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October 31, 2003

Two by Tod Browning

A half-century before the emergence of such modern masters of the macabre as the Italians Mario Bava and Dario Argento or the Americans George Romero and John Carpenter, there was Tod Browning, who made studio-backed films in Hollywood that remain benchmarks of the horror genre. Hailed as “the Edgar Allan Poe” of the cinema, Browning began his career as a circus performer and vaudevillian before working for D. W. Griffith as an actor and assistant. His collaborations with Lon Chaney in the 1920s drew both popular and critical acclaim and are among his finest works. In the 1930s, Browning would help a struggling Hungarian actor named Bela Lugosi become a horror icon. This special Halloween double-feature introduced by Julie Buck pairs two rarely screened Browning classics that highlight his work with these two actors.

October 31 (Friday) 7 pm - Live Piano Accompaniment by Yakov Gubanov

The Blackbird

Directed by Tod Browning
US, 1926, b/w, silent, 77 min.
With Lon Chaney, Owen Moore, Renée Adorée

Among the rarest of Browning’s films, The Blackbird is a striking example of the creative process the director employed, in which the narrative evolves from the psychological and physical consequences of the grotesque character he creates. In this production Chaney portrays dual identities. The titled “Blackbird,” a criminal with his eyes on jewels and a beautiful showgirl in London’s Limehouse district, poses in between heists as “the Bishop,” a palsied English priest in charge of a charity mission. The double identity will lead to increasingly complicated plot twists, until an uncanny fight staged between the two identities leaves only one victorious.

Mark of the Vampire

Directed by Tod Browning
US, 1935, b/w, 61 min.
With Lionel Barrymore, Elizabeth Allan, Bela Lugosi

Browning had successfully worked in the vampire genre with Chaney, releasing one of their major films, London after Dark, in 1927. With the coming of sound, Browning began a successful collaboration with Bela Lugosi. The rarely screened Mark of the Vampire is a remake of London after Dark, with Lugosi in the role of the homicidal vampire and Lionel Barrymore cast as the vampire-fighting professor. With its haunting, atmospheric black-and-white cinematography by famed cameraman James Wong Howe, costumes by Adrian, and art direction by Cedric Gibbons, Mark of the Vampire remains one of the most beautifully realized of Browning’s works and an ur-text of the vampire genre.

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