Search This Blog

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Decemystery (2020) 3: London After Midnight


Hello, hello dearest dear reader. Today is a very unique, special, and exciting day. You see, today is a day unlike any other. We won’t be taking a trip to see if we can solve an unsolved crime, identify an unidentified person, seek out an enigmatic cryptid, solve a legendary haunting, or see what will happen after the Universe meets Death. No, we’ll be headed over to Hollywood. So come along, let’s get into the Little Bastard and crash into the first lamppost we see.

Okay, so one unaffordable hospital bill later, we’re just going to walk there. So come, let’s go from New York to Hollywood. Don’t worry, it’s for a good cause. What do you mean your legs hurt? Come on, let’s go! Ugh, fine, we’ll just take a plane there.

Well, one flight later and a whole lot of Xanax later, we’ve arrived. Ah, Hollywood. It’s a place of filth, degeneracy, magic, and Andy Dick. Man that guy’s a dick. Seriously, ever heard the stories of him? He’s a weirdo. Anyways, since we’re here, I’ve got something for you. I brought along two magnifying glasses, two detective hats, a pipe, and some 1800s clothing. You see, we’re going to play the role of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. Indeed, we’re going to be real detectives. Though why? We’ll be detectives this entire month! What makes this day so much more special?

Simple: we’re going to be looking for a lost film—arguably the most famous in history. It’s coveted, sought after my many, and today, we’re going to talk about it. It’s known as London After Midnight and it’s beyond legendary when it comes to fans of classic horror. Seriously, if there was ever a Holy Grail of lost horror films, let alone lost films in general, this film would take the gold medal by default. So come along dear reader, we’re headed into Hollywood to seek out this legendary piece of cinema together!

The Story

3…  beep.

2… beep.

1… beep.

And our movie has begun. Yay, let’s start acting.

Our story begins way back; 93 years ago. In 1927, London After Midnight (also known as The Hypnotist—a name that was utilized in some marketing campaigns) was released. Starring the legendary Lon Chaney (son of Lon Chaney Jr.) and directed by Tod Browning (who helmed the classic film Dracula), the film had a lot of starpower to back it up. Though, if you’re unfamiliar with the Hollywood stars of yore, they may seem like nobodies. Take my word for it though, they were the folks to make gold out of what could have been nothing.

Now let’s take a trip over to Wikipedia for some production information. While that may seem like cheating, the history surrounding London After Midnight isn’t exactly going to thrill anyone who isn’t super into cinema. Movie production is generally something that will get the blood pumping unless you’re a cinephile (or, in simpler terms: someone who’s deeply passionate about film). However, I’d like to give a bit of background so you’ll know how much went into the film. It is, after all, something important—especially given the film is, you know, gone.

For starters, there’s the makeup that was applied to Lon Chaney to play the character known as “The Man in the Beaver Hat” (though I will refer to that character simply as “the monster” for brevity’s sake). I’m sure you’re all familiar with the image that’s become synonymous with the film, but if you aren’t, take a gander below.

Creepy, no? Well, what you’re seeing is all makeup. Unsurprisingly, there was no CGI or anything like that in 1927. I know, shocking—super shocking in fact. This especially apparently with Chaney’s teeth; the sharpened look was achieved not by using excruciating medical procedures to shave his teeth so he rivaled a Great White Shark, but rather through some fancy schmancy makeup. As for the hypnotic effect that could be seen in his eyes (keyword being could) was done by applying “special write fittings”. Chaney wore these monocle-like fittings and through that, he became the fiendish beast you can see above.

Yet, despite that devilish appearance, it’s said that he wasn’t quite as terrifying as he seemed. Quite the opposite. According to some, Chaney gave this character an “absurd quality” since he also played a Scotland Yard detective in the film. However, this character was seemingly the monster in a disguise—at least that’s how the Wikipedia article seems to word it. As such, it would seem that the monster was as scary as it was quite silly. Though maybe I’m misinterpreting what’s stated there. Wikipedia isn’t the most reliable of sources, but I want to keep this simple, so let’s move on.

I don’t know how long filming took, but given films were significantly simpler to make back then (barring makeup taking hours), I doubt it took the filmmakers 80-something days to make the film. I digress; unsurprisingly, the collaboration between the Chaney and Browning yielded a great deal of box office returns. It grossed $1,004,000 at the box office ($6,254,295.50 by the standards as of November 18, 2020—the time of this writing). This was against a production budget of $151,666 ($944,784.84 by the standards as of, once again, November 18, 2020). This would prove to be the most successful collaboration between Browning and Chaney and, as a whole, made the film a smashing success. For those unfamiliar with how the box office works, there’s an often cited rule that a film has to make 2.5 times the amount of money used for its production budget. This isn’t true, but it’s the simplest way to gauge if a film is a success.

The reality of it is: there’s more to a film than just its production budget. There are also P&A (Printing and Advertising; printing being printing the film so it can be sent to theaters and advertising being, well, advertising the film). Due to these additional costs, it would stand to reason that a film would have to make a fair bit more than just 2.5 times the production budget, but I digress. The point is, even though I don’t know how much money was put into advertising London After Midnight, the amount of money it made back was—at the time—nearly ten times its cost. This would essentially mean that MGM (who are famous for putting out the James Bond films nowadays) was rolling in money.

Yet, in spite of that, the reception to London After Midnight was met with mixed reviews. I won’t go through the entire portion on Wikipedia to cover the various reviews, but what I will say is that the storyline was deemed to be “somewhat incoherent” and “nonsensical”. Whether or not modern day moviegoers and cinephiles would think the same is up for debate.

Alas, from here, the story takes a sorrowful turn. A few decades after the release of the film, in 1965, a major fire broke out in MGM’s film vault. This destroyed numerous films that are now said to be lost. One of these films was London After Midnight.

Despite that, not all was lost. For starters, the entire script is available to read online—a simple Google search awaits you to read the most famous lost horror film in history! Or you can just click here. It’s a pdf and the quality is a bit iffy, but it’s what I could find. I’m sure there are better quality versions out there.

There are also numerous still images and production photographs. It’s just the moving pictures aspect that’s missing. Like, all of it. However, these photos, combined with the script, has allowed some folks to piece them together in order to showcase what the movie may have played out like. Certainly unique, but I digress. For now, let’s move onto something much more interesting and unique: a supposed curse that surrounds the film.

According to Ranker: on October 23, 1928, a man by the name of Robert Williams was found in London’s Hyde Park, along with a razor, which was coated in blood, and a woman—who was later identified as Julia Mangan. Upon being questioned by authorities, Williams pointed a finger at Mangan and stated:

I did, she has been teasing me.

Naturally, police arrested Williams—because a man stating that being teased justifies murder in the first degree is as reasonable as throwing your little brother out of the fifth story window to his death when he has two cookies and you only have one. Anyways, upon being brought to trial, Williams stated that he had been friends with Mangan and even had the desire to marry her. Alas, she refused; love is truly the cruelest mistress around. However, that wasn’t all that Williams said. After this, he stated that the final thing he remembered on that fateful night, as Mangan was whistling:

Then I felt as if my head were going to burst, and that steam was coming out of both sides. All sorts of things came to my mind. I thought a man had me in a corner and was pulling faces at me. He threatened and shouted at me that had where he wanted me!

That “man” was Lon Chaney—specifically in his attire from London After Midnight. Indeed, the Man in the Beaver Hat had come to life and was tormenting Williams. In fact, it wasn’t just that he was tormenting him: Williams claimed to have been possessed by him and that the character caused him to murder Mangan. As a result of this enigmatic testimony, the jury wasn’t able to come to a verdict. However, a retrial (which took place in 1929) did, and Williams was found guilty of murder and he was given the death sentence. At the last moment though, his sentence was changed and he was sent to a mental institution for the remainder of his life.

So that’s the supposed “curse” of London After Midnight. Not exactly the most thrilling curse, but there’s one last element of it that I sadly cannot find a source for, yet I swear on a Bible I read it somewhere. It stated that Tod Browning had seen Lon Chaney’s character—The Man in the Beaver Hat—in his nightmares. The fact I cannot find a source for this annoys me greatly because it makes me think that I’m going completely bonkers. So if anyone knows of a source, I would greatly appreciate it if you could leave a link in the comments.

Anyways, with that, the story of London After Midnight comes to a close. It’s a tragic tale of a film lost thanks to the callousness of taking proper precautions to art. Though one must ask: is it truly lost? Well, let’s hop into the theories and figure out just that.


1. It’s gone forever!

Going, going, gone!

The first theory is that the film is gone forever; no copy remains and it’s never going to be seen ever again unless it were to be remade. Yes, it’s certainly a downer, but film doesn’t last forever. A great many films have been lost to time for a variety of reasons, but London After Midnight’s long-term search by cinema lovers has yielded no trace of the infamous piece of movie history. As such, many have come to accept that the film is gone for good; lost to the passage of time and never to be witnessed unless time travel comes around. Lucky for us though, not everyone is blackpilled on this movie’s residence nowadays, so let’s move onward!

2. A copy exists

Hide and go cinema-seek; the copy is out there somewhere!

Perhaps the most popular theory states that somewhere, a copy of the film exists. The most common version of this claim puts forth that it’s in the hands of a private collector—be it knowingly or not. Why exactly someone would sit on what could be deemed the most important find in cinematic history, I don’t know. Maybe there’s someone out there who’s a devious gremlin at heart and they want to hide something that people have dedicated their entire lives to finding. It’s a bizarre take, but I guess some people aren’t too trusting of the average Joe.

Another version of this theory posits that the film is in the hands of a theater, much like the acclaimed film Metropolis was. That movie was discovered to be in possession of a theater in South America. So remote it was, the theater hadn’t the faintest idea as to how valuable it was. They figured it was nothing of true merit. Cinephiles confirmed to be seething about such a thought.

Seething copelets aside, evidence to back this theory up as a whole is going to leave you up a creek without a paddle, boat, clothing, or just about everything else that one would want when being up a creek. It’s a theory through and through; the entire thing hinges upon someone more or less being ignorant/oblivious to their film collection containing London After Midnight. To give you an idea as to how unlikely that is, it would be like you not realizing that your left arm was missing when you try and grab something with it. Sure, everyone has moments where they forget something obvious, but I doubt it happens every day for days, weeks, months, years, or even decades.

Alas, it’s possible that it's stored away in a collection and has collected a fair bit of dust. Whether or not it will ever be found is up for debate, though I think one should first ask if the condition of the film will even be viewable. Ah, film: so glorious and it truly stands the test of time. That’s why digital is the devil, right Tarantino? Ah whatever, next theory!

2b. A partial copy exists

A slight offshoot of the above theory, this one posits that there’s a partial copy that exists. It’s under the same conditions of the above one through and through, but some of the footage has either been damaged or simply got lost. If you were to ask me, this theory is significantly more likely than the above one for an array of reasons (not the least of which being that the film’s age likely means that some—if not most—of the footage would be as damaged as Jared Leto’s Joker).

3. A copy did exist, but now it doesn’t

The third and final theory is a mixture of the first and second. It simply puts forth the idea that there was a copy, now there isn’t. Time took its toll and whatever print there may have been of London After Midnight is now London After Film Quality Is Done…

Look, it sounded good in my head. Don’t judge me, I tried my absolute best!

Anyways, whether or not the owner of the film reel[s] may have been aware of the immense value of the movie is up for debate; you can posit they did and were selfish or they weren’t and were simply ignorant. Whatever version you wish to run with, the ultimate outcome is the same: the film is no longer around, but it was at one point. So, yay!

My Take

I’ve thought a bit about whether or not a copy exists nowadays, but the truth is: I really don’t know if one does. Many films that were thought to be lost have been found in private collections or in other countries in a vault that nobody really went through, so I think it’s perfectly within the realm of reason for one to exist. After all, if we can have a near complete copy of Metropolis, I think there could very well be a copy of London After Midnight out there, somewhere, waiting to be found. Let’s just hope the curse doesn’t come packaged with it!

On a side note: I always thought this film could benefit from a remake. According to one channel by the name of Debunk File—that hidden gem I’ve mentioned a few times and consistently make snarky remarks about because I’m friends with one of folks who runs it—there was apparently going to be one. It was supposedly going to star Ron Chaney—Lon Chaney’s grandson. To Sep, I thank you for mentioning this as I’d never heard about this. As for those who were going to make it: I simply ask why nothing has ever materialized. Like, at all. As far as I’m aware, no updates have ever come of it. Presumably, it went the way of the Dark Universe.

To me, that’s about as big of a disappointment as anything related to, well, the aforementioned Dark Universe. I  mean come on, you could make a fortune (well, if this pandemic would ever go away you could). It would be so unique; a remake of a lost film is something I’ve never heard of. So what gives? I guess it’s too niche? Whatever the case, I think it should be done—the script does still exist. Also, I imagine that the advertising campaign would be a delightfully quirky one, especially if it played off of the original’s status as a lost film.

Now yes, I am aware that Browning made a quasi-remake in 1935 called Mark of the Vampire, but that isn’t what I’m talking about. While Mark does have a very similar story (with some saying it’s the exact same story, but I’ve never seen it, so I don’t know), that isn’t what I’m talking about. What I’m getting at is a full-blown remake of London After Midnight to the exact detail. C’mon, do it guys. It would be freaking awesome, no? Or is it just me that thinks that? Ah whatever, nobody in a high position would ever listen to me.

Now as for the curse: there are theories as to whether or not the film truly was cursed, but most consider it more of an urban legend. In my eyes, I don’t think it was genuinely cursed. I think that’s nonsense and a product of the film’s legendary status. Though hey, you’re free to disagree with me.


The story of London After Midnight goes to showcase how much passion self-proclaimed cinephiles have for the artform. In many ways, I find it endearing. In other ways, I have to wonder exactly what drives them. As much as I love movies (and by God do I love ‘em), I can’t say I’ll ever fully understand the drive to find this movie. Maybe it’s because I’ve never been much for scavenger hunts or maybe it’s due to a bit of cynicism when it comes to things that are said to be lost. Whatever the case, I hope those that are out there searching for it find it and bring to rest one of cinema’s greatest mysteries.

Should such a thing happen and it is one day found, I’ll gleefully do a review of it and watch as people squeal in delight as yet another supposedly lost film is found and sold in 4K super duper mega ultra giga HD. Until then, all we can do is sit back, relax, and enjoy the show!


No comments:

Post a Comment