London After Midnight (lost Lon Chaney mystery horror film; 1927)
London After Midnight is a 1927 silent horror/mystery film written by Tod Browning (Dracula, Freaks) and starring Lon Chaney (The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Phantom of the Opera). The film is an adaptation of The Hypnotist, written by Browning as well. It is also one of the last major films to star Lon Chaney before his death on August 26th, 1930. A remake of the film was produced by Browning in 1935 titled The Mark of the Vampire.
Sir Roger Belfour, the head of a luxurious mansion, is found dead alongside a suicide note. Professor Edward Burke (Lon Chaney) is placed in charge of investigating the incident. Sir James Hamlin, Belfour's neighbor, was the last to see him alive. Naturally, Burke questions him and Belfour's butler, Williams. Burke's questioning leads him to suspect Arthur Hibbs, Hamlin's nephew.
Five years later, the mansion has become dilapidated and is now a subject of ill omen. The mansion is now occupied by an eccentric old man who goes by the name Roger Belfour and a ghostly woman, renting from Hamlin. Professor Burke is once again drawn to the house to investigate stories of vampires residing within. Unbeknownst to the others, the man is actually Burke in disguise. With the use of hypnosis and a fake setup of vampires, Burke tricks Hamlin into revealing that he was the one who murdered Sir Roger Belfour five years before.
Release and Criticism
London After Midnight was shown at The Capitol in New York City on December 11th and ran for approximately 65 minutes. Variety criticized the actors for being mostly uninteresting and also predicted that the film would sell solely on Lon Chaney's name. Despite these critiques, the film was met with moderate success. Modern critics praise Chaney's makeup work as the creepy old man.
Despite the film's loss, Lon Chaney's appearance in the film has become a horror icon of its own right, influencing some portrayals of Dracula and other monsters such as The Babadook in 2014.
The MGM Fire
The only known copy of London After Midnight was in possession of MGM Studio, however it was likely destroyed in an explosion. The Evening Vanguard—a local newspaper in Venice, California—reported on August 11th, 1965 that the day before there was an explosion on MGM Lot 1, which resulted in the destruction of a concrete film storage vault.
The concrete roof of the building collapsed in the ensuing fire, however nobody is believed to have been killed or injured. Unfortunately the Evening Vanguard states that “No estimate of the loss was available.”
Before the Evening Vanguard article was discovered it was then believed the fire that destroyed the print was on May 13th, 1967. In 2015 Tom Weaver of the Tapatalk forums reached out to Rudy Behlmer, a man who was working on MGM’s property at the time, to ask if a fire did occur that day. Behlmer claimed that on his way to Lot 1 from Lot 2 he could hear an explosion, and that later a coworker told him that there was an explosion. Behlmer does, however, explain “If May 13, 1967, was a Saturday, it’s highly unlikely that we would have been working there,” and admits “It certainly could have been 1965. And, of course, it could have been some other time. Recall can be inaccurate. Did you know that?”
Behlmer’s testimony, combined with the Evening Vanguard’s article, allows us to comfortably place the destruction of the last known copy of London After Midnight on Tuesday, August 11th, 1965.
It is noted by investigators that MGM began making more of an effort to preserve its films around this time.
It is firmly believed that the last complete copy of the film was destroyed by the fire in 1965. Countless nitrate frames, production stills, pieces of interstitial material and a complete script have, however, survived.
Any efforts to find a complete version of the film have proven to be unsuccessful.
A reconstruction of the film was assembled by Rick Schmidlin, a well-known filmmaker and film archivist, using over 200 still shots and a complete script. The film/slideshow is accompanied by an entirely original score from composer Robert Israel. This reconstruction was aired on the television station Turner Classic Movies on August 15th, 2002 as part of their tribute to Lon Chaney. The reconstruction is also included on the Lon Chaney Collection DVD set.
Cinema Lobby Cards
- Variety's review of London After Midnight. Retrieved 16 Aug '16
- Variety's prediction of the film. Retrieved 16 Aug '16
- Rotten Tomatoes' editorial article about how Lon Chaney's "the Stranger" character from London After Midnight influenced the Babadook's design. Retrieved 02 Dec '20
- Evening Vanguard’s article. Retrieved 4 June '23
- Tapatalk forum discussion, including Behlmer’s response. Retrieved 4 June '23
- Turner Classic Movies discusses a future airing of the reconstruction of London After Midnight. Retrieved 16 Aug '16