Monday, November 18, 2013

Lon Chaney & William S. Hart, "Riddle Gawne" (1918): The Good Bad Man and the Cripple From Hell

The Good Bad Man and the Cripple From Hell.

Both men wore the face of the Devil. William S. Hart wore it in 1916, modeling for a portrait of Satan's face in The Devil's Double. Lon Chaney had not yet worn the Devil's face when they met in 1918.

Hart was a star, a "good bad man" they called him, his other face flickered out from beneath that drawn, grim visage he wore over it, a covering of austerity and morality that meshed uneasily with the fire below. Chaney was too short for the part in Riddle Gawne, a villain to stand face-to-face with Hart. But Hart saw it. "Inches never made an actor," he said.

Chaney faced him as the cameras were rolling. "I can't realize it; boys, I'm up in the air," he said, and shooting stopped. "It’s the first time I’ve ever been allowed to play a scene when the star was in it."

Hart took him aside. "Diamond cut diamond" was the way it worked, he said; the villain made of the same steel as the hero, the actor made of the same steel as the star. Chaney took it in, his malleable face turned upward towards that long stony face. "Bill Hart saved my life," Chaney would say a decade later.

The scene, Hart remembered, was a 'pippin'.

Later, dull nights between shooting stretching on, a playful court and mock punishment sentenced Hart to an ass-paddling at Chaney's hand. A diversion, a rib on a star from a friendly crew; but Chaney didn't forget the lesson. "That man Chaney was raised, went to school, and graduated in a boiler shop, swinging an eighty-pound sledge," Hart later wrote, nursing memories of a sore behind.

Age and industry dulled Hart's fires, the warmth and goodness in him could not help but show. As his star fell, Chaney's rose. Hart led the box office in 1915/16; by 1928/29 it was Chaney. Chaney filled the screen with the abject, the disgusting, the hateful: 'cripples', vagabonds, 'orientals'. Neither Chaney nor his characters would truly cede their position to the "curly-haired boys and girls"; the character actor superseded the place of the star. A writer of the time called him "a man with a monomania" that "has eaten him alive for years". On screen, something in Chaney was, in his characters and in his performances, insistent.

It was in 1920 that it happened. Riddle Gawne had led to the crooked gait of The Miracle Man (1919), and then he bound his legs behind him and lurched on crutches through The Penalty. A "cripple from hell" fueled by lust and hate. It was there that he clambered a platform to pose for a young sculptor, his face rigid and cold, and brought to the screen once more the face of the Devil.

[William S. Hart's recollections quoted from William S. Hart, My Life East and West. "Bill Hart saved my life" and "curly-haired boys and girls" quoted from Photoplay, February 1928, Ruth Waterbury, "The True Life Story of Lon Chaney". "Monomania" quote from Photoplay vol 31 no 3, Feb 1927, Ivan St. Johns, "Mr Nobody". "Annual Exhibitors Herald Boxoffice poll" figures taken from Richard Dyer MacCann, The Stars Appear. Riddle Gawne image from Silent Era website. Reference to "cripples" and "orientals" draws on the specific language used in relation to Chaney at the time and obviously isn't even remotely ok today.]

Approximately one reel (about ten minutes) is all that remains of Riddle Gawne. Chaney and Hart share no scenes in the surviving footage
This post is part of the Lon Chaney blogathon run by Movies Silently and The Last Drive In.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Waking up...

Retro Remote Jr has been in suspended animation for a few months (and things have been pretty slow over at RR Sr. as well), but a Lon Chaney blogathon run by Movies Silently and The Last Drive In seems like a perfectly good reason to come back to life. RR loves some Lon Chaney.

Stay tuned for a post on Chaney Sr's lost (except for 10 minutes or so) 1918 film Riddle Gawne.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Tough Talk 101: Gunsmoke, "Greater Love", 1 December 1956.

 "Sometimes the best that can be said of a man's honesty is that before he died he never took back a word of his hatred for the day he was born or of his hatred for his fellow men, and so he dies and we bury him up here on Boot Hill. And he's no more lonely dead than he was living."

A cheery start to Gunsmoke, "Greater Love", 1 December 1956, directed by Ted Post, written by Winston Miller (teleplay) and John Meston (story).

Full episode online here:

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Images: Miami Vice, Bernay's Cafe in "Brother's Keeper" (16 Sep 1984).

"Bernay's Cafe" in Miami Vice pilot "Brother's Keeper", 16 September 1984. Couldn't find a good shot of this one online, oddly (not that this screenshot from my region 4 dvd set is that hot).

According to The Miami Vice Community, this was filmed on the East side of Waton Island, Miami, FL.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Violence: Matt shoots first in Gunsmoke "Young Man With a Gun" (20 Oct 1956)

Matt has sense enough to shoot first in Gunsmoke, "Young Man With a Gun" (20 October 1956), directed by Christian Nyby, written by John Meston and Winston Miller. With Milburn Stone, Dennis Weaver and Fredd Wayne.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Lineups: Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn, Chuck Connors, Charles Bronson, and George Mathews

Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn, Chuck Connors, Charles Bronson, and George Mathews in Pat and Mike (1952), directed by George Cukor.

"Sexy Girls with Sexy Guns": Luana Patten in Cimarron City, "Twelve Guns" (1 November 1958)

Luana Patten in Cimarron City, "Twelve Guns" (1 November 1958), directed by Richard Bartlett, written by Norman Jolley and Lou Richards (story), also featuring John Dehner.

"Sexy Girls with Sexy Guns" title thanks to 1990s Australian The Late Show sketch:

Disclaimer: guns are not actually sexy, dolts.

Monday, March 4, 2013

TV History and Law Enforcement

Seemingly a vintage sitcom fan in SA Police's social media department...

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Great Female Leads: Irene Hervey in "Night Monster" (1942)

Irene Hervey as psychiatrist Dr Lynn Harper in the surprising "Night Monster" (1942), a somewhat neglected Universal horror in the frequently-crappy "old dark house" gene (that passes the Bechdel test nicely). She doesn't faint and, when running for her life, twists her ankle in the most reasonable way possible. Her one screaming scene seems to have screams dubbed in, with her mouth firmly closed for the second and most histrionic scream. Bela Lugosi and Lionel Atwill are hanging around as well.

Directed by Ford Beebe, written by Clarence Upton Young.

Internet Movie Database link: