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Outside the Law (1920)

Passed | | Crime, Romance, Thriller | 6 January 1921 (USA)
In this early collaboration with director Tod Browning (Dracula, Freaks), Chaney delivers a dual performance of dramatic intensity, starring as Ah Wing, a kind-hearted student of Confucian ... See full summary »


Tod Browning


Gardner Bradford (titles), Tod Browning | 1 more credit »


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Credited cast:
Priscilla Dean ... Molly Madden (Silky Moll)
Wheeler Oakman ... Dapper Bill Ballard
Lon Chaney ... Black Mike Sylva / Ah Wing
Ralph Lewis ... Silent Madden
E. Alyn Warren ... Chang Lo
Stanley Goethals Stanley Goethals ... That Kid
Melbourne MacDowell Melbourne MacDowell ... Morgan Spencer
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Wilton Taylor Wilton Taylor ... Inspector


In this early collaboration with director Tod Browning (Dracula, Freaks), Chaney delivers a dual performance of dramatic intensity, starring as Ah Wing, a kind-hearted student of Confucian philosophy, and Black Mike Sylva, a murderous rake of the San Francisco underworld. Written by Anonymous

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Tricky eyes. Dangerous smile. Exquisitely gowned. Nimble fingers. See more »








Release Date:

6 January 1921 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Fora da Lei See more »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


Was found in the estate of farmers wife Miss Bishman where a traveling man left the prints and never returned. See more »


The name of San Francisco's Nob Hill is misspelled "Knob Hill" in a title. See more »


Black Mike Sylva: I knew you'd fall for that cop stuff - you dirty rat!
See more »


Referenced in Man of a Thousand Faces (1957) See more »

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User Reviews

Confucius and Tod Browning say, "Crime Does Not Pay!"
8 January 2011 | by wes-connorsSee all my reviews

With a sometimes hard-to-follow storyline, "Outside the Law" begins with some observations from a famous Chinese philosopher. Confucius said, "If a country had none but good rulers for a hundred years, crime might be stamped out and the death penalty abolished." This view lives through the ages, and brings us to the present setting of filmmaker Tod Browning's crime drama, "On the crest of a yellow torrent" to "the Orient of America" in San Francisco's Chinatown. The poppy-smoked streets and alleys are a haven for crime, but trusty Chinese do-gooder E. Alyn Warren (as Chang Low) is attempting to reform underworld mastermind Ralph Lewis (as "Silent" Madden).

Elsewhere, forces are plotting against Mr. Lewis' reformation. Fearsome and vengeful Lon Chaney (as "Black Mike" Sylva) arranges for Lewis to be framed for killing a cop during a shoot-out. Nasty business. Next, Mr. Chaney plans to lure Lewis' strong-willed daughter Priscilla Dean (as Molly "Silky Moll" Madden) into participation in a jewel heist. But Chaney's sticky-fingered friend Wheeler Oakman (as "Dapper Bill" Ballard) decides to team-up with Ms. Dean and escape with the booty. As the film plays, we see Dean and Mr. Oakman as a possible romantic couple. Oakman develops a fatherly relationship with a "Kid Across the Hall" (Stanley Goethals). Confucius approves.

This is a nicely-produced film. The actors are much more natural that you might assume, with Mr. Browning's direction being an obviously positive factor. The problem is that the story, while a good one, unfolds in a confusing manner and seems to leave out details regarding the characters' relationships and motivations; we must make assumptions. "Yellow-face" watchers note Chaney also plays Mr. Warren's devoted servant; both men use the standard tape method to achieve their "slant eye" effect. There is some obvious film deterioration during the climax (making it look like a fire is also blazing!) but the film's basic integrity is intact; still photographs reveal beautiful detail.

Also note the words "you dirty rat!" often wrongly attributed to James Cagney are written herein for Chaney.

****** Outside the Law (12/26/20) Tod Browning ~ Priscilla Dean, Lon Chaney, Wheeler Oakman, Ralph Lewis

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