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Site created 12/15/97.


review added: 6/27/00



Outside the Law/Shadows
Lon Chaney Double Feature - 1920/22 (2000) - Blackhawk Films (Image)

review by Todd Doogan of The Digital Bits

Outside the Law/Shadows Film Rating (Outside the Law/Shadows): A/B

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B/C-

Specs and Features

75 mins/68 mins, NR, B&W, full frame (1.33:1), single-sided, dual-layered, Snapper case packaging, film-themed menu screens, scene access (14 chapters for Outside the Law, 12 chapters for Shadows), languages: none (musical score is presented DD mono), subtitles: none

Lon Chaney is a person who is responsible for quite a few people in entertainment doing what they do today. Whether it was based on his legends, his make-up or his acting itself, he has been an inspiration for many of today's most creative people. My first dose of Chaney came while watching him on PBS as a child one Halloween night. It was Phantom of the Opera, and it really took my breath away. I couldn't believe someone wore make-up to get that face. I made my mother buy me all the monster magazines and books on monsters whenever there was a picture of Chaney anywhere on it. The Chaney bug bit me, and from then on, I was a huge Chaney fan. Although, I have to admit, I was only into his more accessible films. I flocked to Hunchback, The Phantom and Mr. Wu. His other films are, in most cases, pretty hard to find. And I have so many film passions that, unless it stared me in the face, I didn't have time to go after them.

Thank God then for Image. They've just released two of his harder to find films, Outside the Law and Shadows, as a DVD double feature and it's a grand presentation. On the historical side, I would have liked some essays or a commentary track, but in terms of the film itself, these are two really good films that look great on DVD.

Outside the Law

Outside the Law is a crime drama about Black Mike Sylva (Lon Chaney), a small time thug who plots to take the big guy of crime down. The big guy is, in fact, succumbing to the influence of a wise Chinese scholar who wants Madden (the big guy) and his daughter Molly to go straight. Sylva's plan is to frame Madden for a crime, and throw Molly into a bender of crime that will send her right into the hands of the police - leaving the crime world to Blackie. Good plan, poor execution. After a jewel heist goes well, Molly and Sylva's number one henchmen go into hiding away from Blackie and into each other's arms. After they fall in love (and wonder about a straight life with kids, a picket fence and the rest), they decide to give the jewels back and start over. Problem is, Blackie still wants his cut and he still wants Molly out of the picture.

Chaney got to flex his acting chops in this one, both as the vile and nasty Black Mike, but also as the kind student of eastern philosophy, Ah Wing. They really are a couple of knock-out performance, and this is a pretty damn good little film. The pace is really great, as is the action in the film. Expertly handled by Tod Browning (who gave us Dracula, Freaks and the long lost London After Midnight), this is a silent film that is sure to please film fans of any persuasion. The only negative thing I have to say about the film itself, is that it's a little light in the title cards department, so even if the story moves at a good pace, the feeling that dialogue was being missed is pretty heavy.

The B&W print used for this disc has seen better days, but alas, this is the best this film will ever look. It suffers from heavy nitrate decompositional damage and there are a few big holes in the film. There's no digital noise anywhere to be seen on the video, however. It looks really great for its age. Print problems aside, you know what's going on and when you consider that this is all that is left, you're pretty happy with it. The sound is a straight mono, with no hiss, and features music that really captures the feel of the film. All in all, it's a great little set-up for a great film that I think should be checked out.

Shadows

Shadows, on the other hand, is a movie that is as magical as it is offensive. Chaney plays a Chinese laundryman named Yen Sin, who finds himself caught in the middle of a nice little small town controversy. He washes up on shore from a shipwreck where he was the only survivor. He befriends the local minister and his new wife, who is the widow of a fisherman. When the minister's best friend claims that the minister's wife's dead husband may actually still be alive, all hell breaks loose in the lives of the newlyweds... but Yen Sin knows there's something else going on. Will Yen Sin throw off his customs and beliefs to embrace Christianity? Will the minister's life fall apart? You won't know unless you watch Shadows.

Shadows is offensive in the way that the villagers treat Yen Sin and it comes through unashamedly in the titles. There are a lot of derogatory names flying around and the climate is quite hostile. But this is a snapshot of a certain time in our history, and if you look at it in that frame of mind, you'll find a wonderful little film with a stellar performance by Chaney. This really is one of his best roles, when you consider the amount of body language that went into the portrayal. It's simply make-up and masterful acting that you see on your screen - nothing else. Chaney didn't even have to talk to get his power across. It's amazing.

The transfer for this film is also very good. The source print is in better shape, but it's a film that's close to 80 years old, so there are going to be problems. I've never seen Shadows before this, and I was impressed with how good it looked for the problems it does suffer from. The music is a Dolby Digital mono track that serves the film and sounds okay.

These two Chaney films show a side of the actor that isn't always celebrated, but the performances are incredible. If you love great acting, good films or old movies, these are a couple of films on one disc that you need to see. Check 'em out. And remember - if you see a spider, don't step on it. You never know if it might be Lon.

Todd Doogan
todddoogan@thedigitalbits.com




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