By Gary D. Rhodes.

I’ve solved this mystery. You’re at the bottom of it.”

– Hibbs (Conrad Nagel), London after Midnight, 1927

Tod Browning’s London after Midnight, released by MGM in 1927, represents America’s first supernatural vampire feature film. Except that it isn’t. It does not depict a supernatural vampire, not really. Its story features Lon Chaney as a detective, Inspector Burke, who costumes as a supernatural vampire (“The Man in the Beaver Hat”) as part of an elaborate ruse to catch a murderer. The detective also enlists an actress (Edna Tichenor) to costume as a vampire known as the “Bat Girl.” Here is thus a supernatural vampire film without a supernatural vampire, a paradox, one perhaps well suited to the subject matter.

During its running time, London after Midnight included an insert shot of a “vignetted passage of the printed page of an old book, the paper of a parchment-like quality, aged, the print in an Old English type.” According to the script, the page read as follows: “–the undead, the vampyrs [sic]: dead bodies which leave their graves at night to suck the blood of the living.”[1] Here was a definition, one that made vampires synonymous with the “undead,” a term that Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) rendered with uppercase letters and hyphenated as “Un-Dead.” In the novel, Dr. Van Helsing explains that the Un-Dead are “desperate,” “strong,” and are distinctly different than the “common dead.” In response, Arthur Holmwood exclaims, “Un-Dead! Not alive! What do you mean? Is this all a nightmare, or what is it?”[2]

Vampires in Silent Cinema

The questions are hardly unexpected. The term undead was little-known in English prior to Stoker, not appearing in such nineteenth-century literature as John Polidori’s The Vampyre (1819), John Malcolm Rymer’s Varney the Vampire (1845-1847), and J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla (1872). True, the concept was present in those tales, as well as those published after Stoker’s Dracula. F. Marion Crawford’s short story For the Blood Is the Life (1911) describes “a woman’s shriek, the unearthly scream of a woman neither dead nor alive, but buried deep for many days.” Nevertheless, the concept remained difficult to fathom, to understand, and the term was rarely used during the silent film era.[3] To be undead is paradoxical, far more so than Browning’s equation in London after Midnight, “Vampire/Not a Vampire.” Here is a liminal, threshold space between life and death, not inscrutable, but more complicated to grasp than, say, purgatory.

London after Midnight regularly appears on lists of the most sought-after lost films, the last known copy having burned in an MGM vault fire in 1965. Efforts to reconstruct it and to rediscover it are legion, ranging from the sincere and earnest to the faulty and fraudulent. No known print of London after Midnight exists. The film is not alive, but it is not dead, given the ongoing interest in it, as well as its cultural influence, whether rematerializing in the form of Sean Brennan’s band London After Midnight or as the title monster in Jennifer Kent’s film The Babadook (Umbrella Entertainment, 2014).[4] London after Midnight now belongs more to the imagination than to the projection booth. Here then is the ghostly, gossamer narrative. Here is undead cinema.

Afterimages

In the era before television and home video, most viewers were unable to see films once their theatrical runs ended. Reissues occurred on occasion, but never for London after Midnight. As a late silent film, the talking picture era prevented it from returning to theaters. Indeed, Lon Chaney died in 1930, having made only one talkie, Jack Conway’s The Unholy Three (1930). Chaney’s fame continued, but his films did not, at least not during the thirties and forties. Silent films largely disappeared from the American screen.

One of the last published exhibitor reports on London after Midnight came in April 1929, with a theater manager calling it, “A good picture and one that brings in the business. Showed it in a snow storm [sic], with the roads in bad shape. Too spooky to please many of the fans, but Chaney’s acting is admired.”[5] A final report printed in June 1929 explained, “Pretty good picture, but bad print from New Orleans.”[6] By mid-1929, most prints of London after Midnight would have been worn, from use, reuse, and abuse. But even seeing a scratchy and stained print meant seeing the film, experiencing it directly. As of 1930 and thereafter, such an experience became increasingly rare.

At least a few viewers who saw London after Midnight in 1927, 1928, and 1929 remembered it years later. Bob Kane once compared Chaney’s vampire to Danny DeVito’s Penguin character in Tim Burton’s Batman Returns (Warner Bros., 1992).[7] Some years ago, I spoke with William K. Everson, Robert Bloch, and Forrest J Ackerman about the film, hoping to learn more about it, even experience it vicariously through their smiling, happy memories. Ackerman specifically recalled Chaney’s crouched stance and walk while in the vampire guise, which he described as similar to Groucho Marx’s onscreen gait, though performed in a serious, uncanny manner. I particularly remember interviewing Margaret Brannan, a family friend, about London after Midnight for my hometown newspaper when I was a teenager. Unlike Ackerman, she had no particular interest in horror cinema, but she had watched the film on its original release when she was a child. She never forgot another important detail: Chaney rolled his eyes around their sockets when guised as the vampire, creating for her – and presumably many viewers – an eerie effect.[8]

Memories have always been one way to preserve films, or at least particular scenes and images from them. But memories fade, sometimes rapidly. Henry James Forman’s book Our Movie Made Children (1935) included a quotation from a “youth of twenty-four under sentence for burglary”:

A picture I consider very interesting and inspiring to the criminal in the line of his profession is London after Midnight. This picture has a cast of daring gangsters and murderers. I took a great liking to this picture as it was very exciting. This picture kept the law on the go, as there were daring crimes throughout. Like every other crook picture, the criminal is caught and punished.”[9]

The memory is important for many reasons, ranging from the sociological to the historiographical. But the “youth” misremembered. The plot details he cites are not from London after Midnight. He was recalling another film, perhaps another Chaney film, such as Jack Conway’s While the City Sleeps (1928).

Period materials are arguably more reliable than aging memories, whether shooting scripts, plot synopses in period magazines and newspapers, or book-of-the-film novelizations that were popular before the age of home video. Marie Coolidge-Rask’s London after Midnight, published in Grosset & Dunlap in 1928, represents such a book. Couch Pumpkin Press published a new edition, edited by Niels W. Erickson, in 2010. An introductory note rightly explains, “the tale … is even more intriguingly complex than the one which made it to the screen.”[10] And yet, books of films are not films, nor are plot synopses, no matter how faithful they attempt to be. There is a limit to how well words can describe images and editing, just as there is a limit to how much memories can capture experiences.

 For that matter, there is a limit to how much still pictures can capture moving pictures. Unknown to most filmgoers, the images they have historically seen from films are usually not from films. Rather than frame blow-ups taken from film prints, the images published in movie magazines and promoted on advertising materials were publicity stills, taken not by a cinematographer, but by a still photographer. They generally attempted to approximate scenes from the film, though there are exceptions, as well as overall variations, specifically a different aspect ratio during the classical Hollywood era, meaning a 5:4 photograph (or 4:5, if horizontal rather than vertical) instead of a 4:3 film frame. Describing Wallace Chewning’s work as still photographer for London after Midnight, American Cinematographer wrote in 1927:

he passed weeks of study, using the script and light effects to devise methods of translating fear to terms of photography. Chaney’s picture was a thriller, with the star as a detective in a strange mystery in a haunted house. It naturally lent itself to fantastic shadows and weird effects, and with Chaney’s strange makeup and the photographer’s uncanny lighting, some really remarkable effects were produced.”[11]

Remarkable effects, indeed, with the large number of extant London after Midnight publicity stills giving us access to how the costumes and makeup and sets appeared. While they are certainly not frames from the film, they provide far more insight into how it looked than mere memories and text. They are the key reason why the film is remembered by those who never saw it.

Reanimations

Remembering London after Midnight through paracinema has not been the only means of revivifying it. Exploring film history through making new films has been another approach. Max and Dave Fleischer’s animated cartoon Swing You Sinners! (Paramount, 1930) features a ghost that clearly resembles Chaney’s Man in the Beaver Hat. His faux-vampire was also reborn in Joseph Pevney’s The Man of a Thousand Faces (Universal, 1957), thanks to poster artwork depicting James Cagney in Chaney’s makeup.

Tod Browning undertook the most notable reimagining of London after Midnight, remaking it as Mark of the Vampire (MGM, 1935). The new film simultaneously is and is not London after Midnight. In large measure, save for splitting the detective and Man in the Beaver Hat into two different characters, the plots are very similar. That said, to an extent Mark of the Vampire also reimagines Browning’s Dracula (Universal, 1931), the vampires in both played by Bela Lugosi in comparable costume and makeup, eschewing the appearance of Chaney’s character. Even actor Michael Visaroff’s role as an innkeeper in Mark of the Vampire evokes his earlier performance in Dracula.

Of particular importance to later generations was Basil Gogos’ painting of the Man in the Beaver Hat, which first appeared on the cover of Famous Monsters of Filmland in November 1962. While the fan magazine was aimed at children and regularly featured puns, it was also crucial in bringing renewed attention to classic horror movies, including those of the silent film era that were no longer receiving much attention. Here was Chaney’s faux-vampire, with his jagged teeth crooked into an evil smile, his dark eyes staring out directly at a new generation who eagerly looked to the past of horror cinema. In 1962, popular culture had forgotten most silent films of 1927. By contrast, London after Midnight was prominently displayed on most American newsstands. This was an important step in the film becoming a “famous monster” to a new generation.[12]

Famous Monsters continued to levy attention on London after Midnight, with the Gogos artwork – in slightly altered form – reprinted on the cover in September 1970. The interior included a “filmbook” of London after Midnight, recreating its plotline with a number of still photographs and text that relied heavily on Coolidge-Rask.[13] Since the earlier Gogos cover, the MGM vault fire had occurred, leading Famous Monsters to note correctly in 1970 that it was chronicling a “lost” film.[14]

Relying on a similar but far more expansive approach, Philip J. Riley compiled a book-length reconstruction of London after Midnight in 1985, reproducing the full script, as well as a separate compilation of onscreen intertitle text and over 150 photographs that told the story in words and images. However, as Riley noted in the book, his project was incomplete:

In comparing the script to the cutting continuity, I found that the final screen version was very different from the original scenario. And, to top it off, stills were shot to match the script, which meant that they could not be used in the film portion of this book.

… When all the stills were together, I found that … they did not shoot any stills of many important scenes, nor did they have any stills of the ending, where the hypnotist captures the real murderer.” [15]

Nevertheless, the Riley book was a major accomplishment. The film seemed somewhat alive, even if the only movement resulted from one’s fingers turning the pages.

In 2002, writer and filmmaker Paul Davis presented his own version of London after Midnight on the website Celluloid Shockers. Relying on text and photos, Davis promoted it as being “the most comprehensive reconstruction.” That might have been true, given that he covered some narrative details that Riley did not, his work becoming something of an amalgam of the shooting script and cutting continuity. Nevertheless, the photo quality on his site did not equal Riley’s.[16] Worse still is that its internet publication has since disappeared from the web. It now represents a lost reconstruction of a lost film.

Then, in 2016, Thomas Mann published his narrative reconstruction of London after Midnight.[17] He approached the project differently than Riley, the result meaningfully augmenting its predecessor. Relying on less than ten still photographs, Mann concentrated on the sheer variety of text-based sources, including the script and the Coolidge-Rask book, as well as the original music cues, pressbook, and a narrative adaptation published in Boy’s Cinema in 1928.  In his introduction, Mann importantly explains the value as well as the limitation of such sources in reconstructing films.[18]

Swing You Sinners! (Paramount, 1930)

Between Riley and Mann came the most substantial reconstruction, one undertaken by film restorationist Rick Schmidlin. Rather than being present in the form of a book or magazine, Schmidlin’s London after Midnight was on film, or at least digital video. It premiered on Turner Classic Movies in 2002 before being released the following year on DVD.[19] Running 48 minutes, the reconstruction relies on hundreds of publicity stills presented in a sequence based on the cutting continuity and the intertitle continuity. In one respect, the film moves, from its overall time-based presentation to Ken Burns-style movement added to given photos, including zooms, a camera effect that would not have been used in London after Midnight. Some photos are repeated, while other extant photos were not used. And then there are narrative elements for which publicity stills either do not exist or were never even taken. Thus, the result is best understood as a photo film (or “photofilm,” as it is sometimes spelled), a tradition that has merit, but also has limitations.

Reaction to Schmidlin’s reconstruction varied from the extremely positive to the greatly disappointed. As Chaney biographer Michael F. Blake noted, “The biggest limitation is that the project does not move. No matter how much panning, zooming, etc. you do [to a still photograph], it can never recreate a moving image.”[20] There is no crouched gait to observe; there are no rolling eyes to see. To be sure, film restorationists had relied on still photographs to replace lost footage since at least 1984, in the case of Giorgio Moroder’s reconstruction of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (UFA, 1927). But Schmidlin’s London after Midnight marked the first use of publicity stills to recreate an entire feature film.[21] Hence the mixed reactions. One post on the Internet Movie Database claimed, “It just isn’t the original film nor is it even a truncated version–it’s a bizarre attempt to recreate the film from nothing.”[22] While that comment represents an overstatement, the reconstruction is arguably as much Schmidlin’s film as it is Browning’s. The result is and is not London after Midnight.

After all, none of these reconstructions rely on a single frame from Browning’s film, a vampire movie about a hoax vampire.

Folklore

London after Midnight – Found!” So read the headline of an “Associated Press” article published on Joseph K. Meadows’ website Horror-Wood in 1999:

Clyde McGuffin, 82, one-time Metro-Goldwyn Mayer film archivist and now the owner of a chicken ranch in El Segundo, California, found a valuable ‘nest egg’ – in an actual chicken’s nest. An old film canister used as the base of one of his chicken nests proved to contain a print of MGM’s silent thriller London after Midnight….

‘After I left old MGM with ‘leather goods’–a belt in the mouth and a boot in the butt–I started up my chicken ranch. I needed a good, strong base for the nests that wouldn’t get ate up by chicken droppings,’ McGuffin explained at a press conference at the MGM Grand Hotel in Los Vegas, Nevada. ‘Well, we had a bunch of old silent films lying around in their cans waiting to be ‘archived’ – that meant tossed in the crapper,’ he added with a chuckle. ‘So I took some of them home and put ‘em to good use – providing firm support to my layers.’

However, one old hen named Henrietta wasn’t fond of her nest’s hard bottom. She pecked at the film can beneath the straw until it popped open, McGuffin explained.

‘Me and my old lady, Muriel, looked at that there film and saw it had that old funny-face actor, Chaney, wearing pointy teeth and a top hat. I mentioned it to my son, who works for MGM now too, in their casino as a pit boss, and he said that film had to be valuable. So I took it to my old employers and they nearly fainted.’

According to MGM executives, the print is badly deteriorated and smells rather bad (‘Henrietta’s droppings didn’t do it any good,’ one admitted). But it is watchable.

‘I got to watch it,’ McGuffin said. ‘It was pretty silly, and kind of reminded me of that other film MGM made with that Bela fella, with him wearing his black cape and walking around with a bullet hole in his head. Can’t see all the fuss is about, myself. Now if it was a Tom Mix film…’

Screenings of the film will be delayed until MGM’’s lawyers sort through a sea of lawsuits from over 25 foreign countries claiming a copyright on the film. When asked about McGuffin’s observations concerning MGM’s treatment of its film achieves, studio executives refused comment.”[23]

Meadows clearly labeled the article, “A Horror Hoax.” Nevertheless, some film fans believed his prank, one that speaks to the sheer desire for the film’s rediscovery. Actress Ingrid Pitt, famed for her appearances in Hammer vampire films, wrote, “I was a little surprised at not having heard about the [London after Midnight] discovery before, but swallowed the whole story till I logged off. A box came up explaining it was all a spoof – but wasn’t it fun?”[24]

Meadows was not the first to create such a prank, however creative his was. That distinction probably goes to a New England-based film service, which listed London after Midnight as a forthcoming title in the early 1970s, not too long after the film burned at MGM. Pranks of this type continued after Meadows as well, including at least one that claimed that Turner Classic Movies would broadcast a print of the film in December 2013.[25]

Film restorationist Jack Theakston concocted his own prank by recreating the title frame for London after Midnight. He recalled:

I’m afraid a little prank of mine has gotten a little out of control. No footage has been found from the film – it’s a joke I concocted for some friends. I was going to say something about it when people were starting to think it was legitimate. For a little image, I put a lot of work into it to the point of anal-retentive detail. I threw some things into the frame that people who were truly experts would know it wasn’t real, but I was shocked how many people thought it was real.”[26]

Theakston’s faked frame was extremely well produced, hence the belief it was authentic, his hoax described (and appropriately identified for what it is) in Dennis Bartok and Jeff Joseph’s book A Thousand Cuts: The Bizarre Underground World of Collectors and Dealers Who Saved the Movies (University Press of Mississippi, 2016).[27]

Probably the most elaborate prank appears on Michael Gebert’s website, Mike’s London after Midnight Myths Page.[28] Here one can see a flyer for a 1975 screening of the movie and a 1998 advertisement for a VHS release, indications that the film cannot really be lost. Gebert also includes a frame grab from a TV broadcast of London after Midnight and artwork for a pending DVD. Only when the reader reaches the end of the text does Gebert reveal what many would already have guessed, his Myths Page is itself a myth, a “prank site,” as he calls it.[29]

The fact that MGM conducted a worldwide search for London after Midnight during the 1970s has not tempered gossip or rumors about its ongoing existence. Most discussion about the film’s current whereabouts has fallen into two other categories, one being led by sincere hopes and earnest searches. For example, in 1985, Forrest J Ackerman wrote:

It was said to have resurfaced several years ago, been seen in San Francisco. In fact, I know the young chap who said he saw it. I have no reason to doubt his word–but on the other hand, I could never find anyone to corroborate his story. It was at an annual Ann Radcliffe awards banquet of the Count Dracula Society, being held in Hollywood….

And suddenly the word reached my table like wildfire: ‘A young fellow over at that table said he saw London after Midnight last week.’

Fleet as the wind, in my Dracula cape, I whisked over to the indicated youngster. Put my arm around him. Said, ‘What’s this I hear about you seeing London after Midnight?’

‘Oh yes, Mr. Ackerman. Last week.’ And he named the little theater, which unfortunately I’ve since forgotten, but I know it exists– I went there subsequently. ‘Why, is there something unusual about it? Everybody seems to be getting very excited.’”[30]

Ackerman concluded his tale by mentioning that none of his friends in San Francisco were aware of said screening, even though they were “old-time movie buffs.” The event almost certainly did not occur. The bigger question is whether the “young fellow” was lying or honestly mistaken.

Ackerman’s story would not be unique. Decades later, the rumors continued. In 2017, film producer Robert Parigi noted:

I’m noticing chatter that a 7-reel print of long-lost Tod Browning/Lon Chaney film London after Midnight (featuring Chaney’s iconic ‘Man in the Beaver Hat’ Vampire) has been discovered in Spain! I had long heard rumors of a print in Cuba. Is this perhaps that print, now sent to Spain? Twenty years ago, I had rumors of a print in the U.S., and contacted the supposed owner offering to transfer it to (then state-of-the-art) D1, but when it came time to produce the print, he backed out.”[31]

To these stories, I can add various occasions from the 1980s to the present when collectors and historians have personally told me rumors of prints, tucked inside an American refrigerator, or perhaps stored in an old building in Korea. It survived in the form of footage from a coming attraction trailer, or as a fragment, or in an abbreviated 9.5mm format, or even in complete 35mm form, with one person confidently assuring me that Stanley Kubrick kept a copy in his personal vault. A few of these tales revolved around issues of copyright. In the nineties, I heard that a collector was supposed to emerge with a print once it went public domain in 2003. He didn’t, allegedly because the United States Congress extended copyright from 75 to 95 years.

Tales of lost films are rife. In the 1970s, Hollywood agent Don Marlowe ran advertisements offering the lost print of Bela Lugosi’s test footage for Frankenstein (1931) for sale. In the 21st century, more than one story has been told about the rediscovery of F.W. Murnau’s 4 Devils (Fox, 1928). Neither film is known to exist. And yet many of us retain hope that they might, in part because we are optimists, and in part because major rediscoveries continue to be made around the world. Much may still be found, whether improperly labeled, or perhaps archived in Cuba or Russia, or buried in forgotten attics and basements. Consider the 1988 rediscovery of the Georges Méliès’ Le manoir du diable/The Devil’s Castle (1896), the print being found not in France, its country of origin, or even the United States, where it played to some degree of popularity, but instead in New Zealand.

And yet clearly fraudulent stories require us to temper our optimism. Immediately after London after Midnight, Tod Browning directed Lon Chaney in the crime movie The Big City (MGM, 1928). It is lost, the last known copy having burned in the same 1965 MGM vault fire that destroyed London after Midnight. But F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre claimed to have seen a copy in the modern era. His rationale is unknown. Perhaps he was playing a prank that he did not reveal. Perhaps he was lying to achieve credibility amongst historians. Whatever his reason, MacIntyre probably ranks as the most infamous purveyor of myths about lost films, which he had allegedly seen in a secret European collection. He managed not only to post such falsehoods on the Internet Movie Database, but he also published a chapter on The Big City in The Cinema of Tod Browning (McFarland, 2008), thus giving potentially unintended meaning to its subtitle, Essays of the Macabre and Grotesque.[32]

On July 23, 2008, someone calling himself “Sid Terror” published an online article at the Horror Drunx website that became the most spurious of London after Midnight “rediscovery” stories. Advance publicity claimed, “Within 48 hours the biggest news story in horror will be revealed….” Two days later, the headline read, “London after Midnight Found.” In it, Terror proclaimed:

Yes. It is true. For those who scoff and doubt (I’m sure you will be legion) that the most notorious lost film of all times was located, I will say it again with authority and conviction… I, Sid Terror, saw Lon Chaney’s lost classic London after Midnight with my own eyes. Without a doubt. No, I am not talking about a recreation made completely from still photos, I’m talking about the entire long-lost motion-picture!”[33]

Terror claimed that in 1988, he worked for a cinema delivery service in Los Angeles. While at a “massive film storage facility” owned by Turner (who had acquired MGM’s catalog), he asked a worker about London after Midnight, referencing its original title, The Hypnotist. The worker gave him the “section, row, and shelf number” of its location. While the nitrate print was incomplete, it was indeed London after Midnight, Terror insisted. Once he examined the reels, Terror was “positive.” He “may have even wept a little.” But nothing happened. The worker told him that Turner didn’t wish to release the film until the missing footage was located. Terror used a magic marker to write London after Midnight on the film canisters, given that they were labeled The Hypnotist. Two decades later, he published his story.[34]

Websites like Ain’t It Cool News and What Culture heralded the story. Others were immediately skeptical. A post on the silent film board Nitrateville announced, “The annual ‘sighting’ of a print of London after Midnight is on again.”[35] Another asked if Sid Terror and F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre were the same person.[36] Most discussion unfolded at the Classic Horror Film Board, resulting in approximately 72 pages of posts.[37] Some questioned Sid Terror’s biography, including his claim to be the great-grandson of Max Schreck, who portrayed Graf Orlok in F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922). After all, Schreck did not have children.[38]

Of Terror’s story about London after Midnight, Chaney biographer Michael F. Blake wrote, “The facts do not add up here people. Stop drinking the Kool-Aid and realize the Emperor doesn’t have a new suit of clothes.”[39] David Colton, longtime journalist at USA Today, concluded, “This was a tall tale of wishful thinking (and that’s putting a positive spin on it) that yes, had some threads of truth throughout, but made no sense when examined.”[40] Horror film historian Tom Weaver remarked, “Hoaxes can be fun; this one was a bore.”[41]

In 2009, a brief clip from London after Midnight appeared online, including at YouTube. It was in fact modern footage featuring a 12” doll of Chaney’s Man in the Beaver Hat released by Sideshow Toys in 2001, the clip relying on stop-motion effects and digitally added “film damage.”[42] The following year, the website Harpodeon unleashed its own monster of a prank. This story was about a South American film collector, who in the 1920s made an illegal bootleg copy of a 35mm.[43] Its perpetrator recalled:    

It was a joke made around the same time another person claimed to have found a print of London after Midnight. … With each update, his tale grew more fantastic and less believable. It ended, as most of these stories do, with him simply disappearing.

Our joke story started out being just within the realm of possibility – that a projectionist moonlighting as a film pirate secretly made a 16mm dupe of the negative of London. It also grew more incredible as it went on, eventually descending into total madness by the end. I remember it had time travel, references to timecube.com, and somehow involved a 19th century opera singer (I think it was Nellie Melba). There were pictures of the reels of 16mm film and the VHS copy supposedly made from them. The centerpiece was the video clip. It was made from a couple of stills copied from a book, crudely animated, with a real talking mouth superimposed over Polly Moran’s. The whole thing was so blurry and dark that it masked how fake looking it was. The joke was only posted on film forums where everyone already knew it wasn’t real. Unfortunately, the video clip took on a life of its own and spread without the accompanying story. Many people who saw it didn’t realize it was only poking fun at the other fellow’s so-called discovery.”[44]

In 1965, the South American collector “had no reason not to return the film, which he did in Culver City in 1965, surreptitiously depositing the film in MGM vault #7.” The article ended by telling readers, “Expect to see London after Midnight on DVD and Blu-Ray sometime next month.”[45] Here was another fun joke, rather than serious announcements of fake discoveries.

In Stoker’s Dracula, Harker notes, “I went down even into the vaults, where the dim light struggled, although to do so was a dread to my very soul. Into two of these I went, but saw nothing except fragments of old coffins and piles of dust; in the third, however, I made a discovery.” Unlike film historians and collectors in search of London after Midnight, Harker actually finds a vampire.

The Undead

In London after Midnight, when Hibbs announces that he’s solved the mystery, he declares that Inspector Burke is “at the bottom of it.” But he is incorrect. The real culprit is Sir James Hamlin (Henry B. Walthall), as Burke proves through hypnosis. The murderer is real, but the vampire is not. And Hibbs has solved nothing, in spite of his confidence, in spite of his optimism. London after Midnight has not been found. The day before he committed suicide by setting his apartment on fire, F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre posted his final review on the Internet Movie Database. He wrote, “Nitrate film stock doesn’t last forever, and all good things come to a happy ending.”[46]

However, to be undead is not an ending, happy or sad; it is to be neither alive nor dead. For Halloween of 2019, the website Old Hollywood in Color posted a tribute video to Lon Chaney, featuring colorized versions of black-and-white photos with the illusion of movement added thanks to Motion Portrait software.[47] The Man in the Beaver Hat blinks and turns his head slightly, the eleven-second simulation seeming more alive than the entirety of Schmidlin’s restoration. But it is a simulation. It is not the Man in the Beaver Hat moving, even if it is. He is alive, even though he is not alive. He is a faux, faux-vampire.

Perhaps there are reasons beyond the flames of a fire that London after Midnight resides not in a vault. It stalks our imaginations, and with increasing verve. In 2017, the website Dread Central published two rediscovered film frames from London after Midnight. An archive in the Canary Islands had discovered them approximately five years earlier.[48] These frames are authentic, as are the nineteen amazing frames that Daniel Titley published in his book London after Midnight: The Lost Film (Keyreads, 2022).[49] Titley’s discoveries – some of them featuring Chaney as the Man in the Beaver Hat – are revelations, their images spanning the overall film narrative. They take us closer to London after Midnight than we have ever been, even though they are static. They cannot move. But they are real frames from a reel film of a fake vampire. They now exist outside of any vault, burial or archival, for all to see, for all to believe.

In Reading the Vampire, Ken Gelder provides the formulation “I know there are no vampires … but I believe in them.”[50] We believe in London after Midnight, even if do not we believe a print of it survives. The film exists, even if it does not. It is undead, as much as any vampire that ever has or has not come back from the grave.

This article is an excerpt from Vampire in Silent Cinema (Chapter 7) by Gary D. Rhodes (Foreword by E. Elias Merhige, Edinburgh University Press, January 2024).

Endnotes


[1] Quoted in Philip J. Riley, London After Midnight (New York: Cornwall Books, 1985), 49.

[2] Along with being mentioned in the film London after Midnight, the term “undead” (rendered as “un-dead”) also appeared in at least one article about it. See “Haunted Castles to Feature [in] New Chaney Picture,” Los Angeles Times, October 2, 1927, C10.

[3] While the term “undead” was rarely used in the United States prior to London after Midnight, it was not unknown. One prominent example of its usage appears in Gorman M. Hendricks, “Haunted Houses and ‘Undead’ Found Here,” Washington Post, September 30, 1923, 75.

[4] Other examples would include the 1990 model kit of London after Midnight, as well as the 21st century horror host “Lon Madnight.”

[5]London After Midnight,” Exhibitors Herald-World, April 27, 1929, 60.

[6]London After Midnight,” Exhibitors Herald-World, June 15, 1929, 156.

[7] Taylor L. White, “Batman Returns: Director Tim Burton Wins the Creative Control to do the Dark Knight Justice,” Cinefantastique, Volume 21, Number 1 (August 1992), 9.

[8] Gary D. Rhodes and Ryan Baker, “In Search of London after Midnight,” Video Watchdog 99, September 2003, 27.

[9] Henry James Forman, Our Movie Made Children (New York: Macmillan Company, 1935), 243.

[10] Margali, “’Oly ‘enry! The Bloomin’ ‘Ouse Is ‘Aunted” in Marie Coolidge-Rask, London after Midnight, edited by Niels W. Erickson (United States: Couch Pumpkin Press, 2010), 7.

[11] Joseph Stillman, “The Stills Move the Movies,” American Cinematographer, November 1927, 7.

[12] Later artists also depicted the Man in the Beaver Hat. For example, he appears on the February 1980 and December 1982 covers of Cracked Collector’s Edition.

[13] Ronald V. Borst with Norris Chapnick, “London after Midnight,” Famous Monsters of Filmland 69, September 1970, 26-39. Part 2 of this “filmbook” appeared in Famous Monsters of Filmland 80, October 1970, 6-12. Strangely, the issue immediately after 69 was numbered 80, rather than 70.

[14] “Contents,” Famous Monsters of Filmland 69, September 1970, 5.

[15] Philip J. Riley, London After Midnight (New York: Cornwall Books, 1985), 19-20.

[16] Rhodes and Baker, 26.

[17] Thomas Mann, London After Midnight: A New Reconstruction Based on Contemporary Sources, with a Transcription of a Newly-Discovered Magazine Fictionalization of the Lost Film (Albany, Georgia: BearManor Media, 2016).

[18] Mann, 1-4.

[19] The Lon Chaney Collection, DVD (Warner Bros./TCM Archives, 2003).

[20] Rhodes and Baker, 25.

[21] Photos had been earlier used to construct restorations of short films. See Daniel Woodruff, “Recreating Motion Pictures from Visual Artifacts,” Journal of Film Preservation 58/59, October 1999, 63-66.

[22] Martin Hafer, “Restored Intertitle Cards and Still[s] Do Not Make a Movie,” User Review, Internet Movie Database, April 7, 2012. Accessed March 19, 2022. Available at: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0018097/reviews?ref_=tt_urv.

[23] Joseph K. Meadows, “London after Midnight – Found!” Accessed March 18, 2022. Available at: https://web.archive.org/web/19990221214023/http://www.horror-wood.com/london.htm

[24] Ingrid Pitt, “The Ingrid Pitt Column: London after Midnight,” Den of Geek, April 8, 2008. Accessed March 18, 2022. Available at: https://www.denofgeek.com/culture/the-ingrid-pitt-column-london-after-midnight/.

[25] “Happy Birthday, Lon Chaney! London after Midnight Found at Last!”, Dr. Film’s Blog, April 1, 2013. Accessed March 19, 2022. Available at: http://www.drfilm.net/blog/?p=419.

[26] Quoted in A Thousand Cuts: The Underground World of Collectors Who Saved the Movies, Facebook Group, May 7, 2020. Accessed March 19, 2022. Available at: https://www.facebook.com/aThousandCutsBook.

[27] Dennis Bartok and Jeff Joseph, A Thousand Cuts: The Bizarre Underground World of Collectors and Dealers Who Saved the Movies (Jackson, Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 2016), 177-178.

[28] Michael Gebert, London after Midnight Myths Page, Accessed March 18, 2022. Available at: https://www.michaelgebert.com/lam/lam1.html.

[29] Ibid, https://www.michaelgebert.com/lam/lam8.html.

[30] Forrest J Ackerman, “Foreword” in Riley, 15-16.

[31] John Squires, “Rumor Spreading That Long-Lost London after Midnight Has Been Found,” Bloody Disgusting, February 14, 2017. Accessed March 12, 2022. Available at: https://bloody-disgusting.com/movie/3424566/rumor-spreading-long-lost-london-midnight-found/

[32] F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre, “The Big City: All of Browning’s Universe in One Film,” The Cinema of Tod Browning: Essays of the Macabre and Grotesque, edited by Bernd Herzogenrath (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2008), 116-131.

[33] Quoted in Matt Holmes, “London after Midnight Is Out There…Somewhere!”, What Culture, July 24, 2008. Accessed March 5, 2022. Available at: https://whatculture.com/film/warner-bros-have-found-the-most-famous-lost-film-in-cinema-history-london-after-midnight.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Scoundrel, “London after Midnight…Lost Again…?”, User Post, Nitrateville, July 24, 2008. Accessed March 15, 2022. Available at: https://www.nitrateville.com/viewtopic.php?p=5630&sid=00171b9f58f773de8814fc184d8b78f9.

[36] Robb Farr, “London after Midnight…Lost Again…?”, User Post, Nitrateville, July 25, 2008. Accessed March 15, 2022. Available at: https://www.nitrateville.com/viewtopic.php?p=5630&sid=00171b9f58f773de8814fc184d8b78f9.

[37]London after Midnight: Amazing News or Same Old, Same Old?”, Classic Horror Film Board, 2008. Accessed March 10, 2022. Available at: https://www.tapatalk.com/groups/monsterkidclassichorrorforum/london-after-midnight-amazing-news-or-same-old-sam-t17841.html.

[38] See Stefan Eickhoff, Max Schreck: Gespenstertheater (Munich: Belleville, 2009).

[39] Michael Blake, The Classic Horror Film Board, July 24, 2008. Accessed March 14, 2022. Available at: https://www.tapatalk.com/groups/monsterkidclassichorrorforum/london-after-midnight-amazing-news-or-same-old-sam-t17841.html.

[40] Taraco (David Colton), The Classic Horror Film Board, October 17, 2008. Accessed March 14, 2022. Available at: https://www.tapatalk.com/groups/monsterkidclassichorrorforum/london-after-midnight-amazing-news-or-same-old-sam-t17841.html.

[41] TomWeaver999 (Tom Weaver), The Classic Horror Film Board, July 28, 2008. Accessed March 14, 2022. Available at: https://www.tapatalk.com/groups/monsterkidclassichorrorforum/london-after-midnight-amazing-news-or-same-old-sam-t17841.html.

[42] London after Midnight, March 13, 2009. Accessed March 12, 2022. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aFk36pizlcM.

[43]London after Midnight Recovered,” Harpodeon. This article was posted in 2009 at the following website, which is no longer available: http://www.harpodeon.com/london_after_midnight/.

[44] Quoted in Dan Titley, Email to Gary D. Rhodes, January 18, 2022.

[45]London after Midnight Recovered,” Harpodeon.

[46] F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre, “Metropolis: My Favorite Film, My Last Review,” Internet Movie Database, June 25, 2010. Accessed March 19, 2022. Available at: https://www.imdb.com/review/rw2268894/.

[47] “Lon Chaney – Just in Time for Halloween 2019,” Old Hollywood in Color, September 26, 2019. Accessed March 7, 2022. Available at: https://oldhollywoodincolor.com/tag/london-after-midnight/.

[48] Steve Barton, “Update: London after Midnight Found?”, Dread Central, February 14, 2017. Accessed March 20, 2022. Available at: https://www.dreadcentral.com/news/214519/london-midnight-finally-found/.

[49] Daniel Titley, London after Midnight: The Lost Film (London: Keyreads, 2022).

[50] Ken Gelder, Reading the Vampire (New York: Routledge, 1994), 53.

Gary D. Rhodes, Ph.D., filmmaker, poet and Full Professor of Media Production at Oklahoma Baptist University, is the author of the forthcoming Vampires in Silent Cinema (Edinburgh University Press, January 2024), Becoming Dracula – Vols. 1 and (with William M. [Bill] Kaffenberger, BearManor Media), Consuming Images: Film Art and the American Television Commercial (co-authored with Robert Singer, Edinburgh University Press, 2020), Emerald Illusions: The Irish in Early American Cinema (IAP, 2012), The Perils of Moviegoing in America (Bloomsbury, 2012) and The Birth of the American Horror Film (Edinburgh University Press, 2018), as well as the editor of such anthologies as The Films of Joseph H. Lewis (Wayne State University Press, 2012) and The Films of Budd Boetticher (Edinburgh University Press, 2017). Rhodes is also the writer-director of such documentary films as Lugosi: Hollywood’s Dracula (1997) and Banned in Oklahoma (2004).

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