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Chaney gives one of the most powerful acting performances ever seen
biglee1 October 2001
This film can be discounted as unacceptable by many modern audiences. It is filmed in black and white. It is silent and it shows African blacks in a stero-typic manner that would not be accepted today.

Saying all that, it is a must-see film for any serious student or fan of drama. Chaney gives in this film one of the most powerful and convincing acting performances of any actor in any film. Without a single spoken word he shows anger to the point of madness, sly intelligence and overwhelming remorse and sorrow.

There is no feel of "miming emotions " or "mugging for the camera" about this film. The emotions that Chaney display feel so authentic that at times this viewer feels a discomfort for intruding into the personal torment of the character.

The director has used the talents of Chaney and to a lesser extent those of the other actors to relay most of the story with minimal use of "Text Cards", which otherwise would have disrupted the flow of action.
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Another Triumph From Mr. Lon Chaney
Ron Oliver7 October 2001
Somewhere WEST OF ZANZIBAR, a crippled magician insanely plots revenge on the ivory hunter who ruined his life...

Lon Chaney dominates this fascinatingly bizarre little silent movie. More than just a ‘horror actor,' Chaney was a consummate craftsman who, here using a minimum of makeup, could sway an audience with the slightest facial twinge or glance from his haunted eyes. Completely convincing as a cripple, dragging his dead legs behind him across the floor, he becomes more a monstrous aberration than a human being.

Lionel Barrymore, Warner Baxter & lovely Mary Nolan all give excellent performances in supporting roles, but this is really Chaney's picture all the way. The fine production values , courtesy of MGM, only enhance its star's dominance of the medium.

With Tod Browning, Chaney's frequent collaborator, as director, it is fascinating to speculate how much Chaney's physical performance here later influenced Browning's vision in his masterwork, FREAKS (1932).
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"Lon Chaney Will Get You If You Don't Watch Out!"
lugonian2 November 2001
"West of Zanzibar" (MGM, 1928), directed by Tod Browning, is the first screen carnation to the Broadway play, "Kongo," which starred Walter Huston. In the silent production made during the dawn of sound, it stars Lon Chaney giving another fine performance, this time playing an embittered cripple out to avenge the man who had wronged him.

The story opens with Phroso (Lon Chaney), a lime-house magician who is assisted by his wife, Anna (Jacqueline Gadsdon) with his magic tricks. After she goes to her dressing room, she is confronted by Crane (Lionel Barrymore), her lover, who wants to take her with away with him to Africa, but Anna hasn't told her husband about their upcoming plans and of her intentions of leaving him. Crane advises her to get ready while he breaks the news to Phroso. After being given the shocking news, Phroso becomes upset, which finds Crane accidentally pushing Phroso over the railing where he crashes into the platform below, causing his spine to break and to become crippled for life. One year later, Phroso is seen heading for a church on a wooded platform on wheels where he is to meet Anna. By the time he gets there, Anna has died, leaving behind a little girl child. Believing the baby to be Crane's, Phroso decides to avenge himself on Crane for all the suffering he has caused by raising the child of his own choosing, and to have her suffer when the time comes. Eighteen years later, the now bald-headed Phroso, now known as "Dead Legs," is living in Africa where he occupies his time in performing magic tricks to the natives. He sends for Maizi (Mary Nolan), the child now a grown woman, and Crane, who is in Africa collecting elephant tusks and ivory, to make preparations to satisfy his long awaited revenge.

Supporting the legendary Chaney are Warner Baxter (only a year away from his Best Actor Academy Award for "In Old Arizona" in 1929) as the young doctor; Roscoe Ward as Tiny; and Curtis Nero as Bumbo, all acting as assistants to Phroso/Deadlegs.

"West of Zanzibar" was one of the 13 silent MGM movies that initially premiered in New York City on the PBS series, MOVIES, GREAT MOVIES (Original air date: WNET, Channel 13, November 1, 1973), accompanied by a new orchestral score. Currently shown on Turner Classic Movies, "West of Zanzibar" is presented with its original musical score and sound effects. If that musical score that accompanies "West of Zanzibar" sounds familiar, portions of it were used for the 1930s presentation of the TARZAN adventure series starring Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O'Sullivan. Remade by MGM in 1932 as "Kongo" starring Walter Huston and Virginia Bruce in the Chaney and Nolan roles, the sound version became longer and more of a more violent nature than the Chaney film.

"West of Zanzibar" adds to the long list of Chaney's many screen characters. As for his many faces, he presents two of them. One as a young magician with make up and dark hair, the second as a mean-faced bald-headed cripple with hate in his heart, dragging himself around by his hands with his useless legs behind him. One thing about Lon Chaney, he never ceases to amaze his audience. Although bizarre as the Chaney-Browning combination is concerned, it's worth a look. (***)
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Creepy - Sad - Spellbinding!
movingpicturegal24 April 2007
Very interesting and unusual silent film starring Lon Chaney as Phrosos the Magician, a stage show performer who has a wife he really loves - but she informs him she is planning to leave him for a man named Crane (Lionel Barrymore). When Crane tells Phrosos he is taking her away to Africa - he fights with Phrosos sending him falling over the railing of a second floor landing. His legs now paralyzed, Phrosos goes around riding a cart or pulls himself around by his arms, with his lifeless legs dragging behind. When the wife comes back with a baby, he finds the wife dead - so Phrosos, bitter and full of hate, sets out for Africa to seek his revenge on Crane and the baby daughter. Eighteen years pass - Phrosos, now known as "Dead-Legs", uses his magic to trick the natives with fake "voodoo" so he can steal elephant tusks from Crane, now a trader. Meanwhile, he has the daughter being raised in a Zanzibar brothel and he sends for her to come to him - all part of his evil plan. He now holds the poor girl captive and treats her like dirt - doing such things to her as making her eat on the floor and giving all her clothes to the natives. Twists and turns to follow.

This is an absorbing, well done film - odd, creepy, and sad too. Chaney is really excellent in this - he gets such a look of evil and hate on his expressive face and is just SO good at making his legs look completely lifeless. Mary Nolan, who plays the daughter, spends most of the film looking around her with a complete look of disgust (and who can blame her!) - but her facial expressions are slightly over the top sometimes. Warner Baxter is handsome here playing Doc, Chaney's sidekick in Africa who falls in love with the girl. Very good.
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preppy-32 December 2002
Silent film of crippled Lon Chaney Sr. who blames a man (Lionel Barrymore) for causing it. He tortures and turns his young daughter (Mary Nolan) into a drug addict to punish him.

Very strange but absolutely fascinating movie. The story is strong (but not overly gruesome like its remake "Kongo") with great acting. Nolan is very good at playing innocent and drugged out. Barrymore isn't in it much, but he's very good when he is. Chaney is just great in his role--quite possibly one of the best performances I've ever seen on film, and I've seen hundreds of them.

Quite simply, this is one of the best silent films ever. A definite must-see.
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Lon Chaney as "Dead-Legs", voodoo tribespeople, Tod Browning... and the downside?
MisterWhiplash1 June 2009
What would appear on the outset to be another insane horror feature along the lines of Freaks (at least from the definitely deceptive publicity picture with Lon Chaney as a chicken or other, which never happens in the film), West of Zanzibar is just another melodrama. Actually, that's a lie. West of Zanzibar is one of the finest examples of the wild, over-the-top melodrama in the silent era. This is a filmmaker who understands what makes a melodrama tick and tickle, and in this film it's about the details of its plot unfolding at a quick clip but with enough characterization to make it never less than fascinating. At worst, it is painfully dated (the stereotypes of tribes people on screen seem a little flagrant), but at best its an example of what could be possible when a director could get his cast to convey all necessary through pantomime and gesture, of grandiosity loaded with little details stitched in there.

It helps that Lon Chaney is starring, however. This is probably what makes it a must-see for me; between just seeing two of his films, this and Phantom of the Opera, he appears to be one of the giants of his time. Maybe even more-so in the case of Zanzibar, one sees Chaney's skills without make-up, with the only gimmick of his "Dead-Legs" not obfuscating what is most interesting about him which is his face and eyes. This man conveys so much without ever, for a second, going too far over the top, at least to how far Browning's melodrama commands. Lionel Barrymore, for the supporting-role time he's on camera, doesn't disappoint either, and character players Mary Nolan and Warner Baxter don't do bad at all, but Chaney just hits it so far out of the park it's without compare in this case.

Playing especially this character, a man with a revenge plot that he has 18 years in the making (sound like that guy in 2009 Star Trek to you?), is a leap of faith, but its one the audience will make since this actor is so determined in this character, invested to the point where we believe how he's a jaded guy, as Doc describes him as despicable and very human at the same time. It's far more complex a character than I would have ever expected going in; the casket he has isn't too shabby, either.

As for Browning fans looking for mood, there's lots of it, especially of the voodoo kind (again, some of it is a little squirm-in-your-seat variety, just in terms of the faces not necessarily the rituals and fire-dances). It's never too laugh-out-loud funny, but it has its moments, like when Maizie's clothes are used for ritual purposes by the tribe-folk. There's also a very sublime touch near the end, perhaps expected in the bittersweet vein but still very satisfying, and I'm sure that was the filmmaker's sensibility all the way. It's a wonderful movie, for fans of the star and director, and if you can see it with a live piano by any chance it's highly recommended.
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Dark Tod Browning-Lon Chaney Collaboration
gbheron15 February 2004
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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Weirdly fascinating chiller from Browning and Chaney...
Neil Doyle16 December 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Despite the flaws to be expected in a silent film that rushes the story forward by compressing time and events and bridging the gap with a few written words of dialog, WEST OF ZANZIBAR remains another interesting, weird and chilling entry in the cycle of LON CHANEY's horror films.

As to be expected, Chaney once again suffers for his art. He plays a man so damaged by a fall during a struggle with LIONEL BARRYMORE, that he must spend the rest of his life as a cripple, vowing to get revenge against the man who claimed he was going to take Chaney's sweetheart to Africa. Chaney then discovers the woman dead in church (a probable suicide) with her little girl crying near her body.

The scene shifts to Africa where Chaney is bent on revenge and the tale takes some really darker turns involving natives immersed in Voodoo practices, the death of ivory merchant Barrymore, and some revelations about the identity of the girl who is part of Chaney's plan to seek revenge against the man who wronged him.

It's typical Tod Browning/Lon Chaney melodrama and some of it looks pretty primitive by today's standards but silent film lovers will undoubtedly put this one near the top of their list as a film great.

Chaney reveals himself to be a great actor, capable of instilling fear and hatred in his expression and a number of other grimaces in between. As expected, LIONEL BARRYMORE proves that even as early as silent films he was given to much blustery overacting, as is WARNER BAXTER in his drunk scene. MARY NOLAN, as the blonde beauty, seems to be smirking most of the time rather than smiling, probably to suggest the hard life she's been living as a part of Chaney's scheme--but she's effective most of the time.

Well worth viewing for any Lon Chaney or Tod Browning fan.
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A small masterpiece from director Tod Browning and actor Lon Chaney
zetes11 October 2001
Tod Browning is a marvelous director. I guess I've known this since i've seen his two most famous films, Dracula (the Bela Lugosi version) and Freaks. But neither of those films could have prepared me for the two films that I saw tonight (well, okay, maybe Freaks did; Dracula's not all that great a film). First, The Unknown from 1927 and, second, West of Zanzibar from the next year. Both of them starring Lon Chaney (Sr.). They are two of the most well-acted, well-directed, inventive, literate, powerful, and beautiful films I've ever seen. The difference between the two is that I had before heard of The Unkown - it's plot is too bizarre to be all that unknown. It's easily mentioned in the same breath with Freaks (in my opinion it is a step above it; that film is only interested in showing the freaks, although there are a couple of great, great scenes); there are thematic and plot similarities. But West of Zanzibar - it's not a typical film at all (not that The Unknown is, either, mind you!). In fact, it would be pointless to reveal any plot here, for if you've seen it (and I have no clue how many have), you'll likely remember it. If you haven't, it would be nice to come in fresh. See this underrated gem, I implore you!
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Hard to find, worth the effort.
TSMChicago10 September 2010
The opening sequences of Lon Chaney as the magician foreshadow the dark atmospheres that director Tod Browning would later create for Freaks and Mark of the Vampire. Excellent photography and an astonishing physical performance that was the hallmark of Chaney's work.

I remember this film being shown on Chicago's PBS outlet WTTW-TV during the 1970s. It was tinted in certain scenes and featured a new score that was fresh, yet not too modern. A master from this television showing has to exist somewhere.

Why this fantastic film is not more readily available is a mystery. It deserves to be seen on DVD or Turner Classic Movies.
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Is there a Mightier Actor than Lon Chaney!!!!
kidboots12 December 2009
Warning: Spoilers
In a telling scene toward the end of the movie "Dead Legs" (Lon Chaney) face shows the insane rage that 18 years of vengeance has reduced him to, but as he learns the horrific truth he becomes pitiable, then very protective. No other actor could show such a range of emotions. The story is exactly what you would expect from a Tod Browning/Lon Chaney collaboration - a macabre, grotesque, completely over the top melodrama. With any other star it would have been a freakish curiosity but Chaney makes it magnificent!!!

As Phroso, a renowned English magician, Chaney gives him many of Chaplin's graceful movements, finishing with a cheeky back kick. He is hopelessly in love with his wife but she is having doubts. Crane (Lionel Barrymore) is the man she plans to runaway with. There is a terrible fight between Crane and Phroso, ending in a shocking injury which leaves Phroso a cripple in a wheelchair. Time passes and Phroso finds his wife dead in a church with a little girl crawling about. He vows terrible vengeance on Crane and his "little brat".

Eighteen years later his threat is being carried out. He has bought the little girl with him to Zanzibar and left her in the care of a brothel owner. He has emerged as "Dead Legs", leader of a motley band of misfits and hoping to be King of all the natives some day. Mary Nolan gives a very stirring but believable performance as Maizie. Mostly remembered, if at all, for her many Follies scandals, she was a very fine actress and her scenes of hysteria in this film were quite grim. Warner Baxter was also excellent as "Doc", one of the men in "Dead Legs" power. His scenes when he is high on "kerosene" are quite eye-popping, especially when I had only seen him as a staid and solemn leading man of the 30s.

Crane is now an ivory trader and "Dead Legs" is poaching it. He plans to entice Crane to his jungle quarters and show him how he has turned Maizie, Crane's daughter, into a drug addict and prostitute. Of course the shock announcement is that Maizie is in reality Phroso's daughter, and that Anna, when she realised what Crane had done to Phroso, did not run off with him. The last scene shows Maizie and "Doc" sailing off to find a cleaner, better way of life, while the natives pick "Dead Legs" pendant out of the ashes. All this in just 65 minutes. Amazing!!!

Highly Recommended.
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WEST OF ZANZIBAR (Tod Browning, 1928) ***
MARIO GAUCI27 September 2008
This is one of Silent star Lon Chaney’s most popular and intriguing titles, the penultimate of ten collaborations with director Browning (being virtually a dead cert for an eventual second DVD set of the star’s vehicles from Warners but which has been so long in coming that I opted to acquire it from ulterior sources – culled from the quite extensively scratched print shown on “TCM Underground”). Though this was my first time watching the film, I was already familiar with the plot via a relatively recent viewing of its almost-as-good Sound remake – KONGO (1932), where Chaney was replaced by Walter Huston (who had actually originated the role on stage). Revolving as it does around a long-running, elaborate and, finally, tragically ironic revenge, the material is just what audiences had come to expect of the “Man Of A Thousand Faces” (here utilizing simple yet effectively distinct make-ups for the opening sequence and the rest of the film, occurring eighteen years later) – the star having made this kind of intense, grim entertainment practically his own over the years.

The first difference I noticed between the two versions is that, despite being the shorter film, WEST OF ZANZIBAR (running 65 minutes against KONGO’s 86) takes care to depict the incident which crippled and soured Chaney’s character (he’s subsequently referred to almost exclusively as “Dead-Legs”!) – whereas Huston is already ‘crawling around’ when the narrative takes off. Having said that, some of the developments in the storyline are kind of rushed through here – but, then, I recall feeling the same way about the girl’s degradation in KONGO; on the other hand, in the latter film but not here, we get an additional major (albeit perfunctory) character – Huston’s bitter girlfriend played by Lupe Velez. Apart from that, C. Henry Gordon, Conrad Nagel and Virginia Bruce seemed to me to have stood in adequately for Lionel Barrymore, Warner Baxter and Mary Nolan respectively from the 1928 version.

By the way, back then, I had voiced my doubts about the presence in the original of two particular scenes from KONGO: the ‘gimmicks’ utilized to dupe the superstitious locals – since many of them were borrowed from Browning’s THE SHOW (1927), which had featured Barrymore in a similar role – weren’t, in fact, duplicated into WEST OF ZANZIBAR (where they are of a more modest if still attention-grabbing nature); however, the ending – in which the natives turn on Chaney’s confidence trickster/demi-God a' la H.G. Wells’ “The Island Of Dr. Moreau” (this happened to be filming around the same time as KONGO!) – is identical in the two versions. The jungle/squalid atmosphere, too, is pretty much equal in both titles – in retrospect, the fact that the latter film followed the visual style of the original so closely shouldn’t detract from its ultimate quality but rather reflect upon otherwise obscure director William J. Cowen’s good judgment (or, if you like, shrewdness). However, at the end of the day, Chaney’s typically mesmerizing performance and Browning’s undeniable flair for low-life/exotic melodrama are the two driving factors which give the original the edge; besides, for all its better-rounded characterizations, I remember KONGO being bogged down by meaningful, self-pitying talk – here everything is deployed in purely cinematic terms and accentuated, of course, by the emotive acting redolent of the Silent era…
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Chaney, Chaney, Chaney: the master
Enrique Sanchez11 October 2001
This movie is totally Lon Chaney - now almost forgotten - but an acting talent for the ages. Thousands of actors then and now pale to the breadth of his gargantuan talent. I tremble and shake before the gifts he has bestowed to posterity.

His utter concentration literally consumed me as I held my breath before the fabulous spectrum of his delivery.

In West of Zanzibar, this still-reigning and consummate master of make-up shows us just how high he could jump.

Catch him if you can...I dare you.
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Another great Browning-Chaney collaboration
chaos-rampant27 August 2008
One year after these two prominent figures of the silent era cinema worked together for The Unknown, here they team again for another tragic story of despair, loss and revenge. Clocking at little more than an hour, West of Zanzibar combines the best of both worlds: Browning's atmospheric direction that turns Africa (or the studio backlot that stood for it) in a dark limbo where cannibal tribes perform weird rituals to their gods and drums of doom sound in the night, and Lon Chaney, the man, the myth.

Saying that Lon Chaney is among the finest character actors of all time is an understatement. Mostly known for his macabre make-up that made him almost unrecognizable from one role to the other, Chaney was also a fantastic actor, able to emote and connect with the audience with a gesture or a look of his eyes. West of Zanzibar's story works on the same motif of tragic irony that made The Unknown so good and offers the perfect role for this great actor. Unsurprisingly he makes the most of it.

A great companion piece for The Unknown and a fine movie on its own right, West of Zanzibar is the result of two inspired artists at the top of their craft working together. Recommended.
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Crippled body, Crippled Mind
theowinthrop17 January 2007
Warning: Spoilers
West of Zanzibar was based on one of those torrid dramas that were big on Broadway in the 1920s, set in some distant rain forest or jungle. The best recalled is WHITE CARGO, in which a half-breed (as they were called in the 1920s) named Tondelayo manipulates one man into marrying her, and later tries to poison him for her own comfort. The play RAIN was based on a better piece of fiction (Somerset Maugham's short story of the same name) and set in the South Seas - and told of how a holy man proved more man than holy man after he met a prostitute.

But KONGO, the basis of WEST OF ZANZIBAR, is not as well remembered except for the two films that came out of it: the silent film here with Lon Chaney as "Deadlegs" and the talkie movie version with Walter Huston called KONGO. They gave the same type of background - exotic and rotting to White "European" types. But KONGO / WEST OF ZANZIBAR also is a study in vengeance and it's dangers and limitations.

Lon Chaney Sr. plays a prominent magician named Phroso, who is married when his wife deserts him for a rival named Crane (Lionel Barrymore). There is a fight, and Crane cripples Phroso by throwing him down. Crane leaves with the wife, but a year of so later she tries to return to Phroso, who rejects her. She dies, leaving a young girl. Phroso takes the girl, believing it is Crane's daughter.

Tod Browning's films were good on building suspense and showing the odd in life from "Freaks" to Mad Magicians to Great Vampires (of fake Vampires). But the plot lines are not well thought out. Phroso learns Crane is an ivory dealer in Africa, so he follows him there, sets himself up as an ivory dealer too, and proceeds to slowly drive Crane out of business as part of a long term plan for vengeance. He also brings up the daughter (Mary Nolan) as a drudge and a drug addict. His compound in Africa includes a drunken doctor (Warner Baxter) and the local natives.

It is with the scenes and plot developments with the natives that the creakiness and racism of the play shows through - Phroso keeps the natives under control by his magic tricks. Baxter, who is usually soused, is seen playing a guitar rapidly in one scene, while a heavy native woman is "shimmying" in a suggestive dance. One thing in the plot that the natives have been promised is that when Crane dies they can put the daughter to death as a sacrifice to their gods.

Eventually two things upset the plotting of Phroso. First, Baxter finds that he is falling for Nolan. Soon, instead of being pliant to Chaney he starts defending her defiantly. Second, when Chaney finally confronts Barrymore, he learns that the latter could not care less about what happened to Nolan - because she is not Barrymore's daughter, she's Chaney's! All of his plotting has only endangered his own child!

The film was a good one for Chaney, playing one of his most belligerent and dangerous fiends, but one who recovers his own humanity too late. Barrymore played mostly villains in the movies at this time, and makes Crane a person devoid of any charm at all (one wonders what Phroso's wife saw in him to begin with). Baxter and Nolan do the best with their roles, Baxter pulling himself together and belatedly discovering Chaney's rediscovered humanity. If not as well known to the public as THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA or THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, WEST OF ZANZIBAR gave Chaney another eccentric villain to play with, and is worth watching.
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bkoganbing29 March 2007
In one of his last silent films, Lon Chaney plays a magician who went into a kind of exile in the Belgian Congo after a fight with a man who stole his wife left him a cripple. He's now known as 'Deadlegs' and he's used his mastery of prestidigitation to make himself the local kingpin in his neck of the jungle. But even he has to obey certain native customs.

He's an embittered and twisted man who has worked out a most carefully engineered scheme involving his late wife's daughter. The man who did steal his wife, Lionel Barrymore is now also in Africa. He contrives to bring the two of them together and both kill and degrade them at the same time at the hands of the cannibals he lives with.

Even with this Victorian plot and given the racism of the times, in Victorian Great Britain they would not have had cannibals in Africa because there were no cannibals in Africa. But what did Americans know about Africa?

Still Chaney gives a compelling performance and the role calls for the make up and the contortion that he was known for. In fact in James Cagney's film biography of Chaney there are small portraits of Chaney's various screen roles and West of Zanzibar is one of them. Also look for a good performance by Warner Baxter as the alcoholic doctor who Chaney keeps on a kind of retainer.

It's not a great film, far from it, but it is a fascinating look at the life and art of Lon Chaney.
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A Mustv See For All Chaney Fans!
bsmith55523 February 2014
Warning: Spoilers
"West of Zanzibar" is truly one of Lon Chaney's best films. It's a story of revenge and hatred and is dominated by Chaney's performance as the paralyzed magician Phroso.

The story in brief, has Phroso's wife Anna (Jacqueline Gadden) running off with ivory trader Crane (Lionel Barrymore). In a scuffle with Crane, Phroso is crippled. When Anna returns with a baby and dies unexpectedly, Phroso decides to exact his revenge on Crane through the child. The child who is named Maizie (Mary Nolan), is raised in a brothel to the age of 18. Then the demented Phroso who has become some sort of a false god in Zanzibar, begins to carry out his insane plan of revenge with the help of a derelict doctor (Warner Baxter) and his two assistants Tiny (Tiny Ward) and Babe (Kalla Posha).

Chaney is so convincing as the paralyzed Phroso that you will believe that he is really crippled. With his slovenly and unkempt appearance, he drags himself around on the floor of his hut and climbs into his wheel chair pulling his lifeless legs behind him. Chaney was an excellent pantomimist. Watch the expression on his face change from insane hatred to surprise and pity at the climax of the story.

Unfortuneatly, the film somewhat telegraphs the ultimate climax but Chaney's performance more than makes up for it. Mary Nolan is good as the tool of Chaney's revenge and Warner Baxter is excellent as the boozy "Doc" who comes to Maizie's aid. Barrymore is suitably evil as the other man. I was captivated by the beauty of Jacqueline Gadden in a brief role and wondered why we didn't see more of her.

One of Lon Chaney's most memorable characterizations, it is a must for all Chaney fans.
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An Oedipus of the silent era, or, "When in doubt, ask!"
evening118 October 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Lon Chaney turns in an incredible performance here as a man who gets chewed up by fate and spit out violently.

First he is cuckolded. Then he's left a paraplegic in a fight with his wife's lover. When his spouse runs off with the paramour, and returns with an infant, Chaney's character presumes the child to be his rival's. He abandons the girl to a brothel when he runs off to the Congo to destroy the man who ruined his life.

"He made me this thing that crawls. Now I'm ready to bite!"

In a plot twist worthy of an ancient tragedy, Chaney ends up confronting an astonishing truth. After a life fueled by rage, like Javert in "Les Miserables," he self-sacrifices when reality hits him squarely between the eyes. However, it's love, finally, that propels this tortured soul.

Chaney is nothing short of amazing in this film. I read on Wikipedia that he was the son of deaf people and early on became a master pantomime. Those talents shine through in his masterful contortions.

Several scenes in this film seem indelible. Watching an embittered Chaney cuddling a chimpanzee -- all he has because he gave his only child up to "the worst dive" imaginable -- is a shattering experience.

The other characters here do well -- particularly Mary Nolan, who also has a fascinating biography on Wikipedia -- but none approaches Chaney.

I first encountered him in "Laugh, Clown, Laugh," and this was just as powerful in a different way. I am a fan for life!
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Haunting, if slightly underwhelming Chaney affair
Weezy-LUiGi28 July 2013
I feel Lon Chaney was the first extremely great actor to come out of the American film industry. He embodied characters like nobody's business. The fact that he was in this alone got me interested. Overall, the film was worth a watch to see Chaney portray the jaded stage magician turned African warlord. He was just so stone cold throughout the whole thing only to keep the audience guessing what he was actually going to do next. Lionel Barrymore was also a neat addition as the truly heartless villain who hadn't a care in the world, even when his life was at stake. Not as inspired as The Unknown or Phantom of the Opera, but still a worthy addition to the Lon Chaney catalog.
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At Long Last
cstotlar-124 April 2013
This film has been on my list for years to see and I finally caught it on You Tube. The print wasn't in tip-top shape but it was quite viewable. Browning's camera never shifts and that becomes monochromatic at times but his avoidance of unnecessary inter-titles is an excellent choice. The actors are particularly good in this one and the great Lon Chaney without excessive make-up is truly remarkable. The are twists and turns galore in the last part of the film that wear quite well. The geography is somewhat muddled perhaps but the story-line braves the storm and keeps the audience guessing. The musical score of the version I saw was effective without being overbearing.I'm glad I saw this film.

Curtis Stotlar
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The San Francisco Silent Film Festival 5th Annual Winter Event, David Jeffers for SIFFblog.com
rdjeffers10 December 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Saturday, December 12, 9:15pm The Castro, San Francisco

"Gee, but you're a strange man."

A Limehouse magician loses his wife to another man and seeks his revenge on the girl (Mary Nolan) he believes is their child.

Based on the Broadway play Kongo, by Chester deVonde, West of Zanzibar (1928) was the sixth of ten films directed by Tod Browning, starring Lon Chaney. Crippled in a fight with his rival, Phroso (Chaney) discovers his dead wife and the child one year later and takes her to a malarial, booze-soaked sub-Saharan hell infested with society's rejects and bloodthirsty cannibals, where the story picks up "eighteen years later."

A combination of familiar Chaney themes, West of Zanzibar is noteworthy for the performance of former Ziegfeld Follies star Nolan as Mazie, the ruined girl, and Warner Baxter as Doc, the drunken slob, pulled back from the brink to save her. Lionel Barrymore is sadistically indifferent as the other man, and Chaney delivers a typically earth-shaking emotional performance.

Lon Chaney's West of Zanzibar opened at San Francisco's Warfield theatre on Saturday, December 1, 1928 for a one week run. "Rube Wolf and a company of Fanchon and Marco entertainers are featured today in Stairway of Dreams on the stage." The program also featured Fox Movietone Talking News and a Charlie Chase comedy.
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Zanzibar's dissipation well conveyed.
st-shot23 September 2011
Todd Browning's West of Zanzibar featuring Lon Chaney as a crippled game hunter does a fine job of transporting the audience to the lower depths with his perversely drawn portraits and inferences culminating in darkest Africa.

Proso (Lon Chaney) the Magician's finds out his wife is about to run off with a swell named Crane Lionel Barrymore). He confronts the pair and Crane cripples him in the process. When a repentant and dying wife returns Froso puts Cranes daughter to work (Lupe Velez) in a brothel before bringing her to his jungle home where he'll reintroduce her to dad Crane whose making a killing in the ivory trade down the road.

Zanzibar starts brutally and seldom lets up in the violence and emotional cruelty department with Chaney and Barrymore going at each other in dueling degeneracy. Browning creates an apt setting and mood for both setting up for a pair of suspenseful climaxes with signature Chaney masochism and Browning's deft touch with the macabre.
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Great Chaney
GManfred13 September 2017
"West Of Zanzibar" is so wildly improbable that it needs some masterful acting to hold it together. That is where Lon Chaney comes in, with another of his patented acting performances. You've no doubt read other reviews on the website and gotten the gist of the story, which might sound like comedy material to some. But Chaney delivers as Phroso/"Dead Legs", cuckolded magician turned Emperor in darkest Africa. His face reflects a spectrum of emotions from anguish to amused contempt and he puts the picture over.

He is not without help, as MGM has surrounded him with a stellar cast; Warner Baxter, Lionel Barrymore and Mary Nolan make up the supporting players. In short, "West Of Zanzibar" is not one of Chaney's minor films, but another example of this splendid actor's marvelous talent, a great actor who died too soon. Although it is technically in the sound era, it is a silent picture - Chaney made only one sound film before his death.
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Bizarre Tale of Hate, Revenge and Redemption
John T. Ryan18 November 2014
Warning: Spoilers
WHEN ONE WANTED to take an already frightening story and turn it into an even more disturbing shocker, there are two steps that would insure success. First, cast Lon Chaney in the Lead. Secondly, have Todd Browning direct. Fortunately for MGM, in 1925, WEST OF ZANZIBAR had both going for them.

AS MANY OF the dramas of the period did, this film had a Show Business setting. In this case, we have Stage Magician, Professor Phroso (Lon Chaney), suffers the loss of his spouse, Anna (Jacqueline Gadsden)to her lover, Crane (Lionel Barrymore). The two men quarrel and fight, where Phroso suffers a severe fall; leaving his legs paralyzed and "dead."

YEARS LATER, BOTH men are in Darkest Africa, where Phroso operates a trading outpost; where he uses his skills at prestidigitation to cheat Natives out of ivory. Eventually, Mazie (Mary Nolan) daughter of the now deceased Anna, comes under Phroso/"dead Legs" control and is left to wallow in the worst den of debauchery in Zanzibar.

AFTER DIRECTLY CONFRONTING Crane, "Dead Legs"/Proso discovers that Mazie is after all his daughter. A sudden uprising by the African Natives, who have been cheated for so many years in the "Dead Legs" trading post, threatens to kill the Daughter and Proso sacrifices his own life; allowing Mazie to escape with young 'Doc' (Warner Baxter).

OUR SYNOPSIS CAN do no justice to the film. With this outstanding "Duo of the Macabre", being Mr. Chaney and Mr. Browning, every scene is saturated with disturbing and frightful implications.

DISDAINING THE BLOOD & gore that has come to be synonymous with "Horror", the production team instead creates all of their horror in the mind of the viewer.

Please, please take the time to screen this film if you haven't yet done so. If you have, see it again
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Lots of sordid and interesting story elements, but also suffers from poor pacing
MartinHafer29 December 2006
Warning: Spoilers
The movie begins with Lon Chaney and his wife doing a stage magic show. Shortly after they finish, the wife runs off with her lover AND the lover attacks Chaney and leaves him paralyzed from the waist down--and all this occurs in the first few minutes of the film! Several months later, Chaney finds his wife dead in a church with a baby that he assumes is her lover's child. What an odd coincidence, huh?! The movie then picks up about 18 years later. What has Chaney done with his life in order to get revenge on his wife's lover? Yeah, exactly what any other man would do--follow the guy to Africa, start a cult among the natives so you can be their chief and bring the now addicted baby (who is now 18 and going through DTs) there to torment her in front of her biological father, naturally! This is all very creepy and convoluted and just plain weird. In a way, it's very entertaining but also pretty ridiculous. This story is one of the more bizarre tales I have seen in a silent film, though pretty consistent with director Browning and Chaney's styles. And while many of the story elements are quite scary and unsettling, the pacing of the film is a real problem--particularly at the end of the film. Instead of wrapping everything together and dealing with the suspense, the movie just starts to bog down and becomes rather plodding. This is a real shame, as it tends to lessen the dramatic impact and slow the movie to a crawl. A truly interesting and creepy relic, but far from Lon Chaney's best film, though his ability to mimic a disabled man and pull himself along with floor with "dead legs" (also his nickname in the film) was incredible--a fine job of acting on his part.
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