London After Midnight (1927) – Reviewed by George

This is one of the great lost movies, one so many people want to see, yet the last known print was lost in a warehouse fire in the ’40s. Well, a restoration was completed and copyrighted in 2002, and while it is far from ideal, it still gives some sense of what the film was about, how it was structured, and how the various makeups looked on the actors (Bat Girl was a happy surprise – I had not seen photos of her with wings outstretched before).
The film is based on Tod Browning’s story “The Hypnotist”. The scenario is by Waldemar Young, the titles are by Joe Farnham, and Browning directed.
Roger Balfour is murdered in his generously landscaped home in London. He leaves a beautiful daughter, Lucille Balfour (Marceline Day). A private detective, Burke (Lon Chaney), tries to establish alibis. He asks Arthur Hibbs (Conrad Nagel) where he has been. “In my room reading”, is the reply. Burke: “This man was killed 15 minutes ago. Where were you then?” Arthur: “If he was only killed 15 minutes ago, how did you get here so fast?” An excellent question!
Burke finds a suicide note and says he will report the death as a suicide. But he does not show the note to anyone. Balfour’s friend and next-door neighbor Sir James Hamlin (Henry B. Walthall) says that Roger would never kill himself. And five years later the death is still unresolved.
Now, again a little after midnight, a monster is leaving the empty Balfour house. He has unnaturally large eyes that never seem to blink and long sharp teeth, perfectly even in his mouth. Of course he is played by Lon Chaney. He is accompanied by a young woman who is dressed most peculiarly. She is Bat Girl (Edna Tichenor). Realtors appear and say they will drive the couple back to town, and the man says no, they will stay, because they have signed the lease, and because guests are expected. In a few minutes it will be revealed that the lease has been signed by Roger Balfour. Burke, currently a guest of Sir James, makes light of this, saying that it must be two people with the same name. But Sir James says he would know Roger’s signature anywhere. Burke, apparently hung up on his own theories,  questions Hamlin’s motive for saying that.
Hamlin’s servant Miss Smithson (Polly Moran), in what I think was a comic performance, howls that there are dead people next door – vampires from the grave!
The plot moves on, separating true motives from false, uncovering opportunities for mischief, and a relatively big finish.
There are problems with a static restoration, since you are looking at stills instead of motion, and questions are inevitable. Certainly it is less frightening that it would be “live”, and I can only assume that the dialogue cards were created from information in the MGM vault and are correct. And you see why Polly Moran’s performance might possibly be scary instead of comic.
It was nice to know more about the film, and I have stopped my description before getting to the several reveals in case you would like to see it. It is part of the Lon Chaney Collection of films on DVD, a 2-disc set. I rented the disc I saw from Netflix. I checked Amazon, but the closest collection to this one does not contain “London After Midnight”. Rental is the best, if not only, choice.

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