Sunday, May 12, 2013

WEST OF ZANZIBAR (1928)

Enjoyable dark silent film about a magician (Lon Chaney) who, when he finds out that his wife is running off with Lionel Barrymore, gets in a fight with him and ends up paralyzed from the legs down.  Later on he hears that his wife has returned with a baby girl.  Chaney rushes to go see his wife, but she's dead.  So in an act of revenge he takes the baby and believing that it's Barrymore's child, has her raised in the "lowest dive in Zanzibar" while he himself has tracked down Barrymore who is now an ivory trader.  Chaney uses his magician skills to trick the local tribesmen and with there help he's been stealing ivory from Barrymore's men.  As planned this enrages Barrymore.  Chaney then reveals that he's behind the thefts and sets up a meeting to enact his final revenge.

For being made in 1928 WEST OF ZANZIBAR is pretty grim, especially the revenge on the child aspect.  When it was first mentioned I almost thought it was gonna go an OLDBOY way, but it ended up going the MANON OF THE SPRING direction instead.  If you are interested in silent cinema then you should definitely check it out.  It's not the greatest silent ever (or even in the Top 100), the pace is kinda slow and even though the mood is dark (and this was Pre-Code), really nothing too unacceptable happens onscreen, but it's still an enjoyable film and watching Chaney's sneering while he's dragging his legs around the joint is worth the price of admission alone.  The biggest problem I had with the film was believing that Lionel Barrymore could be evil.  He's made such a powerful impression in my mind with his performances in films like GRAND HOTEL and YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU that it's really difficult to take him seriously as the bad guy.