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WHERE EAST IS EAST is an enjoyable if fairly contrived adventure saga:
Chaney is a scarred trapper of wild animals, and the very first scene
shows him capturing a tiger for use in a circus. Chaney adores his
young daughter (Lupe Velez) and she certainly returns his affections
indeed, relentlessly so, resulting in a somewhat overbearing
performance! Lloyd Hughes is her naïve boyfriend, whose father
conveniently owns a circus.
Gradually, we learn that Velez's mother had left her and Chaney when still a baby. He later meets up with her on a boat, and we realize that she is nothing but a vamp who has already set her eyes on a new patsy Lloyd Hughes! Estelle Taylor's performance rivals Chaney's here (not to mention Velez for sex appeal) though her character is irritatingly one-note, and is unfortunately saddled with some godawful lines of cornball romanticism! Taylor is accompanied by an enigmatic servant-woman who, for some unknown reason, constantly betrays her mistresses' moves to Chaney: she reminded me of Judith Anderson in Hitchcock's REBECCA (1940), and I cracked up a couple of times watching her creep up on Chaney, give him the lowdown on Taylor's seduction of Hughes, and vanish immediately afterwards without giving Chaney barely a chance to register what she just said!
Tod Browning's hand is not much in evidence throughout the film and, while Chaney is quite good in what he has to do, the material on offer is somewhat below-par here. If anything, from his performances in this film and THE UNKNOWN (1927), we almost feel certain there's nobody who can illustrate a character's utter disgust and contempt (without bothering to cover it up in the face of his enemies!) like Chaney does!! The finale is a typical Browning/Chaney eccentricity, however: when Taylor is certain to take away her daughter's boyfriend for good, Chaney lets loose an ape and which also, conveniently, hates Taylor's guts (!) from one of the cages in his yard. It climbs up to Taylor's room and kills her in some vicious manner we can only imagine as Browning typically shies away from showing us anything but, perhaps, understandably so in this case. Chaney almost regrets having done this, and is himself wounded struggling with the gorilla.
This is a nice little silent film - years ago TCM UK showed a 1930's
re-issue print with ridiculous sound effects over an energetic
orchestra at 63 minutes long that I taped. Lon Chaney only had 2 more
films to make before his death the following year, while Lupe Velez had
more than 30 to go before her strange death in 1944, here the pair
played a rather close father and daughter (Tiger and Toyo) in steamy
The storyline's been completely given away in a previous post, all I would add is that this film is most definitely worth watching if only to gawp at Estelle Taylor playing Madame De Sylva, Toyo's prodigal mother. She was light-years more alluring than Velez in this mainly owing to her incredible eye make-up and hair style, but the daughter didn't seem to mind being overshadowed at all. And her boyfriend Booby was torn - what was there to choose?! Throughout the ensuing emotional roller-coaster Chaney snarls and generally lives up to his name, but unfortunately is guilty of a heavily contrived heinous crime against his immoral ex-wife and by the end has to pay the censor's price - literally in the last second.
All in all not fantastic, but with a realistic atmosphere generated by some intelligent photography and the usual high standard of scenic detail from Cedric Gibbons it's always a pleasant hour-filler for me.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Last of the Browning-Chaney movies and also one of the best. For
once, Lon Chaney has a 100% sympathetic role which he plays with
stellar panache. He still comes out almost on top in the acting stakes,
even though he is competing with the lovely Lupe and the skilfully
jejune Hughes. But despite all Chaney's efforts, it's Estelle Taylor
who slinks off with the movie's top histrionic honors. She is really
something. We can readily credit that a shallow, inexperienced youth,
such as Hughes portrays, could fall so heavily for this siren of the
The screenplay wisely concentrates on the four principals. Only Mrs Wong Wing as the enigmatic Ming makes any impression among the support players. This concentration of the audience's attention has the desired result of involving us fully in the drama, although it's pleasing to note that M-G-M has resisted the temptation to cut back on the budget. The huge, picturesque sets give the proceedings just the exactly right, bizarre mixture of extravagance and reality.
Browning's direction is not only meticulous, but comparatively restrained. This time, he doesn't overdo his effects. Aside the climactic moments which seem a little strained, a little too pat, a little too obvious, the way Browning unerringly mixes and serves up drama, conflict, romance and atmosphere makes for engrossing, edge-of-the-seat entertainment.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Tod Browning's final collaboration with Lon Chaney is an underrated
gem. Chaney plays Tiger Haynes, father of Toyo, played by the
ever-energetic Lupe Velez. She is in love with a young man, Bobby
(Lloyd Hughes). She presents him to her father, who after initial
reluctance accepts him as his daughter's fiancée. However, everything
changes when Tiger and Bobby go on a river trip to deliver wild animals
to Bobby's father and Bobby is seduced by Tiger's ex-wife who is also
Toyo's mother, Madam de Sylva (Estelle Taylor).
There's a lot going on in this film. First of all, it's the first MGM Browning/Chaney film where the Chaney character is not the main force of change in the plot. This film is dominated by both women, particularly by Estelle Taylor as a sexually charged nymph who plays with men (and women) for her pleasure and who gets what she wants and she wants Bobby. Despite his good nature, he is instantly taken by her flirtation. She also seems to be a lover to her female servant, whose only dialogue is to warn Tiger to take Bobby away from her clutches. She seems to be jealous when Mdm. De Sylva flirts with Bobby. And of course, she tries to seduce Tiger, but he is insistent on making sure his daughter is happy.
Chaney has a good role here; don't be fooled by those who say he doesn't. No, he doesn't wear old lady drag, tear off his arms or amputate his legs; he doesn't always need that. He keeps his make-up modest by his standards with some heavy scars on his face, presumably from the claws of wild animals. What he gets to play is an honorable father. I would disagree with some other reviewers saying there was an incestuous side to his relationship with his daughter. Near the end they have a very playful moment where Chaney shows his charm pretending he is an animal. This comes off as child-like and just because he is a guarding father, I don't really see any evidence of incest. With his character not being the plot-changer, he gets an opportunity to play more of a straight role and this is a welcome change. He has a wonderful moment when he tears up when consoling his daughter. Lupe Velez is so bubbly that she kisses and loves everything and everyone in her sight, so her repeatedly kissing her father is entirely in line with her persona.
The scenery is gorgeous and the long matte shots of the Buddha temple and other scenes of the villages on the waters are all terrific and atmospheric. There was an equally satisfying music score on the print TCM played that had mild sound effects too. As we know Chaney wasn't too keen on sound by this time and I imagine there was no intent to put anymore sound in this than exists. Tod Browning directed a tight picture and the script is excellent, except for the Dues ex Machina ending. The use of Chaney's gorilla is the only contrived part. Other than that, I can easily see this exact plot being remade today, especially with the rise of cougars in cinema and TV and I'm not talking the type Chaney captures.
This film is so easy to watch and enjoy, Lupe Velez is a great under-rated actress and such an expert at pantomime (when she is happy, the viewer is happy, when she is sad, the viewer is sad). It could have been filmed with synchronous sound, but it is superb as a silent with some subtle sound effects. Lupe's eyes and body poses tell all her emotions, and her smile is so charming when it blossoms on screen into laughter. Lon Chaney is, well, um Lon Chaney, but there are some strange seamy undertones of incest with his jealous protection of Lupe (playing his daughter, Toyo) particularly when he pretends to be a tiger crouching on the floor and growling at Toyo whose laughter turns to tears as she rushes into his lap to cry and says she does "not want to play". Estelle Taylor as the absentee mother is sultry, seductive and gorgeous, her exotic costumes are extensions of her character. The surprise is that Lupe (the STAR) does not have any fantastic gowns to wear, not even at her own engagement dinner party. The scene with the enraged gorilla walking up the stairs to find her mother is chilling. Seems like the gorilla's eyes were visually enhanced, they shone with anger! You knew something awful would happen when the gorilla went insane when the mother showed up unexpectedly at the house. (Only Lon Chaney could have a caged pet African gorilla in Asia). A woman servant in the house prayed for the ancestors to remove the evil - that woman was the sweeter counterpart of the mother's personal maid who constantly betrays her. I kept waiting for the gorilla to get loose and I was not surprised. Reminds me of the climactic scenes at the end of "FREAKS" .. you never see the horrible brutality being committed, but you can easily imagine it. Estelle's wide open eyes were the same as Olga Baclanova's eyes in the rain before she was "chickenized". From start to finish the viewer correctly imagines the conclusion of all events, but you want to keep watching, and congratulate yourself for being right. This is film as art. This is very much a TOD BROWNING film.
In Southeast Asia, scar-faced animal hunter Lon Chaney (as Tiger
Haynes) is very protective of "pretty as the poppies in the morning
sun" daughter Lupe Velez (as Toyo), who is dating cute Lloyd Hughes (as
Bobby Bailey). Mr. Chaney, who likes to play bullfighting games with
Ms. Velez, grows to accept Mr. Hughes after he helps save Velez from a
loose tiger. When all seems idyllic, seductive Estelle Taylor (as
Madame de Sylva) arrives to heighten interest in sex and revenge among
Directed by Tod Browning and top-billing Chaney, then the #2 "Box Office Star" according to the annual "Quigley Publications" exhibitors' poll, "Where East Is East" is nothing special; it features the expected Browning/Chaney formulaic moments, but they are mild when compared to some of the collaborators' other works. Despite some silly posturing and eye make-up, Ms. Taylor is most entertaining. She and Mr. Hughes are fun - and, watch out for Taylor's jealous lesbian attendant.
****** Where East Is East (5/4/29) Tod Browning ~ Lon Chaney, Lupe Velez, Estelle Taylor, Lloyd Hughes
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Some spoilers may be ahead, but nothing that will wreck the
When first viewing this film, I was hoping to see a good note to end on for the Tod Browning and Lon Chaney collaborations. Unfortunately, I was left with a bittersweet reaction of good performances and photography unfortunately spoiled by a terrible story and bad continuity.
With Browning at throne, one expects something really juicy and he doesn't fail to deliver. There's all sorts of incestuous overtones between Velez and Chaney, and some almost lesbian moments between Velez and Taylor. He does put in his trademark switcheroos, and has you believe one thing, and then turns the corner to something else. Unfortunately, many scenes seem tagged on or awkward, and it leaves you feeling as if he was pressed for time or wasn't finished when the cut was released.
For Chaney, this role is almost a throwaway. There's little change of pace in the role that he usually plays for MGM (unrequited love for younger woman, doesn't get the woman in the end). Little of the plot revolved around him, and most of the time he is found as a reference for plot points. There's some good character makeup, and a nice opening scene with Chaney and his goons trapping a lion, but this fails to make up in the final reel. His love for Toyo is believable, and by the end, there's really no doubt in what his decision will be between Toyo and Bobbie. This film really feels like a bit of a retread of his past films, particularly ROAD TO MANDALAY, WEST OF ZANZIBAR and even THE UNHOLY THREE. The same, tired Tod Browning vehicles are installed (even his trademark guy-in-a-Chimp-outfit-posing-as-a-gorilla).
Lupe Velez, Lloyd Hughes and Estelle Taylor are billed as if they're supporting cast, but the film ultimately revolves around them most of all. Velez is quite energetic and has a presence that unfortunately few seem to have captured in that era.
Hughes is charming as the protagonist, and he runs a good range of emotions in the film. One scene finds him in a restaurant, thinking of Madam de Sylva, and then the image changes to Toyo. His emotions feels torn, and his reaction is quite good and one must give Browning some props for handling the scene as well as it comes out.
Estelle Taylor is very good and very subtle as the sinister Madam De Sylva. Many scenes of the film portray her as a woman who can have anything she wants through her beauty, and this leads to the conflict in the story.
The photography is another thing that stands out most in the film. There's wonderful shots of French-Indo China, and footage along the various rivers really stand out. Various shots are well photographed, and really have a sort of glow that MGM was famous for. There's also some great wildlife photography, no doubt handled through stock footage, but edited in such a way that it flows seamlessly with the story.
The print I watched was clear and complete, with just a bit of decomposition at the beginning of the film (for a few seconds). It had no score, but I've read elsewhere that there was a sound effects and music track that the film was released with.
For the most part, this one is forgettable. Even if you are a Browning or Chaney fan, you may want to save this for a rainy day. However, it's worth a viewing once around, and does have redeeming qualities. In 1929, it may have been a bit risqué, but it's a pretty tame movie in comparison today. Not exactly for children, but most of it will go over their heads anyway to be sure. Good points are good performances, direction and photography; Bad points are a terrible script and fails to pull full circle.
I give it 6/10.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
When Lupe Velez was made a WAMPAS Baby Star in 1928 she was soon to
leave other newcomers far behind in popularity at the box office. 1929
was a terrific year for her and when she made "Wolf Song" her sizzling
affair with it's star, Gary Cooper, kept gossip magazines with enough
juicy titbits (apparently they were sharing a house) to feed an
insatiable public. As a diversion from her torrid romance she was
loaned to MGM to star opposite the man of a 1,000 faces, Lon Chaney, in
a smouldering, languid drama of Indochina, "Where East is East".
Director Tod Browning was drawn to the theme of a brutish man living in
an uncivilized world and he and Chaney made three films dealing with
the subject - "The Road to Mandalay", "West of Zanzibar" and "Where
East is East" - these jungle movies were also a hit with the public.
Lupe Velez is just so full of beans and a real live wire it is easy to see why she captivated audiences in the twenties. She plays Toyo, daughter of wild animal trapper, Tiger Haynes (Chaney) who she is eagerly awaiting after he has successfully captured a tiger for a friend's circus. The scenes between Chaney and Lupe show a lot of camaraderie and playfulness like the amazing ride on the elephant or the exaggerated horseplay before Toyo plucks up the courage to tell him she has fallen in love with Bobby (Lloyd Hughes) son of the circus owner. Tiger takes a lot of convincing as his own marriage was hard and very unhappy and he has never told Toyo any of this but when Bobby saves her from a runaway tiger Haynes takes the young man under his wing.
Both Bobby and Tiger go to Saigon to deliver the animals but while on the boat Bobby becomes ensnared by Madame De Sylva (mesmerizing Estelle Taylor), a prostitute who turns out to be the mother who deserted Toyo and her father all those years ago. Tiger takes Bobby home to escape her clutches only to find Madame De Sylva has established herself at Tiger's home and not only has she fed Toyo lies about her "redemption" but has also given the young girl a crash course in adult sophistication - which neither of the men like. It is clear that Madame is after Bobby - but could she also be grooming Toyo to take her place in a Javanese brothel?
Estelle Taylor (who also became one of Lupe's closest friends) was the star critics raved about from this movie. She looked so much the Latin temptress but stood out in some very different roles - the restless tenement mother in "Street Scene" (1931), as a prostitute of the old West in "Cimarron" (1930) but she was just as much at home as an Oriental seductress in "Where East is East". There was only one end for her and it wasn't pretty - as Haynes said of the caged gorilla - "They never forget people who have been cruel to them"!!!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Lon Chaney's last collaboration with Tod Browning shows how this
immensely creative duo were pretty close to being bum out of ideas.
Browning by this point must have been overconfident in his formula and
thus may have forgotten what made his films with Chaney so special.
This film seems to want to be another story of the sideshow with the
perverse sexual innuendo and subplot that made Browning a genius. The
way Browning chooses to do this however is troubling to audiences
today. As I watched this picture I didn't see the Browning quirkiness,
I saw misogyny. Granted the audiences of the twenties were not as
enlightened as audiences today but this film still feels very hate
filled. Not only does this make the picture uncomfortable to watch
today but it effects the characters in a negative way. I might have
been able to give this film a great review if the story and characters
worked; they don't.
Lon Chaney's character is by far one of the most contrived that he's ever played. Lon plays Tiger Hayes, an animal trapper whose daughter Toho's fiancée is being snatched up his seductress of an ex-wife. Chaney simply doesn't have a great deal to do here. He has no edge, no anger. He isn't the loner ostracized by society. He's just a simpleton with scars with a big heart. It's fine and good but it plays into none of Chaney's strengths. I once read an article about Browning that called him 'Chaney's enabler' and I see it. Browning really deserves a great deal of credit for helping to define what a Lon Chaney picture was. This film could have been made without Chaney and nobody would notice. I place the blame on Browning and his script more than I do on Lon. I think he must have liked playing a nice guy. I just wish there could have been some edge here. Chaney needs the anger of the cast aside and suffering to showcase the best of his talents. Browning usually understood that but he doesn't here.
Browning is the reason this picture isn't very good. The sad thing is that is really an unfortunate picture in that Browning's exploration of the abnormal perverse leads to a demonization of female sexuality. The seductress played by Estelle Taylor is meant to be the villain but the stupid young hero falls for her in every way. I love Tod Browning and he often was very ahead of his time but this plot is ugly and misogynist now and downright uncomfortable even for a Browning film. The best of Browning and Chaney often had quirky sexual subtext but there was pathos to the Chaney character and the world around him. A great comparison I think is 'The Unknown' which is Browning and Chaney's masterpiece. That film also had some dark sexual innuendo and the Joan Crawford character wouldn't have been seen as virginally pure by twenties audiences but she is interesting and part of a seedy world where everyone has their own kinks and secrets. (This was so upsetting that I almost forgot how silly the character of Toho is portrayed...almost)
This film might be Chaney's worst and it takes a hell of a lot for me to not like a Lon Chaney movie. For completist's only, which unfortunately I am.
Where East is East (1929)
** 1/2 (out of 4)
Set in China, Lon Chaney plays animal trapper Tiger Haynes who has spent his entire life making sure his daughter (Lupe Velez) is happy. She informs him that she's going to marry a man (Lloyd Hughes) but soon her estranged mother (Estelle Taylor) shows up to cause trouble and try to steal the man from her. This would be the final time that star Chaney and director Browning would work together and sadly it's not nearly as good as many of their films together. This certainly isn't a bad movie but at the same time when you consider the talent involved you can't help but be somewhat disappointed. Those expecting a horror film or for that matter anything bizarre are going to be disappointed because this is a pretty straight melodrama. The story itself is a pretty weak one as you sit there waiting for some sort of big revelation to happen but it really never does. The story is played right down the middle and when the film is over you get pretty much everything you'd expect but at the same time you'll be wondering what the entire point was. There really aren't any major twists in the story and anyone will see the ending coming. What makes the film worth viewing are the performances with Chaney leading the way. It's a shame some people have labeled him (incorrectly) a "horror star" because he was always capable of so much more and you can see that here. It's hard to think of very many other actors who could deliver so much emotion in their face but Chaney delivers the goods and manages to make Tiger a memorable character. Thankfully he has a strong supporting cast with Taylor doing a terrific job in her part. The screenplay doesn't do her any favors but the actor is really terrific on screen and you can't help be drawn to her character. Velez is excellent in her role and manages to have a great relationship with Chaney. Their early scenes together are so fun because they really do come across as a real father and daughter. The sex appeal is also quite high with Velez. There's no question the screenplay is a problem but another issue is the direction by Browning. Those expecting to see that wonderful style and vision are going to be disappointed because this looks like anyone could have directed it. Browning turned in some lazy directorial jobs in this period and sadly this is one of them. With that said, fans of Chaney will certainly want to check it out and at just 67-minutes there's really nothing too bad that would make you want to stay away.
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