First off, the 1927 Todd Browning/Lon Chaney feature London After Midnight is perhaps one of the more famous “lost” films of the silent era. Perhaps even THE most well known of them all, given the talents involved. (lists of famous Lost Films can be found here and here and here)
According to IMDB: (London After Midnight) is believed that this film existed until 1967. Inventory records indicated that the only remaining print was being stored in MGM’s vault #7 which was destroyed by fire in 1967. By that time, all other elements had been destroyed or were missing.
On TCM the other night, however, they aired a slightly under one hour “reconstruction” of the film. Since there is no actual footage remaining of the film, they used still and creative zooming/panning along with title cards to give viewers a sense of what this lost film was.
Visually, I have to say the film (or rather the still) sure deliver the goods. Lon Chaney’s vampire character is certainly memorable, as is Edna Tichenor as Luna the Bat Girl, the vampire’s assistant.
But the story…well…
Look, its silly. Perhaps even beyond silly. London After Midnight is, at its heart, a murder mystery. Five years before the patriarch of a family dies in what the detective in charge (Chaney) rules a suicide. But he clearly doesn’t believe this to be the case. Five years later, the house beside the deceased man’s estate is rented to what appear to be a pair of vampires (Chaney and Tichenor) who creep out the neighbors…one of whom may be a murderer.
Again, what follows is rather silly, storywise. If you must know, much of the vampire subplot is nothing more than a way for the detective to push the people next door into thinking that the suicide (actually murder) victim may be brought back to life…and therefore expose his murderer.
I am, however, pleased with the presentation, limited though it was to static stills. The people behind this “reconstruction” did a pretty good job of giving us what we needed to know so that we could at least visualize the lost film.
One remains hopeful, however, that sometime in the future a print of the actual movie will be found. Silly plot aside, I’d love to see the great Lon Chaney’s every scene as the vampire!