TOD BROWNINGS OUTSIDE THE LAW 1920

Tod Browning Outside The Law one sheet

Although Lon Chaney has two roles in Outside the Law (1920), he is
not the star; rather, the film features early Tod Browning favorite Priscilla
Dean plays Silky Moll, daughter of mobster Silent Madden (Ralph Lewis), and
both are attempting to reform under the guidance of Confucian Master Chang Lo
(E. Alyn Warren).

Tod Browning Outside The Law Dean

Black Mike Sylva (Chaney) interrupts the reformation by framing Silent Madden
for murder, so that Silky Moll, like Lorraine Lavond in The Devil Doll
(1939), now has a wrongly imprisoned father. Silky and Dapper Bill Ballard plan
a jewel heist with Black Mike. Unknown to Mike, Silky is aware of his betrayal
of her father and, with Bill, she double-crosses Mike.

Tod Browning Outside The Law Prisclla Dean

Escaping with the heisted jewels, Silky and Bill hole up in an apartment.
The time the criminals spend holed up in a claustrophobic setting is awash with
religious symbolism that points to transformation. Browning, a Mason,
repeatedly used religious imagery and themes. In West of Zanzibar (1928)
Phroso stands in for the self-martyred Christ and calls upon divine justice under
the image of the Virgin. In The Show (1927), the sadomasochistic drama
of Salome is reenacted and almost played out in the actors lives (Martinu’s
opera ‘The Greek Passion’ would explore that possibility in a much more
sophisticated, and jarring, degree). Where East is East 1929) utilizes Buddhist
and Catholic symbology. Priests and crucifixes play important parts in The
Unholy Three
(1925), Road to Mandalay (1926), Dracula 1931-
possibly the most religious of the Universal Horror films) and Mark of the
Vampire
(1935).

Tod Browning Outside The Law PosterTod Browning Outside The Law LOBBY CARD

Here, Bill tries to convince Silky that they can have a normal life. Puppy
dogs and small boys begin to have effect on Silky, but it is not until she sees
the shadow of the cross in her apartment that her tough facade gives way. Browning
is not one to allow for a genuinely supernatural mode of transformation and
reveals that the cross shadow is merely a broken kite, but its psychological
effect on Silky is manifested in her actions, and her beauty. Bill notices the
origin of the cross shadow and, realizing that Silky’s naive interpretation of
that image has inspired her to renounce her crimes, Bill allows her to continue
in her naivete. He draws the blind so she cannot see that her inspiration comes
from a child’s kite. As Silky begins to drift away from a life of bitterness
and crime, towards redemption, she physically grows more beautiful (a
transformation achieved through soft lighting and composition). It is not the
inspired symbology of the cross alone, but the prophecy of Chang Lo that frames
the outcome. Chang Lo has been consistent in his belief that Silky will reform
and he strikes a deal with the investigating constable that, should Silky
return the jewels, all charges have to be dropped. Here again, Browning’s heart
is too much with the criminal to allow for a full-blown punishment, something
that later Hays Code Hollywood would demand.

Tod Browning Outside The Law popular plays

Chaney’s small bit as Ah Wing is so subtle and so
effective as to almost be unnoticeable. Browning remade Outside the Law
in 1930. The remake starred Edward G. Robinson and received comparatively poor
reviews. While the remake is not available on DVD, this original is. Kino Video
has done a good job in its presentation, but the last quarter of the film is
marred by nitrate deterioration, which is not altogether intrusive to viewing.

Tod Browning Outside The Law Chaney

This entry was posted in BLUEMAHLER'S WORLD OF SILENT CINEMA, Film Reviews and tagged , , , by Alfred Eaker. Bookmark the permalink.

About Alfred Eaker

Alfred Eaker is a fine arts painter, an award-winning independent filmmaker, and has a masters of theological studies in the arts. His Masters thesis was: "Justification By Imagination.The Marian Art Of Thomas Merton." For nine years, he has been a film critic (for 366 Weird Movies). His essays for that site have been published in the yearbooks and quoted in various film biographies. He is the author of the forthcoming novel, "Brother Cobweb." He currently lives in Gresham, Oregon where he performs his character, Brother Cobweb at The House Of Shadows.

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