Geoffrey Macnab's “Lon Chaney: A monochrome chameleon” in The [London] Independent:
“Lon Chaney (1883-1930) is a paradox. He was a character actor unrecognisable to most cinemagoers, but he became the biggest star of his era. He was a man who terrified, intrigued and revolted audiences in equal measure in famous roles such as The Phantom of the Opera or The Hunchback of Notre Dame, but was known to be courteous and soft-spoken.
“Chaney was a shape shifter. Grotesques were his speciality. He could play hunchbacks, limbless gangsters, Dickensian villains, clowns, insane surgeons, old ladies and vampires. You never knew where you would see him next. 'Don't step on that spider,' director Marshall Neilan told a party guest. 'It might be Lon Chaney.'”
London's The Barbican will screen a couple of Lon Chaney films in the upcoming weeks:
The Unknown (1927), directed by Tod Browning. Screening on Apr. 15, with live accompaniment by DJ Nacho Martin
The Unknown is a way-over-the-top melodrama about a dagger thrower who has his arms chopped off because Joan Crawford suffers from armophobia (a word I just coined). The problem is that Crawford eventually comes to the realization that arms can be cozy, as long as they're those of strong man Norman Kerry. Needless to say, Chaney goes totally bonkers. From then on, who knows where those daggers are going to land? Some have found The Unknown to be tasteless and vile, and perhaps it is – though I'd personally describe it as fascinatingly bizarre.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923), directed by Wallace Worsley. Screening on Apr. 22, with live accompaniment by Stephen Horne
The Hunchback of Notre Dame was one of the most expensive films of the silent era, but this slow-moving adaptation of Victor Hugo's tale works only sporadically. Lon Chaney is fine, but his is basically a supporting role. Patsy Ruth Miller plays Esmeralda, and Norman Kerry is the hunky man she loves.