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George W. Hill
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Magician Phroso's wife Anna leaves him for another man, named Crane, who fights with Phroso and leaves him paralyzed. Later Anna returns and he finds her dead, leaving behind a daughter. For 18 years Phroso, known as "Dead Legs" by his cronies, plots his revenge, becoming a pseudo-king in East Africa, nearby where Crane has set up an ivory business. When the daughter is grown, having lived in a brothel in Zanzibar thanks to "Dead Legs", Phroso put his plan into action, resulting in revenge and retribution all around. Written by
Ron Kerrigan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Crippled during a confrontation with his wife's lover, Phroso, a famous English magician (Lon Chaney, Sr), vows to exact terrible revenge on wife and lover. A couple of year's later when the wife, fatally ill, returns to London with a young child, Phroso's plans are put into action. After she succumbs to her illness, Phroso emigrates to Africa with her child, where the wife's lover is an ivory trader, a vocation also undertaken by Phroso.
Now known as Dead-Legs he becomes the most feared and degenerate backcountry ivory trader west of Zanzibar. He raises his daughter, who he presumes is not his own, to be a drug-addicted prostitute. With his wife's child debased, he waits like a spider in his web for the man who cuckolded and then paralyzed him. Dark stuff, this.
It's a morbid although entertaining little tale, and Lon Chaney gives his usual top-notch performance, transitioning from the big-hearted Phroso to the crippled (in both body and sole) Dead-Legs. The movie is worth watching just for his performance. Tod Browning is in his element and delivers up a dark, creepy tale. So what that the plot twists are telegraphed from a mile away, and the portrayal of Africans is negatively stereotyped. If these shortcomings can be overlooked, this is a good example of the Browning-Chaney collaborations. Not bad for a silent film, which has a recorded soundtrack, coming as it did on the cusp of the transition to sound.
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