained by Burke's men. Sir James arrives and comes face to face with the vampire, who hypnotizes him into a deep trance. Sir James enters the house to find Lucille and Roger Balfour, in reality a stranger disguised as Balfour. The vampire takes off his disguise, revealing himself to be Burke. He tells Smithson, a detective working with him, that a criminal will re-enact a crime while under hypnosis. Sir James tells Balfour that he hopes to marry Lucille, but Balfour says he will never agree to that. Sir James leaves, but sneaks back into the room, forces Balfour to write a suicide note, then shoots him. Burke steps in, takes Sir James out of his trance, and arrests him. He finds a bandage on Sir James' arm from where he wounded him the night before. Out in the hall, Luna's assistant is packing a bag that says "Luna, the Flying Bat Girl," and she says "Aw, stop kicking! We got more for doing this than we'd earn in a month at the theatre!" Hibbs escapes from the closet where he was held, and learns that the entire plot has been engineered by Hibbs to catch Sir James. Lucy kisses Burke on the cheek as he leaves.
"It is a somewhat incoherent narrative, which, however, gives Lon Chaney an opportunity to turn up in an uncanny disguise and also to manifest his powers as Scotland Yard's expert hypnotist. You are therefore treated to close-ups of Mr. Chaney's rolling orbs, which, fortunately, do not exert their influence on the audience." ---The New York Times
"There are moments during the onward sweep of this Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer offering when one feels that the essentials that make for mystery and creepiness have been carried a bit further than we have hitherto noted...Mr. Chaney's excellent work is materially aided by that grand master of screen acting, Mr. Walthall." ---Moving Picture World
"Will add nothing to Chaney's prestige as a trouper, nor increase the star's box office value. With Chaney's name in lights, however, this picture, any picture with Chaney, means a strong box office draw. Young, Browning and Chaney have made a good combination in the past but the story on which this production is based is not of the quality that results in broken house records." ---Variety
NOTES: LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT is a lost film, perhaps the most famous of all missing films, and it has become the Holy Grail of archivists and film collectors throughout the world. The last known record of the film existing was in the mid-1950's. Film historians William K. Everson and David Bradley both saw the film in the early 1950's, and an MGM vault inventory from 1955 shows the print being stored in Vault #7. A fire in Vault 7 in the 1960s appears to have destroyed the last surviving print. With all the publicity the missing film has received, it is doubtful that it resides in a foreign archive. The film was never sold to independent distributors, nor were the rights sold to another studio for a remake, so prints of the film would not have been available to anyone outside of MGM. Unlike many independent distributors, the studio was very diligent about collecting prints after the completion of their print run, making it unlikely that a retired projectionist has a copy hiding in his attic. Still, films have a habit of turning up in peculiar places and one can always be hopeful. The copyright on the film will expire in 2022 (recently changed from 2002 due to the Copyright Extension Act), and if a private collector is sitting on a print, it may surface then.
Despite all the mythology and excitement over the film, all indications are that it would be a disappointment if uncovered today. Both Everson and Bradley admit that the film was inferior to Browning's 1935 talkie remake THE MARK OF THE VAMPIRE that starred Bela Lugosi and Lionel Barrymore sharing the dual role played by Chaney. The critics of the time were likewise lukewarm, and even Chaney's performance got less than the usual enthusiastic reviews. The eerie Cedric Gibbons-Arnold Gillespie sets, and Chaney's stunning vampire make-up, make for intriguing still photographs, but these scenes account for only a small portion of the film, the rest of the footage being devoted to Polly Moran's comic relief, and talkie passages between detective Chaney and Walthall. Perhaps it is a film that is viewed with more reverence that it deserves simply because it is no longer available for study.
The film was shot in an amazing 24 days, for only $152,000...the shortest schedule and the lowest budget of any of Chaney's MGM films. Foreign bookings of the picture were below average, but domestic sales ($721,000) were quite high, putting it near the top of MGM's 1927-28 hit parade, just behind WHITE SHADOWS IN THE SOUTH SEAS, THE COSSACKS, and THE STUDENT PRINCE IN OLD HEIDELBERG. As a result, the film earned a hefty $540,000 profit for the studio, one of the top figures for any of Chaney's films.
Those interested in reading the definitive work on LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT are referred to London After Midnight by Philip J. Riley (Cornwall Books), a detailed reconstruction of the film with extensive production notes.
© 1997,2008 Jon C. Mirsalis
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