Dracula After Midnight

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A Tribute To Tod Browning

My Opinion

Tod Browning ran away from home and joined the circus, no seriously! And watch many of his horror-leaning films and you can tell he was greatly influenced by a circus life. Tod was one of the first directors to actually capture a mood and an atmosphere in his horror (or ‘horror-ish’) films. As you can see below, the lowest grade I gave a Browning film is a strong C+. I think he is a very underrated director and wasn’t afraid to push the envelope in both content ("Freaks") and effects ("The Devil Doll" and others). Yes, his films are dated and if you don’t like silent films or early ‘talkies’ then avoid but if you like’em old, and are interested in horror film history, several nights with Browning films are a must.


from: Wikipedia.org/

Tod Browning (12 July 1880- 6 October 1962)

Early life

He was born Charles Albert Browning, Jr., in Louisville, Kentucky, the second son of Charles Albert and Lydia Browning. As a young boy, he put on amateur plays in his backyard. He was fascinated by the circus and carnival life, and at the age of 16 he ran away from his well-to-do family to become a performer.

Changing his name to "Tod", he traveled extensively with sideshows, carnivals, and circuses. His jobs included working as a talker (barker, as the term is also known isn't correct) for the Wild Man of Borneo, performing a live burial act in which he was billed as "The Living Corpse", and performing as a clown with the Ringling Brothers Circus. He would draw on this experience as inspiration for some of his film work.

He performed in vaudeville as an actor, magician and dancer. He appeared in the Mutt and Jeff and The Lizard and the Coon acts, and in a blackface act titled The Wheel of Mirth alongside comedian Charles Murray.

Beginnings of a film career

Later, while Browning was working as director of a variety theater in New York, he met D. W. Griffith. He began acting along with Murray on single-reel nickelodeon comedies for Griffith and the Biograph company.

In 1913 Griffith split from Biograph and moved to California. Browning followed and continued to act in Griffith's films, now for Reliance-Majestic Studios, including a stint as an extra in the epic Intolerance. Around that time he began directing, eventually directing 11 short films for Reliance-Majestic. Between 1913 and 1919, Browning would appear as an actor in approximately fifty motion pictures.

In June 1915, he crashed his car at full speed into a moving train. His passengers were film actors Elmer Booth and George Siegmann. Booth was killed instantly, while Seigmann and Browning suffered serious injuries, including in Browning's case a shattered right leg and the loss of his front teeth. During his convalescence, Browning wrote scripts, and did not return to active film work until 1917.

Silent feature films

Browning's feature film debut was Jim Bludso (1917), about a riverboat captain who sacrifices himself to save his passengers from a fire. It was well-received.

Browning moved back to New York in 1917. He directed two films for Metro Studios, Peggy, the Will O' the Wisp and The Jury of Fate. Both starred Mabel Taliaferro, the latter in a dual role achieved with double exposure techniques that were groundbreaking for the time. He moved back to California in 1918 and produced two more films for Metro, The Eyes of Mystery and Revenge.

In the spring of 1918 he left Metro and joined Bluebird Productions, a subsidiary of Universal Pictures, where he met Irving Thalberg. Thalberg paired Browning with Lon Chaney, Sr. for the first time for the film The Wicked Darling (1919), a melodrama in which Chaney played a thief who forces a poor girl from the slums into a life of crime. Browning and Chaney would ultimately make ten films together over the next decade.

The death of his father sent Browning into a depression that led to alcoholism. He was laid off by Universal and his wife left him. However, he recovered, reconciled with his wife, and got a one-picture contract with Metro Goldwyn Mayer. The film he produced for MGM, The Day of Faith, was a moderate success, putting his career back on track.

Thalberg reunited Browning with Lon Chaney for The Unholy Three (1925), the story of three circus performers who concoct a scheme to con and steal jewels from rich people using disguises. Browning's circus experience shows in his sympathetic portrayal of the antiheroes. The film was a resounding success, so much so that it was later remade in 1930 as Lon Chaney's first (and only) talkie. Browning and Chaney embarked on a series of popular collaborations, including The Blackbird and The Road to Mandalay. The Unknown (1927), featuring Chaney as an armless knife thrower and Joan Crawford as his scantily-clad carnival girl obsession, was originally titled Alonzo the Armless and could be considered a precursor to Freaks in that it concerns a love triangle involving a circus freak, a beauty, and a strongman. London After Midnight (1927) was Browning's first foray into vampire film and is a highly sought-after lost film which starred Chaney, Conrad Nagel, and Marceline Day. The last known print of London After Midnight was destroyed in an MGM studio fire in 1965. In 2002, a photographic reconstruction of London After Midnight was produced by Rick Schmidlin for Turner Classic Movies. Browning and Chaney's final collaboration was Where East is East (1929), of which only incomplete prints have survived. Browning's first talkie was The Thirteenth Chair (1929), which was also released as a silent and starred Bela Lugosi.


After Chaney's death in 1930, Browning was hired by Universal Pictures to direct Dracula (1931). Although Browning wanted to hire an unknown European actor for the title role and have him be mostly offscreen as a sinister presence, budget constraints and studio interference necessitated the casting of Bela Lugosi and a more straightforward approach. Although the film is now considered a classic, at the time Universal was unhappy with it and preferred the Spanish-language version filmed on the same sets at night.

After directing the boxing melodrama The Iron Man (1931), he began work on Freaks (1932). Based on the short story Spurs by Clarence Aaron "Tod" Robbins, the screenwriter of The Unholy Three, the film concerns a love triangle between a wealthy dwarf, a gold-digging aerialist, and a strongman; a murder plot; and the vengeance dealt out by the dwarf and his fellow circus freaks. The film was highly controversial, even after heavy editing to remove many disturbing scenes, and was a commercial failure. Browning's career was derailed.

Browning found himself unable to get his requested projects greenlighted. After directing the drama Fast Workers (1933) starring John Gilbert, who was also not in good standing with the studio, he was allowed to direct a remake of London After Midnight, originally titled Vampires of Prague but later retitled Mark of the Vampire (1935). In the remake, the roles played by Lon Chaney in the original were split between Lionel Barrymore and Bela Lugosi (spoofing his Dracula image).

After that, he directed The Devil-Doll (1936), originally titled The Witch of Timbuctoo, from a script he wrote himself. It starred Lionel Barrymore as an escapee from an island prison who avenges himself on the people who imprisoned him using living "dolls" who are actually people shrunk to doll-size and magically placed under Barrymore's hypnotic control. Browning's final film was the murder mystery Miracles for Sale (1939).


After Miracles for Sale, Browning did some scenario work for MGM. In 1942 he retired and moved to Malibu. He became such a recluse that soon after his wife died in 1944, Variety accidentally published an obituary for him. Even his neighbors rarely saw him. In the late 1950s he developed throat cancer, necessitating tongue surgery. When his brother Avery died in 1959, he attended the funeral from a private room and would not let family members see him.

Tod Browning was found dead at age 81, on October 6, 1962, in the bathroom of some friends in Malibu. He is interred in Angelus-Rosedale Cemetery, Los Angeles.


Miracles for Sale (1939)
The Devil-Doll (1936)
Mark of the Vampire (1935)
Fast Workers (1933)
Freaks (1932)
Iron Man (1931)
Dracula (1931)
Outside the Law (1930)
The Thirteenth Chair (1929)
Where East Is East (1929)
West of Zanzibar (1928)
The Big City (1928)
London After Midnight (1927)
The Unknown (1927)
The Show (1927)
The Road to Mandalay (1926)
The Blackbird (1926)
Dollar Down (1925)
The Mystic (1925)
The Unholy Three (1925)
Silk Stocking Sal (1924)
The Dangerous Flirt (1924)
White Tiger (1923)
The Day of Faith (1923)
Drifting (1923)
Under Two Flags (1922)
Man Under Cover (1922)
The Wise Kid (1922)
No Woman Knows (1921)
Outside the Law (1920)
The Virgin of Stamboul (1920)
Bonnie Bonnie Lassie (1919)
The Petal on the Current (1919)
The Unpainted Woman (1919)
The Exquisite Thief (1919)
The Wicked Darling (1919)
Set Free (1918)
The Brazen Beauty (1918)
The Deciding Kiss (1918)
Which Woman? (1918)
Revenge (1918)
The Eyes of Mystery (1918)
The Legion of Death (1918)
The Jury of Fate (1917)
Peggy, the Will O' the Wisp (1917)
Hands Up! (1917)
A Love Sublime (1917)
Jim Bludso (1917)
Puppets (1916)
Everybody's Doing It (1916)
The Fatal Glass of Beer (1916)
Little Marie (1915)
The Woman from Warren's (1915)
The Burned Hand (1915)
The Living Death (1915)
The Electric Alarm (1915)
The Spell of the Poppy (1915)
The Story of a Story (1915)
The Highbinders (1915)
An Image of the Past (1915)
The Slave Girl (1915)
The Lucky Transfer (1915)

My Reviews

The Unholy Three (1925)- This is often listed as a horror movie, and I guess by 1920s standards it may have been, by today's standards it would be regarded as silly. Anyway, a great ventriloquist played by Lon Chaney, hatches a plot with some sideshow freaks, the strong man and the midget, along with a pickpocket who works the circus crowds, to case rich folks homes. How? Well, they'll open a parrot shop and Chaney will dress up as an old lady and use his ventriloquist skills to make people think the birds talk. They buy them and get them home and they don't talk, they call Lon (Grandma O'Grady) up and he (she) comes over with her great grandson (the midget) and makes the birds talk (while casing the grounds). Shew, it would be easier to just get a damned job and make money legit, but that wouldn't make for a good movie. Anyway, one night Chaney can't go on a run and the strong man winds up killing someone so the hunt is on. Problem is the pickpocket gal has fallen for the guy the Unholy Three (Four?) framed. Despite the insane plot this is actually a pretty good flick. It's too long and dwells too much when it should be moving but other than that it was decent enough. C+

London After Midnight (1927)- OK, I didn't really see "London After Midnight". The last known copy of the film was destroyed in a fire in the 1960s so, unless another turns up, it will never be seen again. What I did see was a Turner Classic Movie restoration project that used stills taken during the filming and inserted dialogue cards and music attempting to give the 'feel' you were watching the movie. This was a pretty influential murder mystery that just might involve vampires. Tod Browning wrote and directed and Lon Cheney starred and again, Cheney created his own makeup and again, it works really well, the guy was a genius. It was one of 10 films the director and actor made together and it was their highest grossing. It is the reason Universal chose Browning to direct "Dracula" and Browning chose Lon Cheney to play the part. Bela Lugosi's fate, and the vampire image was set, when Lon Cheney died before filming began. (Imagine how different our image of Dracula would be now had Lon Cheney lived long enough to play the part. Everything from the movements to the accent is set in stone and is a credit to the indelible image Lugosi left us, but what would Cheney have done?) The TCM treatment was nice but for completists only. A.

Unknown, The (1927)- A Chaney and Browning revenge flick set in a circus. Tod Browning liked this material and seemed to be able to pull them off convincingly. This is no exception and also stars a young Joan Crawford as the love interest. Chaney plays an armless wonder, a man with no arms who throws knives with his feet as his act. What no one but Chaney’s assistant knows is that he does in fact have arms and uses them to rob people in the towns the circus visits. He is madly in love with the circus owner’s daughter and in a fit of rage kills the circus owner. Now he will need to go to great lengths to get the love of his life. A great looking film with a great twist ending (if you like these simple, short, and sweet silent films). I liked "West of Zanzibar" a little better but this one works too. B+.

West of Zanzibar (1928)- Chaney plays a great magician who finds out his wife is leaving him for an ivory trader and moving to Africa. In an fight the ivory trader pushes Chaney from a balcony and paralyzes him. Sometime later Chaney finds his wife dead with a baby. He sends the baby off to live in a brothel in Zanzibar and moves there himself, using his magic tricks to trick the cannibal natives into thinking he communicates with the spirits. He then sets about stealing the ivory trader's ivory and sets him up for the ultimate in revenge plots, which takes a total of about 19 years to actually pull off, and, after all that planning and patience, everything goes terribly awry. This is actually a really good and underrated silent flick. Chaney is great with his shaven head and evil glances. While not horror by today's standards it still holds up as a good flick if you like silent movies, which I generally don't. B+.

Dracula (1931)- Back in the day I really hated this flick. Old school acting style, very staged feeling. After another recent viewing I have to say maybe I was too quick to judge. Yeah it does suffer from some lack of creativity as far as direction goes and was based too much on the stage play which bogs it down in the middle some, but over-all it is an effective horror movie and telling of the story (Dracula wants to move to England, buys some property from Renfeld, Renfeld sees too much, Dracula moves to England, falls for Lucy, Dr. Van Helsing pursues). The opening sequences are superbly done and it's not until we're in England at Lucy's house do things start slowing down. It's a shame that the creative directing style of the intro for some reason didn't carry over to the body of the movie and we end up with just a filmed stage play. Lugosi is great at the part. People rip on him for being too hammy and staged but when you think of Dracula who comes to mind? That's right, Christopher Lee who copied Lugosi. And Dwight Frye, the ultimate horror sidekick, perfects Renfeld also. B+.

Freaks (1932)- I can describe this movie in three words: "Strange but classic". It is the story of circus 'freaks' that seek revenge when someone tries to take advantage of one of their own. There are the 'regular folk' who laugh at the freaks and there are the 'regular folk' who are friends with the freaks, and then there are the two circus performers, the trapeze artist and the strong man, who try and take advantage of a dwarf 'freak' who actually happens to be loaded. This leads to the classic revenge scene at the end. Tod Browning directed and like his direction in "Dracula" he wavers between static staginess and cutting edge technique, the revenge ending being pretty cutting edge for 1932 with the camera stationed under wagons, and in the mud as the 'freaks' crawl through the rain and muck to exact their revenge. Yeah, it's dated and even the best prints are at times hard to hear but this is a must see for anyone interested in the history of horror and censorship. A+

Mark of the Vampire (1935)- Bela Lugosi returns to play a vampire for the first time since 1931's Dracula in this classic MGM flick. Tod Browning wrote and directed this murder mystery which is basically a remake of his silent "London After Midnight". Lugosi plays Count Mora with Carroll Borland as his daughter Luna. A police inspector refuses to believe vampires are to blame for a recent murder, but a professor believes otherwise, or does he? This is a classic movie with great atmosphere from the foggy graveyard to the terrifying castle (what was it with Browning and possums as rats?) this movie works on many levels. The ending is a let down but everything else works great. A+

Devil Doll, The (1936)- A scientist who has been locked up in the famous Devil’s Island prison escapes with the help of a banker who has also been doing time. The scientist wants to return to his work, which has been carried on by his wife. He has the idea that if he can shrink every animal on earth to 1/6 its regular size there will be no more world hunger, the problem is when he shrinks anything down it becomes a mere automaton with no will of its own, controlled only by the thoughts of others. The scientist drops dead and the banker realizes he can use these ‘devil dolls’ as a means to get revenge on his banking partners who set him up. Despite the ‘goofiness’ of the story this old school horror/sci-fi flick is actually pretty good. There is quite a bit of character development and we do become involved with the characters and wonder what will happen to the banker and his family, who have been destitute since his imprisonment. And for 1936 the effects are really good. If you like ‘em old school then this is a classic for you. A.

Circus Freak