The masterful Lon Chaney stars in these two classic silent films. "Outside the Law" (1920, 75 min.) - In this early collaboration with director Tod Browning (Dracula, Freaks), Chaney delivers a dual performance of dramatic... more » intensity, starring as Ah Wing, a kind-hearted student of Confucian philosophy, and Black Mike Sylva, a murderous rake of the San Francisco underworld. Like night and day, Ah Wing and Sylva are physical representations of the opposing factions of light and dark that weigh upon the moral conscience of the film's protagonist, Molly Madden (Priscilla Dean), who must choose between lives of crime and domesticity. "Shadows" (1922, 68 min.) - In one of the most challenging performances of his illustrious career, Chaney stars as a Chinese laundryman caught in a web of small-town jealousy and extortion. Both films features new orchestral scores.« less
Mr Peter G George | Ellon, Aberdeenshire United Kingdom | 02/27/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I have now seen 10 of Lon Chaney's films and I would say that they are nearly all enjoyable. The Phantom of the Opera and The Hunchback of Notre Dame are masterpieces, the rest vary in quality, but Chaney's varied performances always make them interesting. The two films on this DVD are relatively minor works. Strangely, the one by the more famous director Tod Browning, Outside the Law, is the lesser of the two. This is, in part, because it is not really a Chaney feature at all. He plays two roles, one a sympathetic Asian character, the other an evil criminal out to destroy the leading characters. This is the problem, for Chaney's supporting characters disappear for long stretches of the film. The main story is thus a rather dull affair about two somewhat colourless lovers trying to go straight and return the jewels they have stolen. The film only really comes alive with Chaney. The biggest difficulty with this film however, is the print quality. It is a black and white print which, for the most part is fine, but towards the end there is some serious damage, so much so that at times the picture all but disappears. There are furthermore some frames missing so that sometimes the story jumps rather abruptly. The second film on this DVD, Shadows, is much better. The story is interesting and keeps the viewer guessing, so it is best not to read any synopses before hand. Chaney has a major role as a Chinese laundry man and shows how he could contort his body and face into a role. Some people might have a problem with the titles attempting to imitate his speech patterns. But it must be remembered that it was typical of silent films to try to portray visually the differences in the way people speak. The same happens, in other films, with French or Cockney characters and was not considered to be derogatory. The print of this film is fine. It is a sepia tinted and for the most part free from damage. Again there are a few frames missing, but these do not affect the story continuity. I would recommend this DVD for Shadows alone, the fact that it includes Outside the Law as well makes it good value indeed."
Chaney Shines In Another Groundbreaking Role
email@example.com | Arizona, USA | 04/04/1999
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This film packs more of a punch than I assume it did when it was first released. In the film, Lon Chaney plays a Chinese laundry man, who literally washes ashore during a violent storm. The (mostly white) community at first looks upon this outsider with distrust, but eventually somes to see the error of their ways. Of note: this is the FIRST portrayal of a Chinese character in a favorable role in Hollywood history. They were previously shown as opium smoking layabouts, dealing in white slavery. Lon had to fight the studio, who thought the public wouldn't accept this!"
One average feature, one very good one
Anyechka | Rensselaer, NY United States | 01/16/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"'Outside the Law' (1920), which was directed by Lon Chaney's favorite director, Tod Browning, is rather typical of the features Lon made pre-1923, when he became a big star in his own right. Though he had achieved fame in 1919, it was as a character actor, not really so much a starring actor just yet. Here he plays a dual role as secondary characters Ah Wing, a good guy, and Black Mike Sylva, a really nasty crime lord of the San Francisco underworld. The true main characters of this film are Priscilla Dean (at the time Universal's top female star) and Wheeler Oakman as Molly Madden and her boyfriend Bill Ballard. Black Mike frames Molly's father for murder, and while he's in jail, Molly is tipped off by Bill that Mike is planning to double-cross her in another crime he's plotting. She and Bill in turn double-cross Mike, and hide out in an apartment with the jewels they stole, constantly afraid the police (or, worse yet, Mike and his cronies) are going to discover their whereabouts. Meanwhile Chang Lo, a wise Confucian friend of Mr. Madden's, warns the police that even though he's innocent, he's going to emerge from jail with murder in his heart because of the injustice that was done to him (in line with how the film opens with a quote from Confucius, "If a country had none but good rulers for a hundred years, crime might be stamped out and the death penalty abolished"). He also predicts that Molly and Bill will voluntarily turn themselves in and hand over the jewels to the police, so there will be no need to hunt them down like animals and arrest them. Most of the film centers on Bill and Molly's increasingly cramped existence in hiding and their attempts to go straight, influenced by a little boy who lives across the way. Things don't really start getting exciting and fast-paced till Lon's evil character shows up again, culminating in a lot of great fight scenes. Unfortunately, these last two reels or so show a lot of deterioration in some of the frames, but not so much so that we ever miss anything really exciting.
'Shadows' (1922) is the superior of the two films. Lon plays Yen Sin, a Chinese laundryman who is one of a handful of survivors of a shipwreck that lands in the small fishing village of Urkey. Although the Chinese characters in the average film of this era were routinely portrayed even more offensively than African-American characters, Yen Sin is a very sympathetic character, a good guy, with none of the usual Sinophobia typical of this period. Though most of the locals don't want anything to do with him because he's not only foreign but not a Christian, he does find love and friendship with one of the local boys, and with Sympathy Gibbs and the young new minister John Malden (the original Harrison Ford), who quickly get married. They don't treat him like he's a "heathen" who should be avoided and feared, but as a human being who deserves respect and humane treatment as much as any other person in the town. (Although why did his character have to walk around hunched over like that, the way Richard Barthelmess also does in 'Broken Blossoms'? Was this some sort of convention used by white actors playing Chinese characters in this era?) Trouble in paradise emerges when Rev. Malden is away on business and receives a letter purporting to be from Daniel Griggs (the excellent character actor Walter Long), Sympathy's first husband (whom she despised), whom everyone had believed to have perished in the shipwreck. With the help of his fellow-reverend Nate Snow, Rev. Malden starts paying off Griggs, all while unaware that Snow is the one really blackmailing him because he's always had feelings for Sympathy. Ultimately, it is Yen Sin who teaches all of the townspeople a very valuable lesson about the true nature of faith, tolerance, and forgiveness. While ordinarily I find the premise that everyone needs to be converted to Christianity and that people are better off that way morally offensive and severely outdated, that theme is handled a bit more sensitively here than it usually is. It's certainly a more enlightened and progressive approach to the subject than in, say, a story from the Middle Ages. At least here Rev. Malden is trying to convert Yen Sin through love and setting a good example, not through telling him he's doomed and that his own religion is wicked, diabolical, and wrong.
Overall, this is ultimately a pretty good disc, in spite of the uneven first feature on it. Even in Lon's earlier films, he always had a commanding presence and played all of these characters so well, be they good or evil characters. While it might not be something I'd highly recommend to someone just getting into silents or Lon's films in general, it is a real treat for people who are more than just casual fans."
Lon Chaney's silent film about Yen Sin, "The Heathen"
Lawrance M. Bernabo | The Zenith City, Duluth, Minnesota | 11/04/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Lon Chaney's performance in "Shadows" is really the only thing that makes this 1922 silent film worth preserving. Chaney plays Yen Sin, known as "The Heathen." Set in in the sea side fishing town of Urkey, the story focuses on Sympathy Gibbs (Marguerite De La Motte), who marries Daniel Gibbs (Walter Long), a violent seaman who supposedly dies at sea. She then marries the new parson, the Reverend John Malden (Harrison Ford). However, Sympathy has also caught the eye of the rich man in town, Nate Snow (John St. Polis). After the Maldens celebrate the birth of a daughter, the Reverend is told that his wife's first husband is still alive, and is blackmailed with the information, which leads him to reject his wife's bed. Directed by Tom Forman (who would commit suicide in 1926 when suffering from an illness), "Shadows" was scripted by Hope Loring and Eve Unsell from the Wilbur Daniel Steele story, "Ching, Ching, Chinaman." Yen Sin is a Chinese laundryman, who came to town after he was washed ashore in the wake of the same shipwreck that killed Daniel Gibbs. Having put up with the prejudice of this community that prides itself on its Christian piety, he learns of the blackmail plot. The idea of the title is that he can no longer hide in the shadows, which puts him on a collision course with the ironically named Mr. Snow. The irony, of course, is that Yen Sin is the most Christian soul in Urkey. There is even a deathbed conversion just to set everything to rights in the end. Chaney plays a relatively minor but pivotal role in the proceedings, which is rather odd given he is the star of "Shadows." His make up is pretty good, which is what you would expect from the legendary "Man of a Thousand Faces." This is not a classic Chaney film, being an overblown melodrama once you get away from Chaney's understated performance. If you are interested in getting beyond the obvious classic Chaney performances in "Phantom of the Opera" and "Hunchback of Notre Dame," then you should check out "Unholy 3," "The Unknown" or "He Who Gets Slapped" before you get around to second level Chaney films like "Shadows.""
Yen Sin and other sins
Annie Van Auken | Planet Earth | 08/25/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Born Leonidas Frank Chaney in 1883, Lon Chaney was one of the genuine superstars of silent cinema.
Both of his parents were deaf, so Chaney learned early on how to pantomime-- it was a skill that served him well in the pre-sound movie era. He went on the stage in 1902, toured vaudeville beginning in 1905 and acted in his first film in 1912. Chaney was a master of disguise, as so many of his movies illustrate. He appeared in 162 photoplays; the last of these, THE UNHOLY THREE (his only talkie), was released the year of Chaney's death, 1930.
In SHADOWS (1922), "The Man of a Thousand Faces" portrays Yen Sin, a Chinese cook who washes ashore at the New England fishing village of Urkey after his ship sinks. The locals consider him an undesirable heathen, but Yen Sin chooses to stay among them despite their rejection. He lives on a houseboat and becomes a laundryman.
A minister named John Malden comes to town, befriends Yen Sin and tries to convert him to Christianity. Malden marries a widow (Sympathy), which earns him the wrath of the wealthiest man in town, Nate Snow who also loves the lady. Snow interferes in their marriage by sending anonymous letters to the preacher claiming Mrs. Malden's first husband is still alive. Yen Sin is able to help the couple.
TCM ARCHIVES - THE LON CHANEY COLLECTION contains three of his silent features: "The Ace of Hearts" (1921), "Laugh, Clown, Laugh" (1928) and "The Unknown (1927).
Parenthetical number preceding title is a 1 to 10 viewer poll rating found at a film resource website.
(6.3) Shadows (silent-1922) - Lon Chaney/Marguerite De La Motte/Harrison Ford/John St. Polis/Walter Long/Buddy Messenger/Priscilla Bonner/Frances Raymond"