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The Great London Mystery (1920)

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A magician helps outwit a Chinaman's gang.

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Cast

Cast overview:
David Devant ...
The Master Magician
Lady Doris Stapleton ...
Audrey Malvern
Charles Raymond ...
Ching Fu
Robert Clifton ...
Bob Sefton
Kenneth Duffy ...
Edward Selwyn
Martin Valmour ...
Webb
Lester Gard ...
The Man Monkey
Sadie Bennett ...
Curley
Lola De Liane ...
Froggie the vampire
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Storyline

A magician helps outwit a Chinaman's gang.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Plot Keywords:

vampire | serial | See All (2) »

Genres:

Crime | Horror | Mystery

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Details

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Release Date:

November 1920 (UK)  »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs

Sound Mix:

Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Episode titles: 1. The Sacred Snake Worshippers; 2. The Vengeance of Ching Fu; 3. The Search for the Will; 4. The Daylight Gold Robbery; 5. The House of Mystery; 6. Echoes of the Past; 7. The Rogue Unmasked; 8. The Fraudulent Spiritualistic Seance; 9. The Living Dead; 10. Her Fortune at Stake; 11. Checkmated; 12. East and West. See more »

Connections

Referenced in Top 10 Lost Horror Films (2010) See more »

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User Reviews

 
Beware of Froggie the Vampire!
18 March 2003 | by (Minffordd, North Wales) – See all my reviews

David Devant was one of the three great music-hall illusionists of Victorian England. His near-contemporaries Nevil Maskelyne and George A. Cooke specialised in large-scale effects that took up an entire stage (usually the Egyptian Hall in London) and which could be viewed from the most distant seat in the gallery. Conversely, David Devant often worked in miniature: many of his magic tricks involved small props such as newspapers, balls, hats, rabbits and doves.

Devant's career peaked during the 'spiritualism' craze, when self-described clairvoyant mediums made money with their alleged ability to summon the departed spirits of their gullible clients' dead loved ones. Devant used his experience as a conjuror to expose these frauds, often duplicating their effects with no supernatural help.

'The Great London Mystery', a silent serial, is one of the very few chapter plays produced in Britain, although many American serials were exhibited in British cinemas. (I have my own fond memories of a tiny cinema in Victoria Station which, as recently as 1979, was still showing American serials from the 1930s: one chapter each week, in proper sequence, with a full programme of short subjects.) I was recently able to view an incomplete version of 'The Great London Mystery' which was discovered in Cornwall, near where this serial was originally filmed. One surviving reel, identified as "Chapter 12", has end titles which imply that this was the serial's final chapter.

Devant stars as a character named 'the Master Magician', although it's established early on that he's a conjuror, an illusionist: he doesn't claim any supernatural abilities. Much like Mandrake the Magician in the American comic strip, this fellow uses his fake magical powers to stop real spies and criminals. Devant gets a chance to use his magic wand against a French femme fatale named Froggie the Vampire. (I well and truly LOVE that name!) Mam'selle Froggie is a vampire in the Kipling sense, not the Bram Stoker sense. In this role, a sloe-eyed and slow-motioned actress named Lola de Liane (who?) vamps until ready and slinks like a minx. The head villain in this serial is a downmarket Mister Wu knockoff named Ching Ling Fu, played by a white actor with sellotaped eyelids. Ching Ling Fu claims to be a master of Oriental magic, but all of his sorcery is fake ... and easily exposed by Devant.

The only genuine touch of supernaturalism here (at least in the incomplete chapters which I screened) is supplied by the victim of one of Ching Ling Fu's surgical experiments: a man with monkey glands, who has naturally acquired some simian characteristics. Lester Gard (who he?) overacts horribly in this role, although his makeup is interesting. Have a banana!

I had difficulty following the plot, as the reels which I screened were non-consecutive. The three villains (he, she and it) pool their talents to rob and debauche Lady Doris Stapleton, whose hairstyle leaves much to be desired. As in many serials, the plotline is extremely episodic, without a continuing story arc. In several cases, I couldn't verify the proper order of the reels which I screened ... but it didn't seem to much matter. Most of the set-pieces in this movie are concerned with fake seances or some other 'supernatural' event which invariably turns out to be fraudulent: the script was clearly written to play to Devant's strengths and his personal crotchets.

This movie has a dodgy sense of England's geography. Lady Doris seems to live in the Home Provinces, judging from how quickly the Master Magician travels back and forth between her manor and his headquarters in a theatre in London's West End ... but the exteriors in this film were clearly shot in Cornwall. There are exquisite exterior sequences, showing the beautiful Cornish countryside as it was in the days of George V's reign. There are several extended shots of beautiful craggy hills and rolling valleys, and I think I even glimpsed a chough (a native Cornish bird) winging across the screen during one sequence. The scenes which take place in London are much less convincing: mostly some interior sequences which could have been filmed anywhere, and some very brief stock footage of the Angel of Christian Charity (in Piccadilly Circus) and Shaftesbury Avenue. I'll rate 'The Great London Mystery' 4 points out of 10, mostly for its historical value.


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