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Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde in a bad quarter of London : Lon Chaney
a double role in the film and in the story, a robber (the Raven) and a man
who carries about poor people (the Bishop). The way of acting is
because it's a silent movie. The great thing is that the Bishop is
half-paralyzed so Lon Chaney has to play the contorsionist when he moves
from Raven into Bishop. The strange atmosphere is very well described with
threatening faces and slumhouses.
By contrast, I was relatively satisfied with THE BLACK BIRD. The plot
is somewhat derivative (particularly of THE PENALTY ), but Chaney
is in fine form here. The film goes a long way in simulating the
Limehouse atmosphere, even where dialogue is concerned (which comes off
as fairly hilarious if quite endearing).
The romantic leads, as played by Owen Moore and Renee' Adoree', are above average in this case; in fact, Moore (as a gentleman crook) is more of an anti-hero here and creates an interesting contrast to Chaney, who himself alternates between the villainous 'Black Bird' and the saintly 'Bishop' throughout.
For a Browning/Chaney effort, the film is fairly conventional and comes off as somewhat protracted (particularly the overly contrived ending) when compared to THE UNKNOWN (1927). Chaney's (deceptive) physical deformity of his 'Bishop' character is the sole weird element in evidence and, for once, here we get a chance to observe - on camera - the way Chaney accomplishes this amazing feat!
Lon Chaney gets to play his own evil twin in this Tod Browning crime
adventure. The "Blackbird" is a low-life criminal who falls in love
with Fifi, a music hall performer. Unfortunately, someone else loves
her too: posh "West End Bertie," who wears a topper and a monocle like
Bertie Wooster, but who's actually a crook himself, not above robbing
his own friends while they're out slumming (including watching
"chinkys" smoking opium).
The Blackbird and Bertie decide to become a team, but tension mounts as the Blackbird realizes that Fifi is falling for Bertie. Mixed in to the plot is the Blackbird's ex, who seems on a crusade to reform him, and his brother 'The Bishop', a helpless cripple known for his work among the poor. Blackbird and Bishop share a room but are never seen together.
The ending is tragic, as could be expected, but not without a trace of "cornball."
Browning's direction is excellent. He sets up the Limehouse location at the opening by showing a sequence of faces that evoke the atmosphere more than a mere set could do. He knew how to get the best out of Chaney, but the others in the cast also do a fine job with their facial expressions, all masterfully captured by Browning. The new score by Robert Israel, containing snippets from Chopin and others, fits the period well and never intrudes.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Rather an odd film this. The characters and setting initially promise
an intriguing plot but in the end its all rather inconsequential
leaving a lot of the film's best ideas unexplored.
Set in London's seedy Limehouse district, we're shown early on that the number one crook operating there, Dan Tate, or "The Blackbird" as he is nicknamed (Chaney) is also secretly leading another life as his own brother, a kindly cripple known as The Bishop who runs the local mission and is well-liked within the community. Now to me that scenario opens up all sorts of possibilities so its a bit disappointing to see the film then spend the next hour or more revolving around petty jealousy between Tate and another crook in the area, albeit a more gentlemanly one, over the affections of French stage performer Fifi.
I was left wondering which of the film's characters I was supposed to be feeling sympathetic towards. Both Tate and his rival, Bertie, are crooks, a fact Fifi is aware of but seems unconvincingly untroubled by. And just to add another plot twist, Dan Tate's ex-wife turns up also, yet her involvement in the plot is surprisingly minimal. The fact she wasn't aware of the double life Tate has been leading does ask more questions about their marriage than we ever get answers to. She makes a comment that she still loves Tate for the good side to his character that he himself probably doesn't realise he's got, which makes you think this will be explored later in the film - sadly it isn't.
Too many scenes in the film go on far longer than is necessary to get their point across, while other major incidents take place off-screen, such as the shooting of the Scotland Yard detective, or the tip-off which tells the police that it was Tate who fired the shot. Who betrayed Tate and why? We are never told, even though this could easily have been built up to earlier in the film.
Also a bit silly is the film's ending. In his guise as the crippled Bishop, Tate is knocked over by a door as he rushes to open it. From this mishap we are supposed to believe that he breaks his back and subsequently dies! All of which leaves Fifi facing an uncertain future with Bertie and leaves us, the audience, wondering really what the point of the film was when the main character has come and gone with us learning nothing about his mysterious double life except how he tried to use it to fend off a love rival.
That said, it is always fascinating to see Lon Chaney's creation of different characters and with two (of sorts) on display here, the film is worth watching for him alone.
If it weren't for the acting technique of LON CHANEY, here deceiving
others by assuming a dual role, THE BLACKBIRD would be a lot less
interesting to discuss. The plot at first promises to be intriguing,
but soon becomes bogged down in a story of petty jealousy between two
crooked men for the affections of a pretty girl.
OWEN MOORE is the aristocratic looking gentleman thief in love with RENEE ADOREE, as is Chaney. One of the film's saving graces are the close-ups of Chaney glowering at Moore when he realizes he's winning the heart of the girl that both of them love. Chaney uses all of his facial mannerisms in a way that makes the screen titles almost unnecessary since he tells everything with his eyes and his body movements.
But the thin plot is the culprit here. Many scenes drag on too long without sufficient reason to and the plot is ultimately a weak one by any standards. Todd Browning does get a terrific performance from Chaney, though, and that's the chief reason for watching in the first place.
The tawdry atmosphere of the Limehouse London scenes is effective but the story's ending is a weakness.
Summing up: Highly watchable for Chaney alone.
I agree with most of the previous posters that this is one of Lon
Chaney's better films. Although I've always been a Chaney fan, many of
his pictures are simply repeats of the same plot (although I never tire
of watching them), or have Chaney almost too caricature-ish. This movie
reminds me of "Tell It to the Marines," which is another great piece
due to the fact that Chaney plays a regular, down-to-Earth character in
a subtle manner that really showcases his talent. When it comes right
down to it, I like Chaney better in his lesser-known roles than in his
I also agree that Doris Lloyd should have had a bigger part, as she could act circles around many of the so-called Silent "greats," and proved it by acting in well-known roles until she died.
London's Limehouse District, "with its lust, greed, and love," lightly
blankets its citizens in a sea of fog. There, ambidextrous Lon Chaney
(as Dan Tate) successfully spends his nights thieving as "The
Blackbird"; and, otherwise, masquerading as his own benevolent, but
deformed, brother "The Bishop". Mr. Chaney likes to visit the local
pub, where he falls for charming French entertainer Renée Adorée (as
Fifi Lorraine). But, Ms. Adorée also attracts suave Owen Moore (as
Bertram P. Glayde). Mr. Moore is a rival crook, who goes by the name
"West End Bertie". So, conniving Chaney uses his respectable "Bishop"
disguise to come between the increasingly more successful Adorée-Moore
This is a formulaic Browning/Chaney film, featuring one of the versatile actor's lesser "disguises". For his transformation, Cheney twists an arm and a leg out of shape. It's more difficult than it looks to walk around in the disjointed position. Of course, Chaney's performance is outstanding. In particular, watch his reaction shots, which are incredibly accurate in mirroring whatever he is looking at, or reacting to. Co-stars Moore and Adorée also shine. Adorée had just been seen in "The Big Parade", and Moore has one of his meatier 1920s roles. Also enjoyable is Doris Lloyd (as "Limehouse" Polly), the ex-wife who loves Chaney.
******* The Blackbird (1926) Tod Browning ~ Lon Chaney, Owen Moore, Renée Adorée
Always liked Lon Chaney films and his great acting skills and fantastic make up which many times gave him a great deal of pain while he was acting his many roles. In this film Lon played a double role as The Blackbird/The Bishop where he twisted himself into a pretzel. In this film there is a struggle between an evil brother, Blackbird and a good brother, The Bishop who is beloved by his neighbors and friends. There is also lots of romance between West End Bertie, (Owen Moore) and Renee Adoree, (Fifi) and the Blackbird tries to interfere with their love relationship. There are plenty of ugly looking faces in these British pubs with lots of smoke and plenty of draft beers being rolled around in mugs and glasses and down plenty of people's throats. This is a masterpiece of Lon Chaney Films. One of his Best, Enjoy.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I feel like I could teach Lon Chaney 101 because each of his characters
follow a similar archetype and yet each one of his characters couldn't
be anymore different from the other. Lon Chaney is Dan aka The
Blackbird, a seedy criminal in London's underground who has a great
alibi, he is also his "twin" The Bishop a saintly cripple. The
Blackbird has his eye set on the beautiful Fifi who is naive and
overwhelmed by the dark and shady streets of London. West End Bertie
also has his sights set on the beautiful Fifi. Bertie is rich and
powerful but is not above common criminality and Dan makes it his
obsession to out bid him in the quest for Fifi's heart.
Visually the Blackbird is one of Browning's finest achievements. Chaney stands out as the Blackbird but so does the world he lives in. For some reason this felt the most authentic of any of the settings Browning ever did. The poor house and the crowds all felt real to me. I don't know why it was but it did feel real. I felt I could see this happening in a real world unlike some of the other Chaney films which were too melodramatic to be true.
The Blackbird really stands out in Lon's resume, so many expect Tod Browning's films to be about elements of honorer but the Blackbird isn't and I praise it for this. It is a class struggle story and I can think of no one b better to tackle this challenging role than Lon Chaney. In a way the Bishop side of the character didn't need to be so extravagant because there are too sides to every man. The Blackbird poses interesting and relevant questions even for today and it is a highly entertaining picture. In a large way it is Tod Browning's take on the moral code we live our life by which was something he really liked to place in his films. Are the poor who mourn the Bishop wrong? It isn't a social commentary but it does embody humanity like few other Browning films could do. The pacing and acting are all picture perfect and I believe it is one of the finest aged Chaney films.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Lon Chaney stars as a crook called the "blackbird" who tries to set
himself up with a nice alibi by masquerading as a crippled character
called the "bishop". The film is directed by Tod Browning who
collaborated with Chaney numerous times to great success. Browning
worked in a circus at one point and no doubt played a role in
influencing Chaney's choices in portraying the "bishop". Chaney is
contorted to a certain extent as the "bishop" and a bit over the top as
the "blackbird" at times. The "bishop" and the "blackbird" illustrate
the internal conflict Chaney has when faced with the goodness of Fifi,
played by Renee Adoree, as the girl who softens the hard-edged Chaney.
West End Bertie, played by Owen Moore, is the fellow crook who Chaney's
character teams up with briefly until Chaney, as the "blackbird",
notices Bertie getting sweet with Fifi.
The law eventually catches up with Chaney, and a terrible irony befalls the "bishop" before the fadeout. Chaney is the main attraction in this film, portraying two aspects of the same character so differently. It's a rare chance to see Chaney transform himself into characters on screen, when he is otherwise obscured by makeup. Chaney's acting style as the "blackbird" seems a bit much at times with his menacing grimacing, but it's really not out of the ordinary for the silent era. Instead of delving into the psychology of Chaney's character, director Browning unfortunately focuses on Chaney's petty jealousy of Owen Moore's character: West End Bertie. The film turns into a typical love triangle as a result. The ending is somewhat of a letdown and not too believable. The best reason to watch the film is seeing the marvelous Chaney at work near the end of his career. *** of 4 stars.
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