TOD BROWNING’S THE MYSTIC 1925

Tod Browning‘s frequent collaborator Waldemar Young wrote the screenplay for The
Mystic
from Browning’s story, and it is clearly part their family of work
together which includes The Unholy Three (1925), The Blackbird1926), The
Show 1927), The Unknown (1927), London After Midnight 1927), West
of Zanzibar
(1928), and Where East is East  (1929). The early knife-throwing act
seen here could be a blueprint for the same act in The Unknown. The
Mystic
(1925) opens in a Hungarian gypsy carnival. The main attraction of
the carnival is “The Mystic,” Zara (Aileen Pringle). Zara is part of a trio,
which includes Poppa Zazarack (Mitchell Lewis) and Zara’s lover Anton (Robert
Ober). Of course, Zara’s clairvoyant act is all illusion and Browning, as
usual, lets his audience in on the trickery almost from the outset.

Tod Browning The Mystic

Conman Michale Nash (Conway Tearle) approaches the trio with a proposal to
take their act to America, where they can bilk naive, rich Manhattanites out of
their fortunes. The New Yorkers make Zara’s seances a hit, although not all of
the natives are so gullible, and the police are secretly investigating the
scam. To complicate matters, Nash puts the moves on Zara, and Anton is pushed
aside. Love does funny things, and soon Nash develops a conscience. He becomes
reluctant to swindle a young heiress. The ever-jealous Zara believes Nash must
want her for himself; but Nash simply wants to reform and make a better, honest
life for Zara. Their relationship is reminiscent of the one between Priscilla
Dean and Wheeler Oakman in Browning’s Outside The Law 1920), as are
the familiar Browning themes of reformation and unpunished crimes.

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