'Shadows': Lon Chaney Cult Classic Features 'the Original' Harrison Ford

Shadows Lon ChaneyIn Tom Forman's 1922 melodrama Shadows, the shipwrecked Chinese cook Yen Sin (Lon Chaney) washes up onto a coastal English village where he is shunned by the local Christian town folk. They refer to him as a “chink” and a “heathen” when he does not join them in prayer.

Since Yen Sin has nowhere else to go, he sets up business on a houseboat, washing clothes for the whole village. At first, the local kids play tricks on him and taunt him cruelly, but eventually Yen Sin's good nature win their respect.

When a new, young preacher (Harrison Ford; no relation to the Indiana Jones star) arrives in town, he befriends – and tries to convert – Yen Sin. The priest also meets a young widow, Sympathy Gibbs (Marguerite De La Motte; don't you just love her character's name?), whose abusive husband supposedly died in the shipwreck. Some time later, Sympathy and the preacher get married, but instead of living happily ever after they are threatened by jealousy and blackmail. It is up to Yen Sin to solve it all.

Shadows has one of my favorite Lon Chaney performances. The way his character ingratiates himself into a hostile environment – without losing his dignity – is refreshing. In some of the title cards, Yen Sin calls the town bully “Mista Bad Boy” and dreams of someday returning to “Chiny Way.” Yet, even though Yen Sin was written as a stereotype, Chaney never allows him to become a caricature.

Despite Alpha Video's old, scratchy DVD transfer, Shadows remains one of the best silent films I've seen. The story, despite its dated Victorian morality, is remarkably intelligent (it was adapted from Wilbur Daniel Steele's short story “Ching, Ching, Chinaman”); actor-turned-director Tom Forman keeps things moving at a steady pace; and the performances are fully believable. Overall, Shadows remains a testimony of love and of the frailties and strengths of the human spirit.

© Danny Fortune

Shadows (1922). Dir.: Tom Forman. Scr.: Hope Loring, Harry Perry, and Eve Unsell; from Wilbur Daniel Steele's story “Ching, Ching, Chinaman.” Cast: Lon Chaney, Marguerite De La Motte, Harrison Ford, John St. Polis, Walter Long, Buddy Messinger, Priscilla Bonner, Frances Raymond.

  'Shadows': Lon Chaney Cult Classic Features 'the Original' Harrison Ford © 2004–2018 Alt Film Guide and/or author(s).
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  1. rafael says:

    love lon chaney
    what a great great actor
    brought humanity to every role he played