Mysterious, sinister Wilse Dilling receives a coded message to go to the home of Queen Ann, a powerful crime boss. When Wilse meets with her, she sends him to the town of Fallbrook, where he is to await her instructions. Being practically wheelchair-bound has not stopped Dilling from committing a lengthy series of crimes, but to his surprise, he finds that the small town atmosphere makes him feel differently about everything. He finds a good friend in banker's daughter Gertrude Hadley, who helps him believe that he can make a fresh start. But Wilse's new-found contentment is soon shattered by a series of new developments. Written by
A Jewel Production. Universal, lacking a proprietary theater chain, devised a 3-tiered branding system to enable it to market its feature product to independent theater owners: Red Feather (low budget programmers), Bluebird (mainstream releases) and Jewel (prestige productions capable of drawing higher roadshow ticket prices). This branding system ended in late 1929. See more »
At about 43:05, Wilse is crossing a room in Anne's house. He moves his bad right foot which is paralyzed throughout the film. See more »
From the rather glorious poster, and the title, I was expecting a more thrilling gangster story, in the mold of "The Penalty" and other Chaney crime flicks. This film was a disappointment. After a promising opening, in which Chaney tosses menacing looks around a colorful Chinese restaurant in San Francisco, the action moves to a fictional rural town outside of the city, where a dull romance develops--the kind where the woman exhorts the man to read the Bible. IMO, too much of the plot in the middle section is told, rather than shown. For example, what kindnesses did the heroine show to the Chaney character? We join them after the relationship is developed, instead of watching it happen, and their exchanges are pretty boring. There were a couple of kids in the audience at the theater where I saw it, and I worried they would be turned off of silent movies forever.
The story does pick up speed in the last section. The earthquake sequence is fun, except that the settings look so little like the real San Francisco, especially the exterior shots of Chinatown. Chaney's directors did sometimes film on location, but the only sequence in this movie that looked to me like it could possibly have been in the actual city was at the very end...but I'm not sure it wasn't done in Monterey or Santa Monica or elsewhere. Maybe someone else recognizes the distinctive wooden fence in the shot.
It was nice to see Chaney without makeup, but I didn't find his imitation of crippled limbs as convincing here as in other films: the movement seemed inconsistent, and I didn't see how he could support himself on crutches if his limbs were so useless without them. (Maybe I'm wrong; I wish the comments page was back so I could ask others about this.) It was easier for me to judge his physical work in "The Penalty" because I have a close relative who's a real amputee (Chaney was excellent there). Also, I thought he overacted a bit in the more sentimental sequences. As Chaney said himself, he often needed a director who would reign him in.
Bonus points: "Queen Ann" looks like an Edward Gory (IMDB will not allow me to spell it correctly; I've tried to change it three times) character. Lon Chaney is shown playing with a kitten. There doesn't seem to be any obvious racism (other than the total sidelining of Asian characters). A few of the Chinatown roles looked like they were even portrayed by real Asians, albeit not necessarily Chinese people.
I would recommend this for Chaney fans, or people who want to see whatever portrayals they can find of the 1906 earthquake. People who aren't used to silent movies or melodrama probably wouldn't enjoy it that much. I won't give away the ending, but I will say that its implausibility was almost insulting, though the piano accompanist at the screening I attended did a lot to heighten the emotion, and make it almost work.
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