(director/writer: Todd Browning; screenwriters: from a Browning story/Waldemar Young; cinematographer: Percy Hilburn; editor: Errol Taggart; music: Robert Israel; cast: Lon Chaney (Dan Tate as both The Bishop and The Black Bird), Owen Moore (West End Bertie) Renee Adoree(Fifi Lorraine),, Doris Lloyd (Limehouse Polly), Andy MacLennan (The Shadow), William Weston (Red), Cecil Holland (Old Man at Mission), Polly Moran (Flower Lady), Sidney Bracie (Bertie’s No. one man), Ernie Adams ( Bertie’s No. two man); Runtime: 76; MPAA Rating: NR; MGM; 1926-BW-Silent)
“Stars the great Lon Chaney.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Tod Browning (“Freaks”/”Dracula”) directs and co-writes with Waldemar Young a silent crime drama that stars the great Lon Chaney as the Black Bird, a thief in London’s Limehouse district (a lower-class waterfront area named for the warehouses where the British Navy stored the citrus fruit that protected its sailors from scurvy). Black Bird’s twin brother, also played by Chaney, is known as the Bishop, a crippled keeper of a rescue mission who is beloved in the neighborhood for his charity work. Chaney contorts his body to become the crippled brother.
During the day the Bishop helps the needy. At night he runs a crime syndicate.
The Black Bird and his rival, West End Bertie (Owen Moore), both love the classy French nightclub marionette performer Fifi (Renee Adoree) and both promise her a diamond collar owned by a London aristocrat. A contest of wits between the two crooks results in The Black Bird’s shooting a Scotland Yard man and having to retreat quickly behind the disguise of The Bishop. But his joints permanently lock and he cannot resume his original shape; therefore, he decides to give up his underworld life and live as the lovable charity worker, The Bishop. Thereby West End Bertie wins Fifi’s love.
Though badly outdated, it’s worth seeing for the sake of film history and to catch the artistic Chaney’s ability to use disguises to transform himself into another.
REVIEWED ON 6/4/2023 GRADE: B-