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Lon Chaney is not the star of Tod Browning's Outside the Law (the second of 10 pictures they made together), but he practically steals the film. Browning cast the man of a thousand faces in two roles, as the despicable gangster Black Mike ("a rat, a vulture, and a snake," according to the titles) and as the devoted Chinese servant to a Confucian Chinatown teacher. Priscilla Dean stars as Molly, the daughter of a San Francisco underworld leader lured back to a life of crime by Mike, who frames her father for murder and then plots to double-cross her as well. Hard-bitten kewpie doll Dean underplays her gangster-moll part beautifully, and Chaney's Mike is dastardly and dangerous, a sneering hard case with a scar running down his cheek. Browning pours on the syrup in the film's middle section as Molly's hard heart is slowly melted by her gangster lover and the cloyingly cute kid from next door. Then he twists it back from melodrama with an escalating series of taut confrontations that build to an exciting, well-staged climactic shootout. The Kino print, taken from the Blackhawk Collection, shows some serious deterioration near the end, but it clears up in time for the fireworks. The orchestral score is edited together from other music and enhanced with sound effects.

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ID5838DS Outside the Law/Shadows DVD (1920/Lon Chaney) $24.99 $22.45