Horror-tober Salute to Tod Browning: The Wicked Darling (1919)
Our Horror-tober tribute to underrated horror director Tod Browning continues with his very first collaboration with Lon Chaney, 1919's The Wicked Darling.
If ever there were two people meant to collaborate, it would be Tod Browning and Lon Chaney. Browning, his films echoing with his moody, unsettling narrative voice, and Chaney, whose specialty was playing monstrous men whose twisted souls were like a cyclone that threatened to leave destruction in its wake. They made 10 films together, and I'm looking forward to seeing The Unknown, which is also a BLM, so it will be a double whammy review.
This will probably be my shortest review, and for several reasons. To start with, The Wicked Darling barely clocks in at an hour (I think movies under 70 minutes need to come back). Its plot is simple, even by the standards of silent films. Also, The Wicked Darling was thought to be lost for decades and decades, and only very recently has it been discovered. It has been restored to the best of efforts, but the film has a snowy, grainy look throughout and some stills have been used to replace irrevocably lost footage. The only website I could find on the Wickipedia page summarizes the DVD (where it shares billing with Chaney's other 1919 film, Victory) has described as such:
Working titles: The Gutter Rose, The Rose of the Dark and The Rose of the Night. Chaney and Browning’s first film together. [?] Some sources credit Waldemar Young with the scenario. A slightly abbreviated and moderately damaged 35mm nitrate print of the film was recovered in the Netherlands in the 1990s. An English-language restoration (of the intertitles retranslated back into English) was supervised by Rusty Casselton and Ted Larson.
In fact, the film has been so lost to history that I found very, very little about it. I couldn't even find a decent movie poster to use for my hub cover. I've combed through books on Browning and Chaney, and found only cursory mentions. It was their first collaboration together, that's all they ever mention. You can't say I didn't try.
The Wicked Darling tells the story of Mary (Priscilla Dean), a pickpocket who is in cahoots with fellow crook (and legitimate thug), Stoop Connors (Lon Chaney). Word of advice? Don't do business with guys named "Stoop".
Anyway, Mary steals a pearl necklace from society belle Adele Hoyt (Gertrude Astor), who has recently dumped her penniless fiancée Kent Mortimer (the wonderfully named Wellington A. Playter). Mary is pursued by the police, and ducks into Kent's apartment, where he happens to be. He adjusts to having this strange woman break into his home pretty well, compared to most people, and Mary falls for him. She falls so hard that, Barbara Stanwyck-like, she decides to go straight and work as a waitress. She also pockets a framed picture of Adele. Why? Who knows?
There are a few snags to Mary's new life plan, though. She still has the necklace, Stoop wants it and for Mary to go back to a life of crime. Meanwhile, Mary debates how to handle all this, because giving the necklace back means admitting who she is to Kent (uh, turn it in to the police anonymously?), but keeping it means Stoop will always be after her.
No real surprises. Threats, revelations, big climactic fight, happy ending, fade to black.
The Wicked Darling is probably the most… normal project I've seen of Tod Browning's or Lon Chaney's. It's a run-of-the-mill melodrama/morality play, certainly not a horror film. Chaney looks like himself, as opposed to being buried under heaps of makeup. The Wicked Darling is mostly worth watching as a preview of things to come, but nothing else.
I don't know, maybe The Wicked Darling just isn't Lon Chaney enough for me. I am interested in checking out more of his work, though. In 2003, TCM (as I take a moment to genuflect) released a gorgeous DVD collection of his films, so you know that's on my Netflix queue. In the meantime, if you're as fascinated by the Man of a Thousand Faces as I am, here are some great websites I found: