Mr. Wu (1927)


(director: William Nigh; screenwriters: Lorna Moon/based on the play by Maurice Vernon & Harold Owen; cinematographer: John Arnold; editor: Ben Lewis; cast: Lon Chaney (Mr. Wu/Wu’s Grandfather), Renee Adoree (Nang Ping), Louise Dresser (Mrs. Gregory), Holmes Herbert (Mr. Gregory), Ralph Forbes (Basil Gregory), Gertrude Olmstead (Hilda Gregory), Claude King (Mr. Muir), Sonny Loy (Little Wu), Anna May Wong (Loo Song); Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Harry Rapf; MGM; 1927-silent)

“The pic might appeal to you in a cosmetic way.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

It was previously filmed in England in 1919, and is taken from the barnstorming Harry Maurice Vernon & Harold Owen New York play Mr.Wu. Aside from Lon Chaney, “the Man of a Thousand Faces,” doing a scene-stealing performance in two roles (plays the elderly grandfather and the titular younger Mr. Mandarin Wu), this one is a first-class stinker. It’s played out as a tragic opera. Overwrought and outdated, its theatrical melodramatics are hokey. Though it obviously had some pull with audiences back at the time of its release since it was a major box office hit, it nevertheless could only garnish mixed reviews with critics. William Nigh (“Divorce”/”Stage Struck”/”South of Monterey”) was a former Mack Sennett actor and later a highly regarded director of silents; he manages to keep this one looking good visually, even if the drama is questionable. One of the set designers responsible for how well the film looked, Cedric Gibbons, was the feller who designed the Oscar.

A rich elderly Chinese aristocrat, the grandfather Wu, has his grandson Mandarin tutored by the Englishman Mr. Muir in Western ways. When he dies, the grown grandson marries according to custom someone who is arranged for him. After a year of marriage the bride gives birth to a daughter and then passes away. The story picks up with his daughter, Nang Ping (Renee Adoree), the apple in her father’s eye, now a pretty young lady and set to marry in the same traditional way her parents did. But she falls for a visiting rich English gentleman, Basil Gregory (Ralph Forbes), and has a forbidden love affair with him. When Mr. Wu discovers this, he follows the cruel tradition and kills his defiled maiden daughter. Mr. Wu then captures and tortures Basil, and has his mother (Louise Dresser) and sister (Gertrude Olmstead) taken hostage in his mansion as he plans out his vengeance against the family by telling the mother he plans to have Basil killed at sundown and her daughter violated by one of his Chinese servants.

Lots of heavy gesturing amid some dark moments fill the screen, as Lon Chaney takes over this opera and brings on tragedy to his family and himself. If you dig the makeup Chaney uses and his odd touches such as wearing long fingernails (constructed from stripes of painted film stock), then the pic might appeal to you in a cosmetic way.