Every few years, rumors circulate that one of the most famous lost films, Lon Chaney’s London After Midnight, has resurfaced somewhere, usually the rumors darkly hint that the film was found under some floorboards of an outhouse somewhere in South America. Chaney fans and Silent film collectors get their hopes up, only to have them dashed weeks or months later. Remember-- James Whale’s The Old Dark House was a lost film for over thirty years... and we got that one back. Hope springs eternal in the human breast.
Oh! To have been an innocent bystander on the Metro Goldwyn Mayer lot, standing next to Vault 7 with a big bucket of water on August 10, 1965. You could have changed film history because you might have extinguished the blaze that erupted there after an electric malfunction ignited a whole bunch of nitrate film. The good news is that it could have been worse. Only 20% of silent films survive today; even after the Vault 7 fire, 68% of MGM silents survive. Still, on the fateful night we lost two Lon Chaney films, London After Midnight and A Blind Bargain. Don’t look at me; I was only three years old and could not yet 1) predict the future, 2) fly by myself, or 3) hoist any kind of bucket.
Burke returns to investigate. Could Burke’s original take on Balfour’s death have been wrong? What about Balfour’s close friend James Hamlin (Henry B. Walthall)? What might he be hiding? Burke orders Balfour’s tomb to be exhumed—it is empty! Burke realizes that cracking the case will have to involve... hypnotism... hypnotism and vampires... and marrying a daughter against her father’s wishes. Yeah, something like that.
Despite this, uh... compelling plot, London After Midnight remains famous (even though it has been unavailable for over 50 years) for the indelible baddie Lon Chaney created in “The Man in the Beaver Hat.” This image has become iconic. How iconic?
Distortions Unlimited, a high-end Halloween prop shop, will sell you a life-sized Chaney figure in his London After Midnight garb for only $574.00. They are currently sold out. Maybe you can get on some sort of list for a second run?
Last December, Daniel Titley published what would seem to be the last word on the subject, London After Midnight, The Lost Film. This wonderful book contains over 400 pages of obscure history, copious film stills, poster reproductions, pressbook clippings, historic news articles, and the entire shooting script. Needless to say, the book is highly recommended.
Will I live long enough to see this classic film rediscovered? Care to make it interesting?