(director/writer: Tod Browning; screenwriters: Waldemar Young/based on the short story The Hypnotist by Tod Browning; cinematographer: Merrott B. Gerstad; editor: Harry Reynolds; music: Robert Israel; cast: Lon Chaney (Professor Edward C. Burke), Marceline Day (Lucille Balfour), Henry B. Walthall (Sir James Hamlin), Percy Williams (Williams, Balfour’s Butler), Conrad Nagel (Arthur Hibbs), Polly Moran (Miss Smithson, the New Maid), Marceline Day (Lucille Balfour), Claude King (Roger Balfour), Edna Tichenor (Luna); Runtime: 47; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Tod Browning; MGM/TCM; 1927-silent)
“It’s a classy red herring vampire teaser.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Recently a “stills restoration” has been put together of Lon Chaney’s lost film London After Midnight showing the numerous surviving production stills documenting the film and the titles taken from the surviving shooting script. The film was lost in a fire in the MGM vault in 1967. Rick Schmidlin was placed by TCM in charge of the “photographic reconstruction,” as Turner’s cable station restored the film they bought the rights to. The project also added a musical score by Robert Israel. This was one of ten collaborations between Tod Browning and Chaney. As far as box office returns, this one was their highest grossing film. The film was inspired by the London stage version of Dracula.

It’s a classy red herring vampire teaser, set in a creepy old mansion in foggy London. After midnight, the aristocratic Roger Balfour has been found shot in his mansion and a suicide note and a pistol lay by his side. The investigating Scotland Yard Inspector Burke (Lon Chaney), at the time, didn’t believe it was a suicide but since he had no other evidence, that’s how it was recorded. Five years later, at the neighboring Sir James Hamlin (Henry B. Walthall) household the servant Smithson lays a vampire book dating from 1721 on Sir James in light of rumors spreading throughout the neighborhood that the Balfour mansion is haunted. Balfour’s pretty young daughter Lucille (Marceline Day) is staying with Sir James, as is Sir James’ handsome nephew Arthur Hibbs (Conrad Nagel). The new tenant signing a lease uses the name Roger Balfour, looks like a vampire and has the same signature as the deceased. Fearful of vampires, Sir James calls back Scotland Yard Inspector Burke for further investigation. When the two of them investigate Balfour’s tomb they find it empty. Burke then employs hypnosis to catch Roger’s murderer, as he works in secret conjunction with Lucy to stage a clever trap through a hoax. Burke arranges for Balfour’s “living corpse” to appear and when he does, the real murderer confronts him leading to his confession as to why he had to murder him.

It was remade in 1935 as Mark of the Vampire.

London After Midnight (1927)

REVIEWED ON 7/20/2005 GRADE: B +