|Intro||American film director|
|Was||Actor Film director Screenwriter Film actor Film producer Stage actor Entertainer Circus performer Theatre director|
|From||United States of America|
|Field||Arts Entertainment Film, TV, Stage & Radio|
|Birth||12 July 1880, Louisville, Jefferson County, Kentucky, USA|
|Death||6 October 1962, Santa Monica, Los Angeles County, California, USA (aged 82 years)|
Tod Browning (born Charles Albert Browning Jr.; July 12, 1880 – October 6, 1962) was an American film director, film actor, screenwriter, vaudeville performer, carnival sideshow and circus entertainer. Browning's career spanned the silent film and sound film eras. Best known as the director of Dracula (1931), Freaks (1932), and silent film collaborations with Lon Chaney and Priscilla Dean, Browning directed many movies in a wide range of genres, between 1915 and 1939.
"A non-conformist within his family, the alternative society of the circus shaped his disdain for normal mainstream society... circus life, for Browning, represented a flight from conventional lifestyles and responsibilities, which later manifested itself in a love of liquor, gambling and fast cars." — Film historian Jon Towlson in Diabolique Magazine, November 27, 2017
Tod Browning was born Charles Albert Browning, Jr., in Louisville, Kentucky, the second son of Charles Albert and Lydia Browning. Charles Albert Sr., "a bricklayer, carpenter and machinist" provided his family with a middle-class and Baptist household. Browning's uncle, the baseball star Pete "Louisville Slugger" Browning saw his sobriquet conferred on the iconic baseball bat.
Circus, sideshow and vaudeville
As a child, Browning was fascinated by circus and carnival life. At the age of 16, and before finishing high school, he ran away from his well-to-do family to join a traveling circus.
Initially hired as a roustabout, he soon began serving as a "spieler" (a barker at sideshows) and by 1901, at the age of 21, was performing song and dance routines for Ohio and Mississippi riverboat entertainment, as well as acting as a contortionist for the Manhattan Fair and Carnival Company. Browning developed a live burial act in which he was billed as "The Living Hypnotic Corpse", and performed as a clown with the renowned Ringling Brothers circus. He would later draw on these early experiences to inform his cinematic inventions.
In 1906, the 26-year-old Browning was briefly married to Amy Louis Stevens in Louisville. Adopting the professional name "Tod" Browning (tod is the German word for death), Browning abandoned his wife and became a vaudevillian, touring extensively as both a magician's assistant and a blackface comedian in an act called The Lizard and the Coon with comedian Roy C. Jones. He appeared in a Mutt and Jeff sketch in the 1912 burlesque revue The World of Mirth with comedian Charles Murray.
Film actor: 1909-1913
In 1909, after 13 years performing in carnivals and vaudeville circuits, Browning, age 29, transitioned to film acting.
Browning's work as a comedic film actor began in 1909 when he performed with director and screenwriter Edward Dillon in film shorts. In all, Browning was cast in over 50 of these one- or two-reeler slapstick productions. Film historian Boris Henry observes that "Browning's experience as a slapstick actor [became] incorporated into his career as a filmmaker." Dillon later provided many of the screenplays for the early films that Browning would direct. A number of actors that Browning performed with in his early acting career would later appear in his own pictures, many of whom served their apprenticeships with Keystone Cops director Max Sennett, among them Wallace Beery, Ford Sterling, Polly Moran, Wheeler Oakman, Raymond Griffith, Kalla Pasha, Mae Busch, Wallace MacDonald and Laura La Varnie.
In 1913, the 33-year-old Browning was hired by film director D. W. Griffith at Biograph Studios in New York City, first appearing as an undertaker in Scenting a Terrible Crime (1913). Both Griffith and Browning departed Biograph and New York that same year and together joined Reliance-Majestic Studios in Hollywood, California. Browning was featured in several Reliance-Majestic films, including The Wild Girl (1917).
Early film directing and screenwriting: 1914–1916
Film historian Vivian Sobchack reports that "a number of one- or two-reelers are attributed to Browning from 1914 to 1916" and biographer Michael Barson credits Browning's directorial debut to the one-reeler drama The Lucky Transfer, released in March 1915.
Browning's career almost ended when, intoxicated, he drove his vehicle into a railroad crossing and collided with a locomotive. Browning suffered grievous injuries, as did passenger George Siegmann. A second passenger, actor Elmer Booth was killed instantly. Film historian Jon Towlson notes that "alcoholism was to contribute to a major trauma in Browning's personal life that would shape his thematic obsessions...After 1915, Browning began to direct his traumatic experience into his work – radically reshaping it in the process." According to biographers David J. Skal and Elias Savada, the tragic event transformed Browning's creative outlook:
A distinct pattern had appeared in his post-accident body of work, distinguishing it from the comedy that had been his specialty before 1915. Now his focus was moralistic melodrama, with recurrent themes of crime, culpability and retribution.
Indeed, the thirty-one films that Browning wrote and directed between 1920 to 1939 were, with few exceptions, melodramas.
Browning's injuries likely precluded a further career as an actor. During his protracted convalescence, Browning turned to writing screenplays for Reliance-Majestic. Upon his recovery, Browning joined Griffith's film crew on the set of Intolerance (1916) as an assistant director and appeared in a bit part for the production's "modern story" sequence.
Plot and theme in Browning's films
Film historian Vivian Sobchack identifies four plots or mise-en-scène in which Browning presents his themes:
1) Exotic melodramas, in which the film's physical setting generates much of the plot and action;
2) Crook melodramas, whose main characters are criminals (primarily thieves and swindlers);
3) Bizarre melodramas on physically deformed or freakishly designed characters;
4) a minor group, Mystery melodramas, deal with solving a crime (usually a murder), often debunking supernatural explanations in the process.
Sobchack points out that the plot synopsis for these films, considered independently of their cinematic treatments, appear "ludicrous" or "bizarre" in conception. Browning's handling of the material, however, produce "powerful and disturbing realizations on the screen."
The melodramas that Browning wrote and directed for M-G-M and Universal are formulaic manifestations of his "compulsive" preoccupation with themes of "moral and sexual frustration, interchangeable guilt [and] patterns of human repulsion and attraction." Biographer Stuart Rosenthal offers this analysis of the director's style and themes:
The adjective most often applied to Browning's cinema is 'obsessional'...he expresses his obsessional content in a manner that may properly be described as compulsive. Certain shots, compositions and montages appear again and again in Browning's oeuvre [leaving] an impression of frank repetition. In fact, he has a limited catalog of themes and effects from which compiles each of his pictures. The overall scope of the entire Browning filmography is not significantly broader than any single entry in it.
Rosenthal assigns four thematic categories to Browning's films:
Reality vs. Appearance, in which an individual's social exterior (physical beauty, the trappings of authority or professional status) are exposed as facades masking cruel or criminal behavior. (ex. The Unholy Three (1925), Where East Is East (1929))
Sexual Frustration, often involving a "sacred" father-child or other kinship relation in which "a man's offspring represent extensions of his own sexuality" provoking a protective response to sexual insults from outsiders. (ex. The Road to Mandalay (1926), West of Zanzibar (1928)).
Conflict of Opposing Tendencies within an Individual, leading to a loss of identity when irreconcilable character traits in a person produces alter egos. Author Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde explores this "intractable frustration."(ex. Outside the Law (1921), The Blackbird (1926)).
Inability to Assign Guilt, in which a character resorts to violence or criminal acts in order to avenge injustice, and guilt or blame remains ambiguous. (ex. The Unknown (1927), Freaks (1932))
The factor that unifies all these thematic patterns is frustration: "Frustration is Browning's dominant theme."
Director: early silent feature films, 1917–1919
In 1917, Browning wrote and directed his first full-length feature film, Jim Bludso, for Fine Arts/ Triangle film companies, starring Wilfred Lucas in the title role. The story is based on a poem by John Hay, a former personal secretary to Abraham Lincoln during the American Civil War.
Browning married his second wife Alice Watson in 1917; they would remain together until her death in 1944.
Returning to New York in 1917, Browning directed pictures for Metro Pictures. There he made Peggy, the Will O' the Wisp and The Jury of Fate. Both starred Mabel Taliaferro, the latter in a dual role achieved with double exposure techniques that were groundbreaking for the time. Film historian Vivian Sobchack notes that many of these films "involved the disguise and impersonations found in later Browning films." (See Filmography below.) Browning returned to Hollywood in 1918 and produced three more films for Metro, each of which starred Edith Storey: The Eyes of Mystery, The Legion of Death and Revenge, all filmed and released in 1918. These early and profitable five-, six- and seven-reel features Browning made between 1917-1919 established him as "a successful director and script writer."
In the spring of 1918 Browning departed Metro and signed with Bluebird Photoplays studios (a subsidiary of Carl Laemmle's Universal Pictures), then in 1919 with Universal where he would direct a series of "extremely successful" films starring Priscilla Dean.
Universal Studios: 1919–1923
During his tenure at Universal, Browning directed a number of the studio's top female actors, among them Edith Roberts in The Deciding Kiss and Set Free (both 1918) and Mary MacLaren in The Unpainted Woman, A Petal on the Current and Bonnie, Bonnie Lassie, all 1919 productions. Browning's most notable films for Universal, however, starred Priscilla Dean, "Universal's leading lady known for playing 'tough girls'" and with whom he would direct nine features.
The Priscilla Dean films
Browning's first successful Dean picture—a "spectacular melodrama"—is The Virgin of Stamboul (1920). Dean portrays Sari, a "virgin beggar girl" who is desired by the Turkish chieftain Achmet Hamid (Wallace Beery). Browning's handling of the former slapstick comedian Beery as Achmet reveals the actor's comedic legacy and Browning's own roots in burlesque. Film historian Stuart Rosenthal wrote that the Dean vehicles possess "the seemingly authentic atmosphere with which Browning instilled his crime melodramas, adding immeasurably to later efforts like The Black Bird (1926), The Show (1927) and The Unholy Three. (1925)."
The Dean films exhibit Browning's fascination with 'exotic' foreign settings and with underworld criminal activities, which serve to drive the action of his films. Dean is cast as a thieving demimonde who infiltrates high society to burgle jewelry in The Exquisite Thief (1919); in Under Two Flags (1922), set in colonial French Algiers, Dean is cast as a French-Arab member of a harem—her sobriquet is "Cigarette—servicing the French Foreign Legion; and in Drifting (1923), with its "compelling" Shanghai, China scenes recreated on the Universal backlot, Dean plays an opium dealer. In Browning's final Dean vehicle at Universal, White Tiger, he indulged his fascination with "quasi-theatrical" productions of illusion—and revealed to movie audiences the mechanisms of these deceptions. In doing so, Browning—a former member of the fraternity of magicians—violated a precept of their professional code.
Perhaps the most fortuitous outcome of the Dean films at Universal is that they introduced Browning to future collaborator Lon Chaney, the actor who would star in Browning's most outstanding films of the silent era. Chaney had already earned the sobriquet "The Man of a Thousand Faces" as early as 1919 for his work at Universal. Universal's vice-president Irving Thalberg paired Browning with Chaney for the first time in The Wicked Darling (1919), a melodrama in which Chaney played the thief "Stoop" Conners who forces a poor girl (Dean) from the slums into a life of crime and prostitution.
In 1921, Browning and Thalberg enlisted Chaney in another Dean vehicle, Outside the Law, in which he plays the dual roles of the sinister "Black Mike" Sylva and the benevolent Ah Wing. Both of these Universal production exhibit Browning's "natural affinity for the melodramatic and grotesque." In a special effect that drew critical attention, Chaney appears to murder his own dual character counterpart through trick photography and "with Thalberg supporting their imaginative freedom, Chaney's ability and unique presence fanned the flames of Browning's passion for the extraordinary." Biographer Stuart Rosenthal remarks upon the foundations of the Browning-Chaney professional synergy:
In the screen personality of Lon Chaney, Tod Browning found the perfect embodiment of the type of character that interested him... Chaney's unconditional dedication to his acting gave his characters the extraordinary intensity that was absolutely essential to the credibility of Browning's creations.
When Thalberg resigned as vice-president at Universal to serve as production manager with the newly amalgamated Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1925, Browning and Chaney accompanied him.
The Browning-Chaney collaborations at M-G-M: 1925–1929
After moving to M-G-M in 1925 under the auspices of production manager Irving Thalberg, Browning and Chaney made eight critically and commercially successful feature films, representing the zenith of both their silent film careers. Browning wrote or co-wrote the stories for six of the eight productions. Screenwriter Waldemar Young, credited on nine of the M-G-M pictures, worked effectively with Browning. At M-G-M, Browning would reach his artistic maturity as a filmmaker.
The first of these M-G-M productions established Browning as a talented filmmaker in Hollywood, and deepened Chaney's professional and personal influence on the director: The Unholy Three.
The Unholy Three (1925)
In a circus tale by author Tod Robbins—a setting familiar to Browning—a trio of criminal ex-carnies and a pickpocket form a jewelry theft ring. Their activities lead to a murder and an attempt to frame an innocent bookkeeper. Two of the criminal quartet reveal their humanity and are redeemed; two perish through violent justice.
The Unholy Three is an outstanding example of Browning's delight in the "bizarre" melodramas (though here, not macabre) and its "the perverse characterizations" that Browning and Chaney devise anticipate their subsequent collaborations.
Lon Chaney doubles as Professor Echo, a sideshow ventriloquist, and as Mrs. "Granny" O'Grady (a cross-dressing Echo), the mastermind of the gang. Granny/Echo operates a talking parrot pet shop as a front for the operation. Film critic Alfred Eaker notes that Chaney renders "the drag persona with depth of feeling. Chaney never camps it up and delivers a remarkable, multifaceted performance."
Harry Earles, a member of The Doll Family midget performers plays the violent and wicked Tweedledee who poses as Granny's infant grandchild, Little Willie. (Granny conveys the diminutive Willie in a perambulator.)
Victor McLagen is cast as weak-minded Hercules, the circus strongman who constantly seeks to assert his physical primacy over his cohorts. Hercules detests Granny/Echo, but is terrified by the ventriloquist's "pet" gorilla. He doubles as Granny O'Grady's son-in-law and father to Little Willie.
The pickpocket Rosie, played by Mae Busch, is the object of Echo's affection, and they share a mutual admiration as fellow larcenists. She postures as the daughter to Granny/Echo and as the mother of Little Willie.
The pet shop employs the diffident bookkeeper, Hector "The Boob" MacDonald (Matt Moore) who is wholly ignorant of the criminal proceedings. Rosie finds this "weak, gentle, upright, hardworking" man attractive.
When Granny O'Malley assembles her faux-"family" in her parlor to deceive police investigators, the movie audience knows that "the grandmother is the head of a gang and a ventriloquist, the father a stupid Hercules, the mother a thief, the baby a libidinous, greedy [midget], and the pet...an enormous gorilla." Browning's portrait is a "sarcastic distortion" that subverts a cliched American wholesomeness and serves to deliver "a harsh indictment...of the bourgeois family."
Film historian Stuart Rosenthal identifies "the ability to control another being" as a central theme in The Unholy Three. The deceptive scheme through which the thieves manipulate wealthy clients, demonstrates a control over "the suckers" who are stripped of their wealth, much as circus sideshow patrons are deceived: Professor Echo and his ventriloquist's dummy distract a "hopelessly naive and novelty-loving" audience as pickpocket Rosie relieves them of their wallets. Browning ultimately turns the application of "mental control" to serve justice. When bookkeeper Hector takes the stand in court, testifying in his defense against a false charge of murder, the reformed Echo applies his willpower to silence the defendant, and uses his voice throwing power to provide the exonerating testimony. When Hector descends from the stand, he tells his attorney "That wasn't me talking. I didn't say a word." Browning employs a set of dissolves to make the ventriloquists role perfectly clear.
Film historian Robin Blyn comments on the significance of Echo's courtroom confession:
Professor Echo's [moral] conversion represents one of the final judgement on the conversion of the cinema of sound attractions to a sound-based narrative cinema disciplined to the demands of realism. Echo's decision to interrupt the proceedings and confess, rather than 'throwing voices' at the judge or the jury, conveys the extent to which the realist mode had become the reigning aesthetic law. Moreover, in refusing his illusionist gift, Echo relinquishes ventriloquism as an outmoded and ineffective art...
With The Unholy Three, Browning provided M-G-M with a huge box-office and critical success.
The Mystic (1925)
Although fascinated by the grotesque, the deformed and the perverse, Browning (a former magician) was a debunker of the occult and the supernatural...Indeed, Browning is more interested in tricks and illusions than the supernatural. — Film historian Vivian Sobchack in The Films of Tod Browning (2006)
While Lon Chaney was making The Tower of Lies (1925) with director Victor Sjöström Browning wrote and directed an Aileen Pringle vehicle, The Mystic. The picture has many of the elements typical of Browning oeuvre at M-G-M: Carnivals, Hungarian Gypsies and séances provide the exotic mise-en-scene, while the melodramatic plot involves embezzlement and swindling. An American con man Michael Nash (Conway Tearle) develops a moral conscience after falling in love with Pringle's character, Zara, and is consistent with Browning's "themes of reformation and unpunished crimes." and the couple achieve a happy reckoning. Browning, a former sideshow performer, is quick to reveal to his movie audience the illusionist fakery that serves to extract a fortune from a gullible heiress, played by Gladys Hulette.
Dollar Down (1925): Browning followed The Mystic with another "crook melodrama involving swindlers" for Truart productions. Based on a story by Jane Courthope and Ethyl Hill, Dollar Down stars Ruth Roland and Henry B. Walthall.
Following these "more conventional" crime films, Browning and Chaney embarked on their final films of the late silent period, "the strangest collaboration between director and actor in cinema history; the premises of the films were outrageous."
The Blackbird (1926)
Browning helps to keep the development of The Blackbird taut by employing Chaney's face as an index of the rapidly oscillating mood of the title character. Chaney is the key person who will determine the fates of West End Bertie and Fifi. The plasticity of his facial expressions belies to the audience the spirit of cooperation he offers the young couple...the internal explosiveness monitored in his face is a constant reminder of the danger represented by his presence. — Biographer Stuart Rosenthal in Tod Browning: The Hollywood Professionals, Volume 4 (1975)
Browning and Chaney were reunited in their next feature film, The Blackbird (1926), one of the most "visually arresting" of their collaborations.
Browning introduces Limehouse district gangster Dan Tate (Chaney), alias "The Blackbird", who creates an alter identity, the physically deformed christian missionary "The Bishop." Tate's purported "twin" brother is a persona he uses to periodically evade suspicion by the police under "a phony mantle of christian goodness"—an image utterly at odds with the persona of The Blackbird. According to film historian Stuart Rosenthal, "Tate's masquerade as the Bishop succeeds primarily because the Bishop's face so believably reflects a profound spiritual suffering that is absolutely foreign to the title character [The Blackbird]."
Tate's competitor in crime, the "gentleman-thief" Bertram "West End Bertie" Glade (Owen Moore, becomes romantically involved with a Limehouse cabaret singer, Mademoiselle Fifi Lorraine (Renée Adorée). The jealous Tate attempts to frame Bertie for the murder of a policeman, but is mortally injured in an accident while in the guise of The Bishop. Tate's wife, Polly (Doris Lloyd discovers her husband's dual identity, and honors him by concealing his role as "The Blackbird." The reformed Bertie and his lover Fifi are united in matrimony.
Chaney's adroit "quick-change" transformations from the Blackbird into The Bishop—intrinsic to the methods of "show culture"—are "explicitly revealed" to the movie audience, such that Browning invites them to share in the deception.
Browning introduces a number of slapstick elements into The Blackbird. Doris Lloyd, portrays Tate's ex-wife Limehouse Polly, demonstrating her comic acumen in scenes as a flower girl, and Browning's Limehouse drunkards are "archetypical of burlesque cinema." Film historian Boris Henry points out that "it would not be surprising if the fights that Lon Chaney as Dan Tate mimes between his two characters (The Blackbird and The Bishop) were inspired by actor-director Max Linder's performance in Be My Wife, 1921."
Film historian Stuart Rosenthal identifies Browning's characterization of Dan Tate/the Blackbird as a species of vermin lacking in nobility, a parasitic scavenger that feeds on carrion and is unworthy of sympathy. In death, according to film critic Nicole Brenez, The Blackbird "is deprived of [himself]...death, then, is no longer a beautiful vanishing, but a terrible spiriting away."
Though admired by critics for Chaney's performance, the film was only modestly successful at the box office.
The Road to Mandalay (1926)
Any comprehensive contemporary evaluation of Browning's The Road to Mandalay is problematic. According to Browning biographer Alfred Eaker only a small fraction of the original seven reels exist. A 16mm version survives in a "fragmented and disintegrated state" discovered in France in the 1980s.
In a story that Browning wrote with screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz , The Road to Mandalay (not related to author Rudyard Kipling's 1890 poem), is derived from the character "dead-eyed" Singapore Joe (Lon Chaney), a Singapore brothel operator. As Browning himself explained:
The [story] writes itself after I have conceived the characters... the same for The Road to Mandalay. The initial idea was that of a man so frightfully ugly that he was ashamed to reveal himself to his own daughter. In this way one can develop any story.
The picture explores one of Browning's most persistent themes: that of a parent who asserts sexual authority vicariously through their own offspring. As such, an Oedipal narrative is established, "a narrative that dominates Browning's work" and recognized as such by contemporary critics.
Joe's daughter, Rosemary (Lois Moran), now a young adult, has been raised in a convent where her father left her as an infant with her uncle, Father James (Henry B. Walthall). Rosemary is ignorant of her parentage; she lives a chaste and penurious existence. Brothel keeper Joe makes furtive visits to the shop where she works as a clerk. His attempts to anomalously befriend the girl are met with revulsion at his freakish appearance. Joe resolves to undergo plastic surgery to achieve a reproachment with his daughter and redeem his sordid history. Father James doubts his brothers' commitment to reform and to reestablish his parenthood. A conflict emerges when Joe's cohorts and rivals in crime, "The Admiral" Herrington (Owen Moore) and English Charlie Wing (Kamiyama Sojin), members of "the black spiders of the Seven Seas" appear on the scene. The Admiral encounters Rosemary at the bizarre where she works and is instantly smitten with her; his genuine resolve to abandon his criminal life wins Rosemary's devotion and a marriage is arranged. When Joe discovers these developments, the full force of his "sexual frustrations" are unleashed. Joe's attempt to thwart his daughter's efforts to escape his control ends when Rosemary stabs her father, mortally wounding him. The denouement is achieved when the dying Joe consents to her marriage and Father James performs the last rites upon his brother.
Film critic Alfred Eaker observes: "The Road to Mandalay is depraved, pop-Freudian, silent melodrama at its ripest. Fortunately, both Browning and Chaney approach this hodgepodge of silliness in dead earnest." Religious imagery commonly appears in Browning's films, "surrounding his characters with religious paraphernalia." Browning, a mason, uses Christian iconography to emphasize Joe's moral alienation from Rosemary. Biographer Stuart Rosenthal writes:
As Singapore Joe gazes longingly at his daughter...the display of crucifixes that [surrounds her] testifies of his love for her while paradoxically acting as a barrier between them.
Rosenthal adds ""Religion for the Browning hero is an additional spring of frustration - another defaulted promise."
As in all of the Browning-Chaney collaborations, The Road to Mandalay was profitable at the box office.
London After Midnight (1927)
Whereas Browning's The Road to Mandalay (1926) exists in a much deteriorated 16mm abridged version, London After Midnight is no longer believed to exist, the last print destroyed in an M-G-M vault fire in 1965.
London After Midnight is widely considered by archivist's the Holy Grail and "the most sought after and discussed lost film of the silent era." A detailed photo reconstruction, based on stills from the film was assembled by Turner Classic Movies' Rick Schmidlin in 2002.
Based on Browning's own tale entitled "The Hypnotist", London After Midnight is a "drawing room murder mystery'—its macabre and Gothic atmosphere resembling director Robert Wiene's 1920 The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.
Sir Roger Balfour is found dead at the estate of his friend Sir James Hamlin. The gunshot wound to Balfour's head appears self-inflicted. The Scotland Yard inspector and forensic hypnotist in charge, "Professor" Edward C. Burke (Lon Chaney) receives no reports of foul play and the death is deemed a suicide. Five years past, and the estates current occupants are alarmed by a ghoulish, fanged figure wearing a cape and top hat stalking the hallways at night. He is accompanied by a corpse-like female companion. The pair of intruders are the disguised Inspector Burke, masquerading as a vampire (also played by Chaney), and his assistant, "Luna, the Bat Girl" (Edna Tichenor). When the terrified residents call Scotland Yard, Inspector Burke appears and reopens Balfour's case as a homicide. Burke uses his double role to stage a series of elaborate illusions and applications of hypnotism to discover the identity of the murderer among Balfour's former associates.
Browning's "preposterous" plot is the platform on which he demonstrates the methods of magic and show culture, reproducing the mystifying spectacles of "spirit theater" that purport to operate through the paranormal. Browning's cinematic illusions are conducted strictly through mechanical stage apparatus: no trick photography is employed. "illusion, hypnotism and disguise" are used to mimic the conceits and pretenses of the occult, but primarily for dramatic effect and only to reveal them as tricks.
Mystery stories are tricky, for if they are too gruesome or horrible, if they exceed the average imagination by too much, the audience will laugh. London After Midnight is an example of how to get people to accept ghosts and other supernatural spirits by letting them turn out to be the machinations of a detective. Thereby the audience is not asked to believe the horrible impossible, but the horrible possible, and plausibility increased, rather than lessened, the thrill and chills. — Tod Browning commenting on his cinematic methods in an interview with Joan Dickey for Motion Picture Magazine, March 1928
After the murderer is apprehended, Browning's Inspector Burke/The Man in the Beaver Hat reveals the devices and techniques he has used to extract the confession, while systematically disabusing the cast characters—and the movie audience—of any supernatural influence on the foregoing events. Film historians Stefanie Diekmann and Ekkehard Knörer observe succinctly that "All in all, Browning's scenarios [including London After Midnight] appear as a long series of tricks, performed and explained."
Lon Chaney's make-up to create the menacing "Man with the Beaver Hat" is legendary. Biographer Alfred Eaker writes: "Chaney's vampire...is a make-up artist's delight, and an actor's hell. Fishing wire looped around his blackened eye sockets, a set of painfully inserted, shark-like teeth producing a hideous grin, a ludicrous wig under a top hat, and white pancake makeup achieved Chaney's kinky look. To add to the effect Chaney developed a misshapen, incongruous walk for the character."
London After Midnight received a mixed critical response, but delivered handsomely at the box office "grossing over $1,000,000 in 1927 dollars against a budget of $151,666.14."
The Show (1927)
In 1926, while Lon Chaney was busy making Tell It to the Marines with filmmaker George W. Hill, Browning directed The Show, "one of the most bizarre productions to emerge from silent cinema." (The Show anticipates his subsequent feature with Chaney, a "carnival of terror": The Unknown).
Screenwriter Waldemar Young based the scenario on elements from the author Charles Tenny Jackson's The Day of Souls.
The Show is a tour-de-force demonstration of Browning's penchant for the spectacle of carnival sideshow acts combined with the revelatory exposure of the theatrical apparatus and techniques that create these illusions. Film historian Matthew Solomon notes that "this is not specific to his films with Lon Chaney." Indeed, The Show features two of M-G-M's leading actors: John Gilbert, as the unscrupulous ballyhoo Cock Robin, and Renée Adorée as his tempestuous lover, Salome. Actor Lionel Barrymore plays the homicidal Greek. Romantic infidelities, the pursuit of a small fortune, a murder, attempted murders, Cock Robin's moral redeemtion and his reconciliation with Salome comprise the plot and its "saccarine" ending.
Browning presents a menagerie of circus sideshow novelty acts from the fictitious "Palace of Illusions", including disembodied hands delivering tickets to customers; an illusionary beheading of a biblical figure (Gilbert as John the Baptist); Neptuna (Betty Boyd) Queen of the Mermaids; the sexually untoward Zela (Zalla Zarana) Half-Lady; and Arachnida (Edna Tichenor, the Human Spider perched on her web. Browning ultimately reveals "how the trick is done", explicating the mechanical devices to the film audience - not to the film's carnival patrons.
You see, now he's got the fake sword. — intertitle remark by an onscreen observer of Browning's "detailed reconstruction" of an illusionary theatrical beheading in The Show. — Film historian Matthew Solomon in Staging Deception: Theatrical Illusionism in Browning's Films of the 1920s (2006)
The central dramatic event of The Show derives from another literary work, a "magic playlet" by Oscar Wilde entitled Salomé (1896). Browning devises an elaborate and "carefully choreographed" sideshow reenactment of Jokanaan's biblical beheading (played by Gilbert), with Adorée as Salomé presiding over the lurid decapitation, symbolic of sadomasochism and castration.
The Show received generally good reviews, but approval was muted due to Gilbert's unsavory character, Cock Robin. Browning was now poised to make his masterwork of the silent era, The Unknown (1927).
The Unknown (1927): A silent era chef d'oeuvre
The Unknown marks the creative apogee of the Tod Browning and Lon Chaney collaborations, and is widely considered their most outstanding work of the silent era. More so than any of Browning's silent pictures, he fully realizes one of his central themes in The Unknown: the linkage of physical deformity with sexual frustration.
[The story] writes itself after I have conceived the characters. The Unknown came to me after I had the idea of a man [Alonzo] without arms. I then asked myself what are the most amazing situations and actions that a man thus reduced could be involved... — Tod Browning in Motion Picture Classic interview, 1928
I contrived to make myself look like an armless man, not simply to shock and horrify you but merely to bring to the screen a dramatic story of an armless man. — Actor Lon Chaney, on his creation of the character Alonzo in The Unknown.
Circus performer "Alonzo the armless", a Gypsy knife-thrower, appears as a double amputee, casting his knives with his feet. His deformity is an illusion (except for a bifid thumb), achieved by donning a corset to bind and conceal his healthy arms. The able-bodied Alonzo, sought by the police, engages in this deception to evade detection and arrest. Alfonzo harbors a secret love for Nanon (Joan Crawford), his assistant in the act. Nanon's father is the abusive (perhaps sexually so) ringmaster Zanzi (Nick De Ruiz), and Nanon has developed a pathological aversion to any man's embrace. Her emotional dysfunction precludes any sexual intimacy with the highly virile Alfonzo, his sexual prowess symbolized by his knife-throwing expertise and his double thumb. When Alonzo murders Zanzi during an argument, the homicide is witnessed by Nanon, who detects only the bifid thumb of her father's assailant.
Browning's theme of sexual frustration and physical mutilation ultimately manifests itself in Alfonso's act of symbolic castration; he willingly has his arms amputated by an unlicensed surgeon so as to make himself unthreatening to Nanon (and to eliminate the incriminating bifid thumb), so as to win her affection. The "nightmarish irony" of Alfonso's sacrifice is the most outrageous of Browning's plot conceits and consistent with his obsessive examination of "sexual frustration and emasculation". When Alfonzo recovers from his surgery, he returns to the circus to find that Nanon has overcome her sexual aversions and married the strongman Malabar (Norman Kerry).The primal ferocity of Alfonso's reaction to Nanon's betrayal in marrying Malabar is instinctual. Film historian Stuart Rosenthal writes:
The reversion to an animalistic state in Browning's cinema functions as a way of acquiring raw power to be used as a means of sexual assertion. The incident that prompts the regression [to an animal state] and a search for vengeance is, in almost every case, sexual in nature.
Alfonzo's efforts at retribution lead to his own horrific death in a "Grand Guignol finale".
The Unknown is widely regarded as the most outstanding of the Browning-Chaney collaborations and a masterpiece of the late silent film era. Film critic Scott Brogan regards The Unknown worthy of "cult status."
The Big City (1928)
A lost film, The Big City stars Lon Chaney, Marceline Day and Betty Compson, the latter in her only appearance in an M-G-M film. Browning wrote the story and Waldemar Young the screenplay concerning "A gangster Lon Chaney who uses a costume jewelry store as a front for his jewel theft operation. After a conflict with a rival gang, he and his girlfriend Marceline Day reform."
Film historian Vivian Sobchack remarked that "The Big City concerns a nightclub robbery, again, the rivalry between two thieves. This time Chaney plays only one of them—without a twisted limb or any facial disguise.'" Critic Stuart Rosenthal commented on The Big City: "...Chaney, without makeup, in a characteristic gangster role."
The Big City garnered M-G-M $387,000 in profits.
West of Zanzibar (1928)
In West of Zanzibar Browning bares his carnival showman background not to betray himself as an aesthetic primitive, but to display his complete comprehension of the presentational mode, and of the film frame as proscenium...Browning remains neglected because most of the available English-language writing on his films focuses on the thematic singularities of his oeuvre, to the near-exclusion of any analysis of his aesthetic strategies. — Film critic Brian Darr in Senses of Cinema (July 2010)
In 1928, Browning and Lon Chaney embarked upon their penultimate collaboration, West of Zanzibar, based on Chester M. De Vonde play Kongo (1926). scenario by Elliott J. Clawson and Waldemar Young, provided Chaney with dual characterizations: the magician Pharos, and the later paraplegic Pharos who is nicknamed "Dead Legs." A variation of the "unknown parentage motif" Browning dramatizes a complex tale of "obsessive revenge" and "psychological horror." Biographer Stuart Rosenthal made these observations on Chaney's portrayals:
Dead Legs is one of the ugliest and most incorrigible of Browning's heroes...Chaney demonstrated great sensitivity to the feelings and drives of the outcasts Browning devised for him to play. Browning may well be the only filmmaker who saw Chaney as more than an attention-getting gimmick. While many of Chaney's films for other directors involve tales of retribution, only in the Browning vehicles is he endowed with substantial human complexity.
The story opens in Paris, where Pharos, a magician, is cuckolded by his wife Anna (Jacqueline Gadsden) and her lover Crane (Lionel Barrymore). Pharos is crippled when Crane pushes him from a balcony, leaving him a paraplegic. Anna and Crane abscond to Africa. After a year, Phroso learns that Anna has returned. He finds his wife dead in a church, with an infant daughter beside her. He swears to avenge himself both on Crane and the child he assumes was sired by Crane. Unbeknownst to Phroso, the child is actually his. Rosenthal singles out this scene for special mention:
The religious symbolism that turns up periodically in Browning's pictures serves two antagonistic ends. When Dead Legs discovers his dead wife and her child on the pulpit of the cathedral, the solemn surrounding lend a tone of fanatical irrevocability to his vow to make "Crane and his brat pay." At the same time, Chaney's difficult and painful movements upon his belly at the front of the church have the look of a savage parody of a religious supplicant whose faith has been rendered a mockery. God's justice having failed, Dead Legs is about to embark upon his mission of righteousness.
Eighteen years hence, the crippled Pharos, now dubbed Dead Legs, operates an African trading outpost. He secretly preys upon Crane's ivory operations employing local tribes and using sideshow tricks and illusions to seize the goods. After years of anticipation, Dead Legs prepares to hatch his "macabre revenge": a sinister double murder. He summons Anna's daughter Maizie (Mary Nolan) from the sordid brothel and gin mill where he has left her to be raised. He also invites Crane to visit his outpost so as to expose the identity of the culprit stealing his ivory. Dead Legs has arranged to have Crane murdered, but not before informing him that he will invoke the local Death Code, which stipulates that "a man's demise be followed by the death of his wife or child." Crane mockingly disabuses Dead Legs of his gross misapprehension: Maizie is Dead Legs' daughter, not his, a child that Pharos conceived with Anna in Paris. Crane is killed before Dead Legs can absorb the significance of this news.
The climax of the film involves Dead Legs' struggle to save his own offspring from the customary death sentence that his own deadly scheme has set in motion. Dead Legs ultimately suffers the consequences of his "horribly misdirected revenge ploy." The redemptive element with which Browning-Chaney endows Pharos/Dead Legs fate is noted by Rosenthal: "West of Zanzibar reaches the peak of its psychological horror when Chaney discovers that the girl he is using as a pawn in his revenge scheme is his own daughter. Dead Legs undertook his mission of revenge with complete confidence in the righteousness of his cause. Now he is suddenly overwhelmed by the realization of his own guilt. That Barrymore as Crane committed the original transgression in no way diminishes that guilt."
A Browning hero would never feel a compulsion to symbolically relive a moment of humiliation. Instead of taking the philosophical route of subjugating himself to his frustration, Browning's Chaney opts for the primitive satisfaction of striking back, of converting his emotional upheaval into a source of primal strength. The viewer, empathizing with the protagonist, is shocked at the realization of his own potential for harnessing the power of his sense of outrage. This is one of the reasons why West of Zanzibar, and Chaney's other Browning films are so much more disturbing than the horror mysteries he made with other directors. — Stuart Rosenthal in Tod Browning: The Hollywood Professionals, Volume 4 (1975)
Dead Legs' physical deformity reduces him to crawling on the ground, and thus to the "state of an animal." Browning's camera placement accentuates his snake-like "slithering" and establishes "his animal transformation by suddenly changing the visual frame of reference to one that puts the viewer on the same level as the beast on the screen, thereby making him vulnerable to it, accomplished by tilting the camera up at floor level in front of the moving subject [used to] accentuate Chaney's [Dead Legs] slithering movements in West of Zanzibar." Film historians Stephanie Diekmann and Ekkehard Knörer state more generally "...the spectator in Browning's films can never remain a voyeur; or rather, he is never safe in his voyeuristic position..."
Diekmann and Knörer also place West of Zanzibar in the within the realm of the Grand Guignol tradition:
As far as plots are concerned, the proximity of Tod Browning's cinema to the theater of the Grand Guignol is evident...From the castrating mutilation of The Unholy Three (1925) to the sadistic cruelty and bestial brutality intermingled with the orientalising chinoiserie of Where East Is East (1929); from the horribly misdirected revenge ploy of West of Zanzibar (1928); to the no less horribly successful revenge plot of Freaks (1932); from the double-crossing gunplay of The Mystic to the erotically charged twists and turns of The Show: on the level of plot alone, all these are close in spirit and explicitness to Andre de Lorde's theatre of fear and horror.
Despite being characterized as a "cess-pool" by the censorious Harrison's Reports motion picture trade journal, West of Zanzibar enjoyed popular success at the box office.
Where East Is East (1929)
Adapted by Waldemar Young from a story by Browning and Harry Sinclair Drago, Where East Is East borrows its title from the opening and closing verses of Rudyard Kipling's 1889 poem "The Ballad of East and West": "Oh! East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet..." Browning's appropriation of the term "Where East Is East" is both ironic and subversive with regard to his simultaneous cinematic presentation of Eurocentric cliches of the "East" (common in early 20th Century advertising, literature and film), and his exposure of these memes as myths. Film historian Stefan Brandt writes that this verse was commonly invoked by Western observers to reinforce conceptions stressing "the homogeneity and internal consistency of 'The East'" and points out that Kipling (born and raised in Bombay, India) was "far from being one-dimensional" when his literary work "dismantles the myth of ethnic essentiality":
Browning's Where East Is East...playfully reenacts the symbolic dimension contained in Kipling's phrase. The expression not only emerges in the movie's title; the vision of the East that is negotiated and shown in all its absurdity here is very much akin to that associated with Kipling.
Biographer Bernd Herzogenrath adds that "paradoxically, the film both essentializes the East as a universal and homogeneous entity ("Where East Is East") and deconstructs it as a Western myth consisting of nothing but colorful [male] fantasies." [brackets and parentheses in original]
The last of Browning-Chaney collaborations with an "outrageous premise" and their final silent era film, Where East Is East was marketed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer "as a colonial drama in the mold of British imperialist fiction."
Where East Is East, set in the "picturesque French Indo-China of the 1920s" concerns the efforts of big game trapper "Tiger" Haynes (Chaney) intervention to stop his beloved half-Chinese daughter Toyo (Lupe Velez) from marrying Bobby "white boy" Bailey, a Western suitor and son of a circus owner. He relents when Bobby rescues Toyo from an escaped tiger. The Asian seductress, Madame de Sylva (Estelle Taylor), Tiger's former wife and mother to Toyo—who abandoned her infant to be raised by Tiger—returns to lure Bobby from Toyo and ruin the couple's plans for conjugal bliss. Tiger takes drastic action, unleashing a gorilla which dispatches Madame de Sylva but mortally wounds Tiger. He lives long enough witness the marriage of Toyo and Bobby.
At first glance, Browning's Where East Is East seems to deploy many of the well-known stereotypes concerning the Orient that were familiar from [Hollywood] productions of the 1910s and 1920s.— above all, in the notion of the East as fundamentally different and unique. At the same time the concept that 'East is East' is satirized through the staging of the Orient as an assortment of costumes and gestures. The conjunction 'where' [in the movie's title] hints at the fictional dimension that the East accrued through Hollywood films. In Browning's ironic use of Kipling's phrase, it is, above all, this constructed world of cinematic fiction that harbors the myth of the East... it is only there that 'East is East.' — Film historian Stefan Brandt in White Bo[d]y in Wonderland: Cultural Alterity and Sexual Desire in Where East Is East (2006)
In a key sequence in which the American Bobby Bailey (Lloyd Hughes), nicknamed "white boy", is briefly seduced by the Asian Madame de Sylva (mother to Bobby's fiancee Toya), Browning offers a cliche-ridden intertitle exchange that is belied by his cinematic treatment. Film historian Stefan Brandt writes: "Browning here plays with the ambiguities involved in the common misreading of Kipling's poem, encouraging his American audience to question the existing patterns of colonial discourse and come to conclusions that go beyond that mode of thinking. The romantic version of the Orient as a land of eternal mysticism is exposed here as a Eurocentric illusion that we must not fall prey to."
Browning's presentation of the alluring Madame de Sylva -whose French title diverges from her Asian origins- introduces one of Browning's primary themes: Reality vs. Appearance. Rosenthal notes that "physical beauty masking perversity is identical to the usual Browning premise of respectability covering corruption. This is the formula used in Where East Is East. Tiger's thorny face masks a wealth of kindness, sensitively and abiding paternal love. But behind the exotic beauty of Madame de Silva lies an unctuous, sinister manner and callous spitefulness."
The animal imagery with which Browning invests Where East Is East informed Lon Chaney's characterization of Tiger Haynes, the name alone identifying him as both "tiger hunter and the tiger himself." Biographer Stuart Rosenthal comments on the Browning-Chaney characterization of Tiger Haynes:
Tiger's bitterness in Where East is East is the result of disgust for Madame de Silva's past and present treachery. [Tiger Haynes] is striving desperately to overcome [his] inner embarrassment and, by revenging himself, re-establish his personal feelings of sexual dominance.
As in Browning's The Unknown (1927) in which protagonist Alonzo is trampled to death by elephants, "animals become the agents of destruction for Tiger [Haynes] in Where East Is East."
Sound films: 1929–1939
Upon completing Where East Is East, M-G-M prepared to make his first sound production, The Thirteenth Chair (1929). The question as to Browning's adaptability to the film industry's ineluctable transition to sound technology is disputed among film historians.
Biographers David Skal and Elias Savada report that Browning "had made his fortune as a silent film director but had considerable difficulties in adapting his talents to talking pictures." Film critic Vivian Sobchack notes that Browning, in both his silent and sound creations, "starts with the visual rather than the narrative" and cites director Edgar G. Ulmer: "until the end of his career, Browning tried to avoid using dialogue; he wanted to obtain visual effects." Biographer Jon Towlson argues that Browning's 1932 Freaks reveals "a director in full control of the [sound] medium, able to use the camera to reveal a rich subtext beneath the dialogue" and at odds with the general assessment of the filmmakers post-silent era pictures.
Browning's sound oeuvre consists of nine features before his retirement from filmmaking in 1939.
The Thirteenth Chair (1929)
Browning's first sound film, The Thirteenth Chair is based on a 1916 "drawing room murder mystery" stage play by Bayard Veiller first adapted to film in a 1919 silent version and later a sound remake in 1937.
Set in Calcutta, the story concerns two homicides committed at séances. Illusion and deception are employed to expose the murderer.
In a cast featuring some of M-G-M's top contract players including Conrad Nagel, Leila Hyams and Margaret Wycherly Hungarian-American Bela Lugosi, a veteran of silent films and the star of Broadway's Dracula (1924) was enlisted by Browning to play Inspector Delzante, when at time Lon Chaney declined to yet embark on a talking picture.
The first of his three collaborations with Lugosi, Browning's handling of the actor's role as Delzante anticipated the part of Count Dracula in his Dracula (1931). Browning endows Lugosi's Delzante with bizarre eccentricities, including a guttural, broken English and heavily accented eyebrows, characteristics that Lugosi made famous in his film roles as vampires. Film historian Alfred Eaker remarks: "Serious awkwardness mars this film, a product from that transitional period from silent to the new, imposing medium of sound. Because of that awkwardness The Thirteenth Chair is not Browning in best form."
Outside the Law (1930)
A remake of Browning's 1921 silent version starred Priscilla Dean and Lon Chaney who appeared in dual roles. Outside the Law concerns a criminal rivalry among gangsters. It stars Edward G. Robinson as Cobra Collins and Mary Nolan as his moll Connie Madden. Film critic Alfred Eaker commented that Browning's remake "received comparatively poor reviews."
Dracula (1931): The first talkie horror picture
"I am Dracula". – Bela Lugosi's iconic introduction as the vampire Count Dracula
Browning's Dracula initiated the modern horror genre, and it remains his only "one true horror film." Today the picture stands as the first of Browning's two sound era masterpieces, rivaled only by his Freaks (1932). The picture set in motion Universal Studios' highly lucrative production of vampire and monster movies during the 1930s. Browning approached Universal's Carl Laemmle Jr. in 1930 to organize a film version of Bram Stoker's 1897 Gothic horror novel Dracula, previously adapted to film by director F. W. Murnau in 1922.
In an effort to avoid copyright infringement lawsuits, Universal opted to base the film on Hamilton Deane's and Louis Bromfield's melodramatic stage version Dracula (1924), rather than Stoker's novel.
Actor Lon Chaney, then completing his first sound film with director Jack Conway in a remake of Browning's silent The Unholy Three (1925), was tapped for the role of Count Dracula. Terminally ill from lung cancer, Chaney withdrew early from the project, a significant personal and professional loss to long-time collaborator Browning. The actor died during the filming of Dracula. Hungarian expatriate and actor Bela Ferenc Deszo Blasco, appearing under the stage name Bela Lugosi, had successfully performed the role of Count Dracula in the American productions of the play for three years. According to film historian David Thomson, "when Chaney died it was taken for granted that Lugosi would have the role in the film."
The most awesome powers of control belong to the vampires, and Browning's attitude toward these undead poses a particularly intriguing problem. The vampires depend, for support, upon the infirm and innocent elements of society the Browning scorns. They sustain themselves through the blood of the weak...but they are vulnerable to those with the determination to resist them. – Stuart Rosenthal in Tod Browning: The Hollywood Professionals, Volume 4 (1975)
Lugosi's portrayal of Count Dracula is inextricably linked to the vampire genre established by Browning. As film critic Elizabeth Bronfen observes, "the notoriety of Browning's Dracula within film history resides above all else in the uncanny identification between Bela Lugosi and his role." Browning quickly establishes what would become Dracula's— and Bela Lugosi's—sine qua non: "The camera repeatedly focuses on Dracula's hypnotic gaze, which, along with his idiosyncratic articulation, was to become his cinematic trademark." Film historian Alec Charles observes that "The first time we see Bela Lugosi in Tod Browning's Dracula...he looks almost directly into the camera...Browning affords the audience the first of those famously intense and direct into-the-camera Lugosi looks, a style of gaze that would be duplicated time and again by the likes of Christopher Lee and Lugosi's lesser imitators..." Lugosi embraced his screen persona as the preeminent "aristocratic Eastern European vampire" and welcomed his typecasting, assuring his "artistic legacy".
Film critic Elizabeth Bronfen reports that Browning's cinematic interpretation of the script has been widely criticized by film scholars. Browning is cited for failing to provide adequate "montage or shot/reverse shots", the "incoherence of the narrative" and his putative poor handling of the "implausible dialogue" reminiscent of "filmed theatre." Bronfen further notes critic's complaints that Browning failed to visually record the iconic vampiric catalog: puncture wounds on a victims necks, the imbibing of fresh blood, a stake penetrating the heart of Count Dracula. Moreover, no "transformation scenes" are visualized in which the undead or vampires morph into wolves or bats.
Film critics have attributed these "alleged faults" to Browning's lack of enthusiasm for the project. Actor Helen Chandler, who plays Dracula's mistress, Mina Seward, commented that Browning seemed disengaged during shooting, and left the direction to cinematographer Karl Freund.
Bronfen emphasizes the "financial constraints" imposed by Universal executives, strictly limiting authorization for special effects or complex technical shots, and favoring a static camera requiring Browning to "shoot in sequence" in order to improve efficiency. Bronfen suggests that Browning's own thematic concerns may have prompted him—in this, 'the first talkie horror picture'—to privilege the spoken word over visual tricks.":
Browning's concern was always with the bizarre desires of those on the social and cultural margins. It is enough for him to render their fantasies as scenic fragments, which require neither a coherent, nor a sensational story line... the theatricality of his filmic rendition emphasizes both the power of suggestion emanating from Count Dracula's hypnotic gaze and Professor Van Helsing's will power, as well as the seduction transmitted by foregrounding the voices of the marginal and monstrous... even the choice of a static camera seems logical, once one sees it as an attempt to savour the newly discovered possibilities of sound as a medium of seductive film horror.
The scenario follows the vampire Count Dracula to England where he preys upon members of the British upper-middle class, but is confronted by nemesis Professor Van Helsing, (Edward Van Sloan) who possesses sufficient will power and knowledge of vampirism to defeat Count Dracula. Film historian Stuart Rosenthal remarks that "the Browning version of Dracula retains the Victorian formality of the original source in the relationships among the normal characters. In this atmosphere the seething, unstoppable evil personified by the Count is a materialization of Victorian morality's greatest dread."
A number of sequences in Dracula have earned special mention, despite criticism concerning the "static and stagy quality of the film." The dramatic and sinister opening sequence in which the young solicitor Renfield (Dwight Frye) is conveyed in a coach to Count Dracula's Transylvanian castle is one of the most discussed and praised of the picture. Karl Freund's Expressionistic technique is largely credited with its success.
Browning employs "a favorite device" with an animal montage early in the film to establish a metaphoric equivalence between the emergence of the vampires from their crypts and the small parasitic vermin that infest the castle: spiders, wasps and rats. Unlike Browning's previous films, Dracula is not a "long series of [illusionist] tricks, performed and explained" but rather an application of cinematic effects "presenting vampirism as scientifically verified 'reality'."
Despite Universal executives editing out portions of Browning's film, Dracula was enormously successful. Opening at New York City's Roxy Theatre, Dracula earned $50,000 in 48 hours, and was Universal's most lucrative film of the Depression Era. Five years after its release, it had grossed over one million dollars worldwide. Film critic Dennis Harvey writes: ""Dracula's enormous popularity fast-tracked Browning's return to MGM, under highly favorable financial terms and the protection of longtime ally, production chief Irving Thalberg."
Iron Man (1931)
The last of Browning's three sound films he directed for Universal Studios, Iron Man (1931) is largely ignored in critical literature.
Described as "a cautionary tale about the boxer as a physically powerful man brought down by a woman", Browning's boxing story lacks the macabre elements that typically dominate his cinema. Film historian Vivian Sobchack observes that "Iron Man, in subject and plot, is generally regarded as uncharacteristic of Browning's other work." Thematically, however, the picture exhibits a continuity consistent with his obsessive interest in "situations of moral and sexual frustration."
Film critic Leger Grindon cites the four "subsidiary motifs" recognized by Browning biographer Stuart Rosenthal: "appearances hiding truth (particularly physical beauty as a mask for villainy), sexual frustration, opposing tendencies within a protagonist that are often projected onto alter egos and finally, an inability to assign guilt." These themes are evident in Iron Man.
Actor Lew Ayres, following his screen debut in Universal's immensely successful anti-war themed All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), plays Kid Mason, a Lightweight boxing champion. This sports-drama concerns the struggle between the Kid's friend and manager George Regan Robert Armstrong, and the boxer's adulterous wife Rose (Jean Harlow) to prevail in a contest for his affection and loyalty.
Rather than relying largely upon "editing and composition as expressive tools" Browning moved away from a stationary camera "toward a conspicuous use of camera movement" under the influence of Karl Freund, cinematographer on the 1931 Dracula. Iron Man exhibits this "transformation" in Browning's cinematic style as he entered the sound era. Leger Grindon provides this assessment of Browning's last picture for Universal:
Iron Man is not an anomaly in Tod Browning's career; rather, it is a work that testifies to the continuity of his thematic concerns, as well as showcasing his growing facility with the camera after his work with [cameraman] Karl Fruend...
Though box office earning for Iron Man are unavailable, a measure of its success is indicated in the two remakes the film inspired: Some Blondes Are Dangerous (1937) and Iron Man (1950).
Browning returned to M-G-M studios after completing Iron Man to embark upon the most controversial film of his career: Freaks (1932).
Magnum opus: Freaks (1932)
Freaks may be one of the most compassionate movies ever made. - Film critic Andrew Sarris in The American Cinema: Directors and Directions, 1929–1968 (1968) p. 229
Not even the most morbidly inclined could possibly find this picture to their liking. Saying it is horrible is putting it mildly. It is revolting to the extent of turning one's stomach...Anyone who considers this [to be] entertainment should be placed in the pathological ward in some hospital. — Harrison's Reports, 16 July 1932
If Freaks has caused a furor in certain censor circles, the fault lies in the manner in which it was campaigned to the public. I found it to be an interesting and entertaining picture, and I did not have nightmares, nor did I attempt to murder any of my relatives. — Motion Picture Herald, 23 July 1932
After the spectacular success of Dracula (1931) at Universal, Browning returned to M-G-M studios, lured by a generous contract and enjoying the auspices of production manager Irving Thalberg. Anticipating a repeat of his recent success at Universal, Thalberg accepted Browning's story proposal based on Tod Robbins' circus-themed tale "Spurs" (1926).
The studio purchased the rights and enlisted screenwriter Willis Goldbeck and Leon Gordon to develop the script with Browning. Thalberg collaborated closely with the director on pre-production, but Browning completed all the actual shooting on the film without interference from studio executives. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's president, Louis B. Mayer, registered his disgust with the project from its inception and during the filming, but Thalberg successfully intervened on Browning's behalf to proceed with the film. The picture that emerged was Browning's "most notorious and bizarre melodrama."
A "morality play", Freaks centers around the cruel seduction of a circus sideshow midget Hans (Harry Earles) by a statuesque trapeze artist Cleopatra (Olga Baclanova). She and her lover, strongman Hercules (Henry Victor), scheme to murder the diminutive Hans for his inheritance money after sexually humiliating him. The community of freaks mobilizes in Hans' defense, meting out severe justice to Cleopatra and Hercules: the former trapeze beauty is surgically transformed into a sideshow freak.
Browning enlisted a cast of performers largely assembled from carnival freak shows—a community and milieu both of which the director was intimately familiar. The circus freaks serve as dramatic and comedic players, central to the story's development, and do not appear in their respective sideshow routines as novelties.
Two major themes in Browning's work—"Sexual Frustration" and "Reality vs. Appearances"—emerge in Freaks from the conflict inherent in the physical incompatibility between Cleopatra and Hans. The guileless Hans' self-delusional fantasy of winning the affection of Cleopatra—"seductive, mature, cunning and self-assured"—provokes her contempt, eliciting "cruel sexual jests" at odds with her attractive physical charms. Browning provides the moral rationale for the final reckoning with Cleopatra before she has discovered Hans' fortune and plans to murder him. Film historian Stuart Rosenthal explains:
It is here that Browning justifies the disruption of an individual's sexual equanimity as a cause for retaliation. Cleopatra's decision to wed the dwarf for his wealth and then dispose of him is not, in itself, a significant advance in villainy...her most heinous crime is committed when she teases Hans by provocatively dropping her cape to the floor, then gleefully kneels to allow her victim to replace it upon here shoulders...This kind of exploitation appears more obscene by far than the fairly clean act of homicide.
Browning addresses another theme fundamental to his work: "Inability to Assign Guilt". The community of freaks delay judgement on Cleopatra when she insults Frieda (Daisy Earles), the midget performer who loves Hans. Their social solidarity cautions restraint, but when the assault on Hans becomes egregious, they act single-mindedly to punish the offender. Browning exonerates the freaks of any guilt: they are "totally justified" in their act of retribution. Stuart Rosenthal describes this doctrine, the "crux" of Browning's social ideal:
Freaks is the film that is most explicit about the closeness of equability and retribution. The freaks live by a simple and unequivocal code that one imagines might be the crux of Browning's ideal for society: 'Offend one of them, and offend them all'...if anyone attempts to harm or take advantage of one of their number, the entire colony responds quickly and surely to mete out appropriate punishment.
Browning cinematic style in Freaks is informed by the precepts of German Expressionism, combining a subdued documentary-like realism with "chiaroscuro shadow" for dramatic effect.
The wedding banquet sequence in which Cleopatra and Hercules brutally degrade Hans is "among the most discussed moments of Freaks" and according to biographer Vivian Sobchack "a masterpiece of sound and image, and utterly unique in conception and realization."
The final sequence in which the freaks carry out their "shocking" revenge and Cleopatra's fate is revealed "achieves the most sustained level of high-pitched terror of any Browning picture."
Freaks was given general release only after 30-minutes of footage was excised by Thalberg to remove portions deemed offensive to the public. Though Browning had a long history of making profitable pictures at M-G-M Freaks was a "disaster" at the box office, though earning mixed reviews among critics.
Browning's reputation as a reliable filmmaker among the Hollywood establishment was tarnished, and he completed only four more pictures before retiring from the industry after 1939. According to biographer Alfred Eaker "Freaks, in effect, ended Browning's career."
Fast Workers (1933)
In the aftermath of the commercial failure of his 1932 Freaks, Browning was assigned to produce and direct (uncredited) an adaption of John McDermott's play Rivets.
The script for Fast Workers by Karl Brown and Laurence Stallings dramatizes the mutual infidelities, often humorous, that plague a ménage à trois comprising a high-rise construction worker and seducer Gunner Smith (John Gilbert), his co-worker and sidekick, Bucker Reilly (Robert Armstrong) and Mary (Mae Clarke), an attractive "Gold digger" seeking financial and emotional stability during the Great Depression. Browning brings to bear all the thematic modes that typically motivate his characters. Film historian Stuart Rosenthal writes:
In Fast Workers the four varieties of frustration are so well integrated among themselves that it is difficult, if not impossible to say where one ends and another begins. These interrelations make it one of the most perplexing of Browning's films, especially with regard to morality and justice.
The betrayals, humiliations and retaliations that plague the characters, and the moral legitimacy of their behaviors remains unresolved. Rosenthal comments on Browning's ambivalence: "Fast Workers is Browning's final cynical word on the impossibility of an individual obtaining justice, however righteous his cause, without critically sullying himself. Superficially, things have been set right. Gunner and Bucker are again friends and, together are equal to any wily female. Yet Gunner, the individual who is the most culpable, finds himself in the most secure position, while the basically well-intentioned Mary is rejected and condemned by both men." An outstanding example of Browning's ability to visually convey terror—a technique he developed in the silent era—is demonstrated when Mary perceives that Bucker, cuckolded by Gunner, reveals his homicidal rage.
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer committed $525,000 to the film's production budget, quite a high sum for a relatively short feature. Ultimately, MGM reported earnings of only $165,000 on the film after its release, resulting in a net loss of $360,000 on the motion picture.
Mark of the Vampire (1935)
Browning returned to a vampire-themed picture with his 1935 Mark of the Vampire. Rather than risk a legal battle with Universal Studios who held the rights to Browning's 1931 Dracula, he opted for a reprise of his successful silent era London After Midnight (1927), made for M-G-M and starring Lon Chaney in a dual role.
With Mark of the Vampire, Browning follows the plot conceit employed in London After Midnight: An investigator and hypnotist seeks to expose a murderer by means of a "vampire masquerade" so as to elicit his confession. Browning deviates from his 1927 silent film in that here the sleuth, Professor Zelen (Lionel Barrymore), rather than posing as a vampire himself in a dual role, hires a troupe of talented thesbians to stage an elaborate hoax to deceive the murder suspect Baron Otto von Zinden (Jean Hersholt). Bela Lugosi was enlisted to play the lead vampire in the troupe, Count Moro. As a direct descendant of Browning's carnival-themed films, Browning offers the movie audience a generous dose of Gothic iconography: "hypnotic trances, flapping bats, spooky graveyards, moaning organs, cobwebs thick as curtains -- and bound it all together with bits of obscure Eastern European folklore..."
As such, Mark of the Vampire leads the audience to suspend disbelief in their skepticism regarding vampires through a series of staged illusions, only to sharply disabuse them of their credulity in the final minutes of the movie. Browning reportedly composed the conventional plot scenes as he would a stage production, but softened the static impression through the editing process. In scenes that depicted the supernatural, Browning freely used a moving camera. Film historian Matthew Sweney observes "the [special] effects shots...overpower the static shots in which the film's plot and denouement take place...creating a visual tension in the film."
Cinematographer James Wong Howe's lighting methods endowed the film with a spectral quality that complimented Browning's "sense of the unreal". Critic Stuart Rosenthal writes:
"The delicate, silkily evil texture [that characterizes the imagery] is as much a triumph for James Wong Howe's lighting as it is for Browning's sense of the unreal. Howe has bathed his sets in the luminous glow which is free of the harsh shadows and contrasts that mark Freund's work in Dracula."
Mark of the Vampire is widely cited for its famous "tracking shot on the stairwell" in which Count Mora (Bela Lugosi) and his daughter Luna (Carol Borland) descend in a stately promenade. Browning inter-cuts their progress with images of vermin and venomous insects, visual equivalents for the vampires as they emerge from their own crypts in search of sustenance. Rosenthal describes the one-minute sequence:
"...Bela Lugosi and the bat-girl [Carol Borland] descend the cobweb-covered staircase of the abandoned mansion, their progress broken into a series of shots, each of which involves continuous movement of either the camera, the players, or both. This creates the impression of a steady, unearthly gliding motion...the glimpses of bats, rats and insects accent the steady, deliberate progress of the horrific pair…the effect is disorienting and the viewer becomes ill-at-ease because he is entirely outside his realm of natural experience."
In another notable and "exquisitely edited" scene Browning presents a lesbian-inspired seduction. Count Mora, in the form of a bat, summons Luna to the cemetery where Irene Borotyn (Elizabeth Allan) (daughter of murder victim Sir Karell, awaits in a trance.) When vampire Luna avidly embraces her victim, Count Moro voyeuristically looks on approvingly. Borland's Luna would inspire the character Morticia in the TV series The Addams Family.
The soundtrack for Mark of the Vampire is notable in that it employs no orchestral music aside from accompanying the opening and closing credits. Melodic passages, when heard, are provided only by the players. The sound effects provided by recording director Douglas Shearer contribute significantly to the film's ambiance. Film historian Matthew Sweney writes:
"The only incidental music...consisting as it does with groans and nocturnal animal sounds is perhaps minimalistic, but it is not used minimally, occurring throughout film expressly to score the vampire scenes...frightning scenes are not punctuated with orchestral crescendos, but by babies crying, women screaming, horses neighing, bells striking."
The climatic coup-de-grace occurs when the murderer's incredulity regarding the existence of vampires is reversed when Browning cinematically creates an astonishing illusion of the winged Luna in flight transforming into a human. The rationalist Baron Otto, a witness to this legerdemain, is converted into a believer in the supernatural and ultimately confesses, under hypnosis, to the murder of his brother Sir Karell.
In the final five minutes of Mark of the Vampire, the theatre audience is confronted with the "theatrical trap" that Browning has laid throughout the picture: none of the supernatural elements of film are genuine—the "vampires" are merely actors engaged in a deception. This is made explicit when Bela Lugosi, no longer in character as Count Moro, declares to a fellow actor: "Did you see me? I was greater than any real vampire!"
The Devil-Doll (1936)
In this, the penultimate film of his career, Browning created a work reminiscent of his collaborations with actor Lon Chaney during the silent era, in the "bizarre melodrama" The Devil-Doll.
Based on the novel Burn, Witch, Burn (1932) by Abraham Merritt, the script was crafted by Browning with contributions from Garrett Fort, Guy Endore and Erich von Stroheim (director of Greed (1924) and Foolish Wives (1922)), and "although it has its horrific moments, like Freaks (1932), The Devil-Doll is not a horror film."
In The Devil-Doll, Browning borrows a number of the plot devices from his 1925 The Unholy Three.
Paul Lavond (Lionel Barrymore) has spent 17 years incarcerated at Devil's Island, framed for murder and embezzlment committed by his financial associates. He escapes from the prison with fellow inmate, the ailing Marcel (Henry B. Walthall). The terminally ill scientist divulges to Lavond his secret formula for transforming humans into miniature, animated puppets. In alliance with Marcel's widow Malita (Rafaela Ottiano), the vengeful Lavond unleashes an army of tiny living "dolls" to exact a terrible retribution against the three "unholy" bankers. Biographer Vivian Sobchack acknowledges that "the premises on which the revenge plot rest are incredible, but the visual realization is so fascinating that we are drawn, nonetheless, into a world that seems quite credible and moving" and reminds viewers that "there are some rather comic scenes in the film..."
Barrymore's dual role as Lavond and his cross-dressing persona, the elderly Madame Mandilip, a doll shop proprietor, is strikingly similar to Lon Chaney's Professor Echo and his transvestite counterpart "Granny" O'Grady, a parrot shop owner in The Unholy Three (1925). Film critic Stuart Rosenthal notes that Browning recycling of this characterization as a plot device "is further evidence for the interchangeability of Browning's heroes, all of whom would act identically if given the same set of circumstances."
Thematically, The Devil-Doll presents a version of Browning "indirect" sexual frustration. Here, Lavond's daughter Lorraine (Maureen O'Sullivan), ignorant of her father's identity, remains so. Stuart Rothenthal explains:
"Lionel Barrymore in The Devil-Doll makes an attempt [as did Lon Chaney in The Road to Mandalay (1926) and West of Zanzibar (1928)] to protect his daughter from embarrassment and unhappiness by concealing his identity from her even after he has been cleared of embezzlement. In an ironic way, by denying himself his daughter, he is punishing himself for the crimes he committed in the course of his self-exoneration...Clearly, the most deplorable consequence [of his frameup] was not the years he spent in prison, but the alienation of his daughter's love and respect."
Rosenthal points out another parallel between The Devil-Doll and The Unholy Three (1925): "Lavond's concern for his daughter and refusal to misuse his powers mark him as a good man...when his revenge is complete, like Echo [in The Unholy Three], Lavond demonstrates a highly beneficent nature."
Browning proficient use of the camera and the remarkable special effects depicting the "miniature" people are both disturbing and fascinating, directed with "eerie skill."
Film historians Stefanie Diekmann and Ekkehard Knörer report that the only direct link between Browning's fascination with "the grotesque, the deformed and the perverse" and the traditions of the French Grand Guignol is actor Rafaela Ottiano who plays doll-obsessed scientist Matila. Before her supporting role in The Devil-Doll, she enjoyed "a distinguished career as a Grand Guignol performer."
Shortly after the completion of The Devil-Doll, Browning mentor at M-G-M Irving Thalberg died at the age of 37. Browning received no screen credit for the film. It would be two years before his final film: Miracles for Sale (1939).
Miracles for Sale (1939)
Miracles for Sale (1939) was the last of the forty-six feature films Browning made for Universal and M-G-M studios since he began directing in 1917. Browning's career had been in abeyance for two years after completing The Devil-Doll in 1936.
In 1939, he was tasked with adapting Clayton Rawson's locked-room mystery, Death from a Top Hat (1938).
Robert Young appears as "The Amazing Morgan", a conjurer and "purveyor of magic show equipment." Florence Rice plays the ingenue, Judy Barkley. In this, his cinematic "swan song", Browning "revisits obsessive, familiar themes of fake spiritualism, magic acts [and] transformation through disguises..." and, as with virtually all of Browning's explorations of the arts of illusion and the "realms of theatrical magic", his denoumae provides "an impirical solution" to the mystery murder.
Miracles for Sale opens with a startling sequence that includes a graphic illusion depicting a "below-the-waist mutilation." Film critic Stuart Rosenthal writes:
"On the sideline of a battlefield, an Oriental military officer chides a beautiful female spy for having dispatched intelligence that has led to the bombing of a schoolhouse. He orders her placed in a child's coffin ('You understand why we only have small coffins available' he sneers) with her head and feet protruding from either end, and tells his men to machine-gun the casket in half. After the grisly order has been carried out, to the [movie] viewer's amazement, it is revealed that the execution is merely a variation on the traditional 'sawing-a-woman-in-half' stunt. The illusion is being offered for sale by 'The Amazing Morgan' [Robert Young], a purveyor of magician's paraphernalia…"
Despite this "inspired jolt" at the film's outset, Miracles for Sale is the most "studio bound" of Browning's sound oeuvre, and according to film critic Stuart Rosenhal "the only Browning production that really looks like an M-G-M studio job..."
Miracles for Sale lost money at the box-office, returning only $39,000 to M-G-M on a $297,000 investment. Critical evaluation was generally positive.
By the early 1940s, Browning's macabre sensibilities were no longer welcome in a Hollywood that was striving for "glamour and prestige." Browning was summarily terminated at M-G-M by producer Carey Wilson after the release of Miracles for Sale and was, by the director's own account "blackballed" from Hollywood as a filmmaker. Stephanie Diekmann and Ekkehard Knörer offer this assessment of Browning's final cinematic effort:
"Browning's post-Freaks films were themselves close to parodies of what had made him one of the great directors of the 1920s. The one exception is his marvelous swan song, Miracles for Sale, which in the farcical form of screwball comedy conjures up a world of traps and sleights-of-hand, of crookery and trickery — in short, the world of Tod Browning's theatre, one last time. His is a career that ended neither with a bang nor a whisper, but a performance that makes fun of an audience that believes what it sees."
Film historian Alfred Eaker adds that "the entire structure of Miracles for Sale is an illusion itself, making it a sublime curtain call for the director..."
Browning occasionally offered screenplays to M-G-M, but eventually disengaged entirely from the film industry and in 1942 retired to his home in Malibu, California.
Final years and death
Browning's wife Alice died in 1944 from complications from pneumonia, leaving him a recluse at his Malibu Beach retreat. By that time Browning had become so isolated from the Hollywood establishment that Variety mistakenly published an obituary that year for Browning, confusing his spouses' death for the former director.
In 1949, the Director's Guild of America bestowed a life membership on Browning; at the time of his death, the honor had been enjoyed by only four of Browning's colleagues.
Browning, now a widower, lived in isolation for almost 20 years, "an alcoholic recluse." In 1962 he was diagnosed with cancer of the larynx. The surgical procedure performed to correct the condition rendered him mute.
Tod Browning died alone at his Malibu home on October 6, 1962.
Posthumous critical appraisal
Vivian Sobchack: "...Browning was sometimes called the Edgar Allan Poe of the cinema' [and] much admired by the surrealists. Browning's creations were, of course, a commercial cinema as well. The films suggest a man of humor and compassion who had a dark and melancholic fascination with physical deformity and with the exotic and extraordinary, and yet who observed the oddities of life with unprejudiced objectivity and some delight. A Southerner who ran away with the circus; a former Vaudevillian and magician who traveled the world before he became a filmmaker, a [literary] aesthete and a beer drinker, above all a storyteller, Browning was both a poet and a pragmatist."
Alfred Eaker: "Browning himself continues to be dismissed by less insightful critics, who evaluate the man and his work by contemporary entertainment standards or even accuse the great empathetic artist of exploitation. Browning's standing still remains low. Neither he, nor any of his films have received a single honor by a major film recognition or preservation institution."
Stuart Rosenthal: "Although the work of any auteur will repeatedly emphasize specific thoughts and ideas, Browning is so aggressive and unrelenting in his pursuit of certain themes that he appears to be neurotically fixated on them. He is inevitably attracted to situations of moral and sexual frustration...[w]hat sets Browning apart is his abnormal fascination with the deformed creatures who populate his films—a fascination that is not always entirely intellectual, and one in which he takes extreme delight."
- The Lucky Transfer (1915)
- The Slave Girl (1915)
- An Image of the Past (1915)
- The Highbinders (1915)
- The Story of a Story (1915)
- The Spell of the Poppy (1915)
- The Electric Alarm (1915)
- The Living Death (1915)
- The Burned Hand (1915)
- The Woman from Warren's (1915)
- Little Marie (1915)
- The Fatal Glass of Beer (1916)
- Everybody's Doing It (1916)
- Puppets (1916)
- Jim Bludso (1917)
- A Love Sublime (1917)
- Hands Up! (1917)
- Peggy, the Will O' the Wisp (1917)
- The Jury of Fate (1917)
- The Legion of Death (1918)
- The Eyes of Mystery (1918)
- Revenge (1918)
- Which Woman? (1918)
- The Deciding Kiss (1918)
- The Brazen Beauty (1918)
- Set Free (1918)
- The Wicked Darling (1919)
- The Exquisite Thief (1919)
- The Unpainted Woman (1919)
- The Petal on the Current (1919)
- Bonnie Bonnie Lassie (1919)
- The Virgin of Stamboul (1920)
- Outside the Law (1920)
- No Woman Knows (1921)
- The Wise Kid (1922)
- Man Under Cover (1922)
- Under Two Flags (1922)
- Drifting (1923)
- The Day of Faith (1923)
- White Tiger (1923)
- The Dangerous Flirt (1924)
- Silk Stocking Sal (1924)
- The Unholy Three (1925)
- The Mystic (1925)
- Dollar Down (1925)
- The Blackbird (1926)
- The Road to Mandalay (1926)
- The Show (1927)
- The Unknown (1927)
- London After Midnight (1927)
- The Big City (1928)
- West of Zanzibar (1928)
- Where East Is East (1929)
- The Thirteenth Chair (1929)
- Outside the Law (1930)
- Dracula (1931)
- Iron Man (1931)
- Freaks (1932)
- Fast Workers (1933)
- Mark of the Vampire (1935)
- The Devil-Doll (1936)
- Miracles for Sale (1939)
- Intolerance (1916) - Crook (uncredited)
- Dracula (1931) - Harbormaster (voice, uncredited, final film role)
- "Tod Browning". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. 2007. Archived from the original on 2007-10-13.
- Hall, Mordaunt (1931). "Dracula". The New York Times.
- "Freaks". The New York Times. 1932.
- Towlson, 2017 Part 2: Composite quote from same source. And:
Towlson, 2017 Part 1: "Browning's background as a working-class boy in Kentucky [and] his subsequent flight from a Baptist upbringing into the world of the circus..."
- Towlson, 2017 Part 2: "Browning was born in Kentucky in 1889 into a working-class family. His father was a bricklayer, carpenter and machinist. His parents were Baptists. Browning sought to escape early on." And: "A non-conformist within his family, Browning seems to have taken after his uncle, the baseball player Pete Browning. Like Pete he was alcoholic from a young age (an affliction that would eventually result in Pete being committed to a mental institution)."
- Alford, 1995: "Browning's baseball-playing uncle Pete was responsible for the development of the Louisville slugger..." And: "Unfortunately for his biographers, outside of anecdote, little evidence remains of Tod's boyhood life and family relations."
- Brogan, 2008: "Browning had been fascinated with circus culture from childhood."
Eaker, 2016: "He had run away from an affluent home at the age of 16 to join a carnival sideshow and the dancer he had fallen in love with."
Rosenthal, 1975 p. 7: Born 12 July, 1882 in Louisville, Kentucky. "...according to most sources...ran away from home at the age of sixteen without finishing high school...joined a circus..."
Herzogenrath, 2006 p. 10: "...ran away with a traveling carnival when he was only 16..."
- Herzogenrath, 2006 p. 10: "...a manager and roustabout..." And: Manhattan Company "contortionist."
- Herzogenrath, 2006 p. 10: "...a significant number of his movies [are] set in the world of the circus and the sideshow [and] Browning knew very well the milieu" he portrayed. And: See here for comment on living corpse routine.
- Barson, 2021: "Browning...found steady employment in circuses and carnivals as a clown, contortionist, magician's assistant, and barker."
- Brogan, 2008: "Browning...reportedly became a Ringling Brothers clown, a contortionist..."
- Alford, 1995: "Browning married Amy Louise Stevens in 1906, but the union was short-lived since, according to some accounts, Browning was a no-good, money-borrowing layabout. Browning apparently abandoned his wife for vaudeville."
- Herzogenrath, 2006 p. 10: "...baptized and reinvented himself as 'Tod' Browning..." And: Herzogenrath provides English-German translation the tod = death.
- Rosenthal, 1975 p. 7: "He...later entered vaudeville, touring extensively in such acts as The World of Mirth, 'Mutt and Jeff' and 'Lizard and Coon'"
Barson, 2021: "After working in vaudeville as a blackface comedian, he was hired for the long-running burlesque revue The Whirl of Mirth, in which he appeared in sketches based on popular comic-strip characters of the period."
Brogan, 2008: "...a magician's assistant."
- Robinson, 1968 p. 125: "Browning was a vaudeville comic at the time he went into movies as an actor at the Biograph Studios.
- Henry, 2006 p. 41
- Herzogenrath, 2006 pp. 10-11: "In 1909, Browning made his transition from the carnival to Hollywood (sic) [New York City], where he started as an actor in Edward Dillon's slapstick shorts." And: "Before becoming a film director, Tod Browning acted in at least 50 short slapstick movies, working with actors he would later direct..."
- Henry, 2006 p. 41: "...some of those who played in Tod Browning's movies have a slapstick background, in particular, those who acted in Mack Sennett's Keystone films [among them] Wallace Beery, Ford Sterling, Polly Moran, Wheeler Oakman, Raymond Griffith, Kalla Pasha, Mae Busch, Wallace MacDonald and Laura La Varnie..." And: "Edward Dillion was the author of most of Browning's [early] short films..."
- Brogan, 2008: "He segued into acting and directing in New York City, where D.W. Griffith hired him at the Biograph Studio..."
Rosenthal, 1975 p. 13: NOTE: Rosenthal appears to mistakenly report that Browning ``entered motion pictures in either 1913 or 1914 (depending upon the source)..." [parenthetical remark in original]. Perhaps Rosenthal associates "entering" with "directing " film. Browning, according to Herzogenrath and Boris Henry, both report this shift to film (acting) took place earlier.
Barson, 2021: "In 1913 he was signed by the Biograph Company, where under the supervision of D.W. Griffith he was featured in a series of knockabout comedies."
Herzogenrath, 2006 p. 11: At Biograph "Browning met D. W. Griffith, and both men left Biograph for the Reliance-Majestic studio in 1913."
Robinson, 1968 p. 125: Browning ``played in Griffith's Mother and the Law (1919)..."
- Herzogenrath, 2006 p. 11: "...both men left Biograph for Reliance-Majestic in 1913..."
- Towlson, 2017 Part 2: "... fellow Kentuckian, D.W Griffith, took Browning to Hollywood as an actor."
- Rosenthal, 1975 p. 8
Solomon, 2006 pp. 49-50: "After Browning went to work as film comedian for another Louisville native, D. W. Griffith, at the Biograph movie studios in New York, his beginning the carnival mileu (italics) were often highlighted - long dash an association that would continue throughout his entire career."
- Sobchack, 2006 pp. 22, 37: "Internet Movies DataBase lists 15 films that Browning supposedly directed between 1914 and 1916..."
Barson, 2021: "In 1915 he made his directorial debut with the one-reel silent The Lucky Transfer."
Alford, 1995: "In 1913 Tod Browning became an actor in the movies, appearing in a rash of Biograph one-reelers ...Within two years he was directing for the Majestic Motion Picture Corporation."
Towlson, 2012: "Browning began his career as a director in 1917, after working as an actor for D. W. Griffith."
- Towlson, 2017 Part 2: "...a car crash in 1915 which resulted in the death of a passenger, Elmer Booth. Browning was driving under the influence when his car hit a train at a railway crossing. Browning himself suffered serious injuries: a shattered right leg, unspecified internal injuries and likely the loss of his front teeth."
- Barson, 2021: "In June of that year , while driving drunk, he collided at high speed with a moving train. Browning and actor George A. Siegmann were seriously injured; actor Elmer Booth was killed.
- Towlson, 2017 Part 2
- Skal and Savada, 1995 p. 55
- Sobchack, 2006 p. 22: Exceptions comprise "two serious dramas, two romantic films and one horror film. All others are melodramas of various types."
- Brogan, year: "A car accident in 1915 ended his acting career, and he concentrated on writing during his convalescence."
Towlson, 2017 Part 2: "...Hollywood insiders of the time, such as director George E. Marshall, have asserted that Browning's injuries to some extent limited his physical activities as an adult. Whatever the true nature and extent of his injuries, the trauma that Browning experienced was genuine and profound."
- Towlson, 2017: "Browning suffered...a shattered right leg, unspecified internal injuries and likely the loss of his front teeth."
- Sobchack, 2006 p. 35: "Browning, in is early career, worked in the story department of Majestic Pictures..."
Barson, 2021: "During Browning's long convalescence, he turned to screenwriting..."
- Rosenthal, 1975 p. 8
Barson, 2021: "After his recovery, he had a small role in Griffith's Intolerance (1916) while also functioning as an assistant director on it."
- Robinson, 1968 p. 125: Browning "...was one of the master's (Griffith's) assistant on Intolerance (1916)..."
- Sobchack, 2006 p. 22: this passage is reformatted, identical text.
- Sobchack, 2006 p. 22
- Rosenthal, 1975 p. 9
Conterio, 2018: "Fixated on human disfigurement and underworld figures, the films are marked by a stark, obsessive aesthetic and themes of compulsion."
- Rosenthal, 1975 pp. 8-9: Composite quote.
- Rosenthal, 1975 pp. 24-25
- Rosenthal, 1975 p. 23: "...Sexual frustration... may be experienced first hand or indirectly, through a close relative."
- Rosenthal, 1975 p. 23: Also "...the symbolic separation of the pair of qualities into two individuals." And pp. 38-39: Jekyll and Hyde analogy.
- Rosenthal, 1975 p. 23: "...the avenger must often sin in order to punish the sins of others [and] guilt cannot be clearly fixed."
- Rosenthal, 1975 p. 23
- Grindon. 2006 p. 175: Grindon cites Rosenthal's list here.
- Barson, 2021: Browning "moved to the Fine Arts Film Company in 1917, where he co-directed (with Wilfred Lucas) his first full-length feature, Jim Bludso (1917)."
Robinson, 1968 p. 125: Browning "directed his own full-length picture in 1917."
Brogan, 2008: "After apprenticing with Griffith on Intolerance (1916), Browning made his directorial debut with Jim Bludso (1917), which he also wrote."
- Rosenthal, 1975 p. 8: Browning's "solo directorial debut was on Jim Bludso in 1917." Add see p. 60 on John Hay poem
- Alford, 1995: "Alice Watson became his second wife [in 1917], and remained so until her death in 1944."
- Barson, 2021: "Browning spent a year at Metro Pictures..."
- Rosenthal, 1975 p. 60: See here for Metro filmography in 1917 and 1918.
- Herzogenrath, 2006 p. 11
- Rosenthal, 1975 p. 60: See here for Metro filmography and leading actors.
- Rosenthal, 1975 p. 8: "At Universal studios he made an extremely successful series of Universal "Jewels" [prestige films] with Priscilla Dean." And p. 60: See Filmography section on "Bluebird"
- Barson, 2021: Browning "signed with the Universal Film Manufacturing Company in 1918. There he made nine films with leading actress Priscilla Dean."
- Rosenthal, 1975 p. 61: See here for Roberts and MacLaren filmography with Browning.
- Sobchack, 2006 p. 35: "The first major star with whom Browning worked regularly was Priscilla Dean...She starred in nine Browning films." And: 'tough girls'
- Barson, 2021: "...the [Universal Studios] hit The Virgin of Stamboul (1920)"
Sobchack, 2006 pp. 22-23: "Browning's first big hit was The Virgin of Stamboul (1920)...Carl Laemmle let Browning [spend freely] on creating an authentic Istanbul at Universal studios backlot."
Rosenthal, 1975 p. 61: Sketch of characters provided here.
- Henry, 2006 p. 41: "Browning cast [Beery and other actors] in these dramatic roles [and] some aspects of their acting reveal that they had started out as comic performers..." And p. 46: "The use of burlesque in Tod Browning's films can be seen to serve a utilitarian end...Along with other elements they serve an essential element of the 'Browningian Universe'"
- Rosenthal, 1975 p. 8: "Such Dean vehicles as The White Tiger and Outside the Law are characteristic" of this milieu.
- Sobchack, 2006 p. 23: "Browning loved exotic settings" in which in his pictures "depends upon the physical strangeness of place for their effectiveness and plot movement."
- Solomon, 2006 p. 52: "...Browning's films explicitly violate the magician's professional code, which stipulates that stage illusions [remain] concealed to the spectator...Browning did not hesitate to expose the methods of magic tricks on screen." And pp. 50-51: "...prior to his career as a director, Browning was a magician...a 1914 movie fan magazine described him...as a sideshow escape artist..." And: "A number of Browning films of the 1920s contain striking reproductions of theatrical- or quasi-theatrical- illusions that are staged not only for spectators within the films, but for contemporaneous viewers of the films themselves."
- Herzogenrath, 2006 p. 11: Chaney was "The Man of a Thousand Faces" as early as 1919.
- Herzogenrath, 2006 p. 11: "Browning and Chaney were brought together by Irving Thalberg at Universal...[The Wicked Darling] their first of a highly productive series of collaborations..."
Sobchack, 2006 p. 35: "Chaney's "first major role with Browning was in The Wicked Darling (1919)..."
Rosenthal, 1975 p. 8: "By 1919 [Browning] was directing programme films for Universal where he first established contact with Lon Chaney..."
Solomon, 2006 p. 56: "Browning made two films at Universal with Chaney, The Wicked Darling (1919) and Outside the Law (1920)."
- Rosenthal, 1975 p. 8
- Baxter, 1970 pp. 99-100: "...Browning had a natural affinity for the melodramatic and grotesque which made him the logical choice to direct Lon Cheney."
Sobchack, 2006 p. 34: "Certainly, Browning's best work was for MGM...all his films for Universal were made before 1924 and his maturity as a filmmaker...some credit must go to Irving Thalberg who, a vice-president at Universal while Browning was there" And p. 24: See here for "trick" photography.
Towlson, 2012: "...Carl Laemmle and Irving Thalberg paired [Browning] up with Lon Chaney for Outside the Law (1921). Thereafter he developed a reputation for the macabre, working with Chaney on a number of silent horror films that have become regarded as classics..."
Charles, 2006 p. 85: "Browning cast Lon Chaney in the dual roles of the villainous Black Mike and the mild-mannered Chinaman Ah Wing."
- Rosenthal, 1975 p. 19
- Sobchack, 2006 p. 36: "...when he [Thalberg] left [Universal] in 1925 to join the newly-formed MGM." he brought Browning and Chaney with him.
- Sobchack, 2006 pp. 34-35: See here for unique collaboration as Browning's screenwriting partner.
Rosenthal, 1975 p. 19: "The ten films that Browning and Chaney made together [two at Universal, eight at M-G-M] were the most successful of either's career."
- Robinson, 1968 p. 125: "In 1925 he was taken on by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/M-G-M and began a series of films with Lon Chaney that must rank among the most extraordinary pictures ever made."
- Sobchack, 2006 p. 34: "Certainly, Browning's best work was for MGM...all his films for Universal were made before 1924 and his maturity as a filmmaker...some credit must go to Irving Thalberg who, a vice-president at Universal while Browning was there" brought Browning along "when he [Thalberg] left in 1925 to join the newly-formed MGM."
- Sobchack, 2006 p. 35: "Lon Chaney's influence on Browning seems considerable...their significant collaboration really began at MGM and with The Unholy Three (1925)."
- Rosenthal, 1975 p. 19: "In these films one can sense a personal rapport between actor and director which must have been deeper than mere professional respect."
- Eaker, 2016: "The original, silent Unholy Three (1925) catapulted Browning into star director status."
- Eaker, 2016: "The Unholy Three is not, on the surface, as macabre as later Browning-Chaney films [but exhibits] perverse characterizations and surreal plot."
Barson, 2021: "...the shocking (for the time) circus tale The Unholy Three (1925), with Chaney as a transvestite ventriloquist who teams with a dwarf [sic] (Harry Earles), a strongman (Victor McLaglen), and a pickpocket (Mae Busch) to go on a crime spree that culminates in murder..."
Robinson, 1968 p. 125: The Unholy Three (1925), about a transvestite ventriloquist, a dwarf [sic] and a strongman who conduct a criminal business under cover of a pet store, was a promising (and profitable) beginning."
Sobchack, 2006 p. 25: "...contains [the] major elements of Browning's bizarre melodramas..."
- Eaker, 2016
- Eaker, 2016: "As powerful as Chaney is in the lead role, he [is nearly] eclipsed by his dwarf [sic] co-star Earles."
- Rosenthal, 1975 p. 36
- Rosenthal, 1975 p. 30
- Blyn, 2006 p. 121: Echo's "love interest, Rosie..."
- Brenez, 2006 p. 105
- Blyn, 2006 p. 117: "...The Boob..."
- Brenez, 2006 pp. 104-105: Quotes here are a composite. And p. 104 for character descriptions.
- Rosenthal, 1975 pp. 18-19
- Blyn, 2006 p. 121
- Rosenthal, 1975 p. 14: "The ability to assume control of another being is vital to The Unholy Three. Echo the ventriloquist delivers testimony in court through the mouth of Hector....as the words pour from the witness stand, Browning repeatedly dissolves Echo onto Hector and vise-versa, establishing the performer's complete responsibility for what is being said."
- Blyn, 2006 pp. 117, 121
- Blyn, 2006 p. 124: See here for the entire passage.
- Sobchack, 2006 p. 34: "The film was, of course, a huge success."
- Sobchack, 2006 p. 31
- Eaker, 2016: "Because of the lack of usual Browning stars, The Mystic is an interesting, lesser-known film in the director's canon. Not only is it thematically related to his other films, but it also shows the idiosyncratic continuity of his taste in actresses..."
- Sobchack, 2006 p. 24
- Eaker, 2016: "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."
- Eaker, 2016: "Of course, Zara's clairvoyant act is all illusion and Browning, as usual, lets his audience in on the trickery almost from the outset."
- Sobchack, 2006 p. 32
- Rosenthal, 1975 p. 63
- Robinson, 1968 p. 125: After a more conventional crime film, The Mystic (1925), Browning and Chaney embarked on a series of seven further films: The Blackbird (1926), The Road to Mandalay (1926) The Unknown (1927), London After Midnight (1927), The Big City (1928), West of Zanzibar (1928) and Where East Is East (1929). The premises of the films were outrageous."
- Eaker, 2016: The Browning-Chaney collaborations "one of the most unsettling actor/director collaborations in the history of cinema....the strangest collaboration between director and actor in cinema history."
- Rosenthal, 1975 p. 22
- Eaker, 2016: "The Blackbird (1926) is a typically deranged underworld melodrama from the Tod Browning/Lon Chaney canon, and one of the most visually arresting of Browning's films."
- Eaker, 2016: "The scenes of Chaney frantically changing identities with constables from Scotland Yard waiting below are deliriously incredible."
- Miller, 2008 TCM: "...set in London's Limehouse district, a lower-class waterfront area named for the large warehouses where the British Navy stored the citrus fruit that protected its sailors from scurvy."
Rosenthal, 1975 pp. 39-40: "The Bishop's forlorn expression reveals a propensity for passive suffering...since this inclination toward self-subjugation is incompatible with the assertive traits that Browning prizes, Dan Tate is split into two. The phoney suffering and soft manner go into one package, the Bishop, while the scornful aggressiveness and rough-hewn features are combined in the Blackbird."
- Miller, 2008 TCM: "The name West End Bertie suggests that the character is a gentleman thief, coming from the more fashionable side of London."
Rosenthal, 1975 pp. 22-23: See here for Browning and Chaney handling of the Dan Tate character.
Sobchack, 2006 p. 24: "The Blackbird (1926) is also a crook melodrama in which Chaney plays two roles" as the character Dan Tate...posing as both a rescue mission worker named "The Bishop" and "The Blackbird" a phony twin brother Tate creates to conceal his criminal activities. And p. 57: "...christian goodness..."
Solomon, 2006 pp. 56-57: "In The Blackbird, the criminal Dan Tate (Chaney), The Blackbird, periodically assumes the character of The Bishop, who hobbles about on a crutch, to elude the police."
- Solomon, 2006 p. 56: "Browning films like The Blackbird place the act of masquerade onscreen, explicitly revealing the visual deception to the viewer." And pp. 56-57: "While other characters in the film, or course, never see the two purported [twin] brothers together, the viewer is given immediate access to the acts of quick-change" in which Tate (Chaney) transforms himself from The Blackbird to The Bishop.
- Miller, 2008: "Doris Lloyd received solid notices as the Blackbird's ex-wife, who still loves him. She would build a long career, specializing in playing British maids and cleaning ladies into her seventies."
- Henry, Boris, 2006 p. 41: Polly Moran's "slapstick background" is displayed in her role as a flower girl in The Blackbird. And p. 42: "The Blackbird...inspired by Max Linder's performance in Be My Wife, 1921." And p. 43: Some scenes in The Blackbird "are archetypical of burlesque cinema...a drunk totters unsteadily, notices suddenly he is going the wrong way and turns on his heels."
Rosenthal, 1975 p. 63: Filmography, brief sketch of film.
Solomon, 2006 p. 56: "Browning films like The Blackbird place the act of masquerade onscreen, explicitly revealing the visual deception to the viewer." And pp. 56-57: "While other characters in the film, or course, never see the two purported ["twin"] brothers together, the viewer is given immediate access to the acts of quick-change" in which Tate transforms himself from The Blackbird to The Bishop.
Miller, 2008 TCM: "With the revelation that the twin brothers are actually the same man, with the physically twisted mission worker as a front for the criminal, Chaney treated his fans to several scenes in which he transforms from one to the other."
- Rosenthal, 1975 p. 12: "...the protagonist [Dan Tate] of The Blackbird must ultimately fail in his jealous vendetta against Bertie...as his name implies [Tate/Blackbird] falls into the category of scavengers and parasites...his motives are corrupt and, in the end, he does not succeed."
- Brenez, 2006 p. 96: "...to die as one's double means being deprived of oneself even in death: death, then, is no longer a beautiful vanishing, but a terrible spiriting away."
- Miller, 2008: "The film's $36,000 profit was the lowest for any of Chaney's MGM films. Although the film received strong reviews...MGM picked up Chaney's contract, raising his salary to $3,000 a week and gave Browning a new contract doubling his salary to $20,000 a picture with a $5,000 bonus for each film brought in on time and on budget.
- Eaker, 2016: "Unfortunately, The Road to Mandalay exists only in fragmented and disintegrated state, a mere 36 minutes of its original seven reels...the only known print is a 16 mm abridged version, which was discovered in France in the 1980s."
- Sobchack, 2006 p. 33: "Browning indicated that his films did not begin with plot." Sobchack quotes Browning from Georges Sadoul, Dictionary of Film Makers, see footnote.
- Rosenthal, 1975 pp. 25-26: "Browning regularly introduces the theme of secondary of "indirect" sexual frustration through the plot device of a parent who is unaware of the identity of his own child, or [in The Road to Mandalay] the reverse situation." And pp. 25-30: See these pages for Rosenthals examples of these themes, including The Devil-Doll (1936), The Show (1927), White Tiger (1923) and others. And: the "horrific One-Eyed-Joe in The Road to Mandalay..."
- "The Road to Mandalay (1926)". www.allmovie.com. Retrieved March 13, 2021.
- Herzogenrath, 2006 p. 185: "...Herman J. Mankiewicz might have been familiar with Freudian concepts...Whether through Mankiewicz influence or otherwise, the Oedipus complex as a narrative structure...dominates Browning's work."
- Rosenthal, 1975 pp. 25-26: "Singapore Joe is so ugly that he feels his daughter (who indeed, abhors that hideous man when he patronizes the store in which she clerks) would be ashamed if she were aware of their kinship."
- Eaker, 2016: See here for a concise overview of the characters and scenario.
- Eaker, 2016
Rosenthal, 1975 p. 26: "The struggle that results when the Admiral, one of Joe's smuggling colleagues, announced his plans to wed [Joe's daughter] has overtones of a fight to maintain the sexual integrity of the family. When this conflict is juxtaposed with efforts to hold his position as top dog in the local underworld, the infighting among the hoodlums acquires the aspect of a battle for sexual supremacy. Keeping the community of gangsters under control becomes primarily a matter of machismo."
Sobchack, 2006 p. 23: "One frequent minor theme in the exotic melodramas is that of sacrifice...Singapore Joe dies saving his daughter from a fate worse than death..."
- Eaker, 2016: "Browning, a Mason, repeatedly used religious imagery and themes..."
- Rosenthal, 1975 pp. 57, 59: see image of crucifix in this scene.
- Rosenthal, 1975 p. 57
- Sobchack, 2006 p. 36: "...it should be emphasized that most Browning films - until Freaks - made money."
- Eaker, 2016: "Unfortunately, The Road to Mandalay is in such dissipated state that it makes for burdensome, strained viewing. The only known print is a 16 mm abridged version..." And: his 1927 "mystery melodrama"
- Conterio, 2018: "1927's mystery chiller, London after Midnight, is one of the most famous lost movies of all. The last known print was destroyed in the 1965 MGM vault fire."
Eaker, 2016: "...the fact that London After Midnight is lost is solely the fault of MGM."
Eisenberg, 2020: "There is some dispute over the year of the fire, with most historians agreeing it is either 1965 or 1967."
Solomon, 2006 p. 51: "...the lost film London After Midnight, 1927..."
Barson, 2021: "...London After Midnight (1927; now lost)..."
Sobchack, 2006 p. 31: Among Browning's "minor group of mystery melodramas..."
- Eaker, 2016: The still-photo reconstruction by TCM in 2003 "is probably the only version of the film we, and future generations, will ever see."
Eisenberg, 2020: "Of all the "lost" films in the history of cinema that have remained "lost," London After Midnight has passed into legend as the equivalent of the Holy Grail."
- Eaker, 2016: "In 2003, Rick Schmidlin of Turner Classic Movies arduously produced a photo reconstruction of London After Midnight..."
- Sobchack, 2006 p. 35: "London After Midnight came from a story by Browning called The Hypnotist. And p. 36: Browning ``knew the work of Wiene on Caligari" (Sobchack quoting Edgar G. Ulmer, footnote 67).
Eaker, 2016: "Even from a stills-only reproduction, it is clear that Midnight is the original American Goth film. Chaney's vampire, partly inspired by Werner Krauss' Caligari..." And: "drawing room murder mystery..."
- Brenez, 2006 p. 96: "...the creation of a double...the vampire [a Scotland Yard inspector] in London After Midnight..."
- Eisenberg, 2020: "The likeness of Chaney's "vampire," also popularly known as 'the man in the beaver hat'" And short plot synopsis.
- Solomon, 2006 p. 51: "...it is the contrived haunted house in which a detective and his assistant, dressed in elaborate disguises, ensnare a murderer."
- Solomon, 2006 p. 51: "the paranormal occurrence seen in the film are staged illusions, [not trick photography]...the deceptions, as such, are revealed to the viewers." And p. 56: "...London After Midnight presents apparently supernatural phenomena as the work of stage magic."
Eaker, 2016: "The film...is essentially a drawing room murder mystery, with a detective hiring actors to play vampires in order to smoke out the guilty party through sheer fright. As with most of Browning films, the plot is painstakingly preposterous..."
- Sobchack, 2006 p. 31: ... the occult and the supernatural are used at one level for their dramatic value but are invariably revealed as tricks.``
Eisenberg, 2020: "The movie poster and lobby cards played up the film's crime story and assumed supernatural element."
- Sobchack, 2006 p. 33
- Solomon, 2006 p. 59: Variation on quote, small source cited.
- Solomon, 2006 p. 58: "...London After Midnight presents apparently supernatural phenomena as the work of stage magic." And: see quote from Philip J. Riley, footnote #36. And pp. 58-59: "...the paranormal occurrences seen in the film are staged by police inspector Burke (Chaney) to catch a killer."
Sobchack, 2006 p. 33: "...critics found the 'plausible' ending of London After Midnight disappointing in [its] final refusal to accept the supernatural premises the film had set up."
- Diekmann, Knorer, 2006 p. 74
- Eisenberg, 2020: "Despite the subpar reviews, the film was a hit upon its release, grossing over $1,000,000 in 1927 dollars against a budget of $151,666.14." And: "After all, there is nothing to indicate the film, as directed by Tod Browning, was any sort of masterpiece. The reviews on London After Midnight's release were slight at best."
Eaker, 2016: "...London After Midnight received mixed reviews upon its release in 1927, but the majority of the reviews were positive." And: "Of all the Browning/Chaney films, Midnight reaped the biggest box office."
- Eaker, 2016: "...The Show is one of the most bizarre productions to emerge from silent cinema, nearly on par with the director's The Unknown from the same year."
Sobchack, 2006 p. 26: "...the film contains a number of extraordinary images and scenes."
Wood, 2006 TCM: "Browning was apparently testing the waters for a horror film set at a circus and later the same year would unleash upon the world his fully-realized carnival of terror: The Unknown (1927), starring Lon Chaney."
- Eaker, 2016: "The screenplay for The Show (1927) was written by frequent Tod Browning collaborator Waldemer Young (with uncredited help from Browning)...very (italics) loosely based on Charles Tenney Jackson's novel, 'The Day of Souls.'" (italics in original)
Wood, 2006 TCM: "The subplots of the blind father and Cock Robin's moral redemption are virtually the only ingredients that survived from Charles Tenney Jackson's novel The Day of Souls (from which the script was officially adapted)."
Sobchack, 2006 pp. 34-35: "...The Show suggested by Charles Jackson's novel The Day of Souls...an avid reader of gothic literature, Browning [likely] discovered the novel [as source material]."
- Solomon, 2006 p. 60
- Eaker, 2016: "John Gilbert plays Cock Robin, the ballyhoo man at the Palace of Illusions. A character with the name of an animal is a frequent Browning trademark." And: "Unfortunately, The Show is flawed by a saccharine finale..."
Wood, 2006 TCM: "Its pairing of Gilbert and Adoree was a throwback to the wildly successful The Big Parade (1925)." And: "Much of the criticism was leveled at the largely unsympathetic character of [Gilbert's] Cock Robin."
Rosenthal, 1975 p. 63: Synopsis in full: "A jealous quarrel [presented] against a carnival background results in several murders and attempted murders."
- Sobchack, 2006 p. 25: "The Show (1927) is set in a Budapest circus and fairway show called The Palace of Illusions." And p. 29: "Besides the constantly noted physical oddities of major characters, another common element shared by these bizarre melodramas is a hint of perverse sexuality..."
Solomon, 2006 pp. 61, 64: images of Palace of Illusion performers. See caption for photos p. 61: "The 'true forms' for the acts are later revealed to the film audience."
- Solomon, 2006 pp. 51, 61-63: A step-by-step analysis of Browning's cinematic exposure of the trick.
- Solomon, 2006 pp. 63-64: See here for a concise analysis of the sequence.
Sobchack, 2006 p. 29: "...The Show focuses on the Salome/John the Baptist 'illusion' [a faux beheading] that speaks sadomasochism and symbolic castration."
Eaker, 2016: "In The Show (1927), the sadomasochistic drama of Salome is reenacted and almost played out in the actors' lives..."
- Sobchack, 2006 pp. 25-26: "... the negative New York Times review (focused on John Gilbert's performance)..."
- Wood, 2006 TCM: "Much of the criticism was leveled at the largely unsympathetic character of Cock Robin. Variety predicted The Show "undoubtedly will hurt [John Gilbert's] general popularity with the women..."
- Eaker, 2016: "The Unknown (1927) is one of the final masterpieces of the silent film era...the one film in which the artists' obsessions perfectly crystallized."
- Brogan, 2019: "When they made The Unknown in 1927, star Lon Chaney and director Tod Browning were among the biggest names in Hollywood...The Unknown is now considered by many to be the best of the Chaney/Browning collaborations...the sixth of ten collaborations between Chaney and director Tod Browning."
Conterio, 2018: "Generally considered to be the pair's best film together, and Browning's masterpiece..."
Eaker, 2016: "The Unknown (1927) is one of the final masterpieces of the silent film era...the one film in which the artists' obsessions perfectly crystallized."
Towlson, 2012: "... The Unknown (1927) (which many regard as Browning's best film)..."
- Rosenthal, 1975 p. 32: "The Unknown defines a sexual basis for the frustration theme of the entire Browning-Chaney cycle and relates it directly to the star's physical deformity."
- Sobchack, 2006 p. 33: "Browning indicates that his story ideas did not begin with plot..." And see here for the entire quote, with references to The Road to Mandalay (1926).
- Rosenthal, 1975 p. 23: See here for another excerpt from 1928 Motion Picture Classic interview.
- Brogan, year: "As The Unknown proves, Chaney didn't need to rely on heavy make-up to transform himself for a role." And see here for quote.
- Soloman, 2006 p. 51: Alonzo "masquerades as an armless freak" one of Browning's portrayal of "elaborate deceptions that take place on the level of mise-en-scene."
Stafford, 2003 TCM: "the character of Alonzo in The Unknown is one of his most disturbing creations and the most twisted film in his ten-year association with director Tod Browning."
- Rosenthal, 1975 pp. 32-33: Chaney's character is "infatuated with Crawford who has a neurotic aversion to being handled by men, and naturally, an armless man is the only lover she can abide." And: Alonzo's "heightened sexual prowess [represented by] his supernumerary thumb" and his high-functioning performance without arms.
- Eaker, 2016: "Nanon's sadistic father, Antonio Zanzi (Nick de Ruiz, hinted at being the abusive source for Nanon's hatred of a man's touch)."
- Eaker, 2016: "But, Alonzo must have, marry, and own Nanon, [but] she would certainly hate the hands of the double-thumbed murderer."
- Rosenthal, 1975 p. 33: "...if [Alonzo] proceeds to marry Nanon, his wife will discover his secret" as the killer of her father.
- Rosenthal, 1975 p. 33: "The amputations take on the significance of castration...[Nanon] aroused only by 'sexless' men."
Brenez, 2006 p. 100: "...The Unknown, the most drastic film in regard" to "the defects and excess" of dismemberment.
Sobchack, 2006 p. 29: The Unknown shares a "common element of [Browning's] bizarre melodramas...a hint of perverse sexuality....Estrellita (Nanon) Joan Crawford is horrified at being touched by men's hands Alonzo's [Chaney] surgery for love of her is to say the least, excessive."
Conterio, 2018: "The Unknown is a sublime fusion of sadomasochist imagery, male self-loathing, misandry, castration symbolism and nightmarish irony."
- Rosenthal, 1975 p. 11: "Alonzo [Chaney], in The Unknown is among the most rabid and instinctive of Browning's protagonists..." And pp. 32-33: "The Unknown defines a sexual basis for the frustration theme of the entire Browning-Chaney cycle and relates it to the star's inevitable physical deformity.'"
Brenez, 2006 p. 100: "...The Unknown, the most drastic film in regard" to "the defects and excess" of dismemberment.
Towlson, 2017 Part 2: ".. one of the key themes in Browning's work...is the emasculation/castration theme, in particular, one Browning explored obsessively in his films (especially those made with Lon Chaney)."
- Conterio, 2018: "Fixated on human disfigurement and underworld figures, the films are marked by a star k, obsessive aesthetic and themes of compulsion."
- Rosenthal, 1975 pp. 30-31
- Rosenthal, 1975 pp. 11-12: "Alonzo...chooses animals dash horses dash as his means for disarticulating his nemesis, Malbar, the Strongman. Alonzo's death beneath the horse's hooves, therefore, occurs in his own element." And: "...a lust for retribution...for those who have made them outcasts."
- Eaker, 2016: The Unknown "ends with a startling, ferociously driven, symbolic finale."
Safford, 2003 TCM: "the Grand Guignol finale."
- Diekmann and Knörer, 2006 p. 73: "As far as plots are concerned, the proximity of Browning's cinema to the theatre of the Grand Guignol is evident..."
- Brogan, 2008: "When they made The Unknown in 1927, star Lon Chaney and director Tod Browning were among the biggest names in Hollywood...The Unknown is now considered by many to be the best of the Chaney/Browning collaborations...the sixth of ten collaborations between Chaney and director Tod Browning."
Conterio, 2018: "Generally considered to be the pair's best film together, and Browning's masterpiece..."
Eaker, 2016: "The Unknown (1927) is one of the final masterpieces of the silent film era...the one film in which the artists' obsessions perfectly crystallized."
Stafford, 2003 TCM: "the character of Alonzo in The Unknown is one of his most disturbing creations and the most twisted film in his ten-year association with director Tod Browning."
- Brogan, 2019: "The Unknown is quite possibly the most unusual, and the most deserving of 'cult film' status" among the Browning-Chaney film collaborations.
Eaker, 2016: "The Unknown is...an entirely idiosyncratic work of art, which has never been remotely mimicked, nor could it be."
- Erickson, Allmovie: "Betty Compson, who co-starred with Chaney in his breakthrough picture The Miracle Man (1919 film), provides romantic contrast as Collins' hard-bitten gun moll."
- Rosenthal, 1975 p. 64
- Sobchack, 2006 p. 24: see here for See her for excerpts from contemporary NYT reviews.
- Rosenthal, 1975 p. 64: quote from photo caption.
Erickson, Allmovie: "The Big City was perhaps the most "normal" of the Lon Chaney-Tod Browning collaborations. Minus makeup, Chaney plays gangster boss Chuck Collins, who despite his ruthlessness is a basically decent fellow."
- Erickson, Allmovie: "As it turned out, Chaney's star-power enabled The Big City to score a box-office success to the tune of $387,000 in profits."
- Darr, 2010: Composite quote from two paragraphs, same article.
- Harvey, 2019: "It surprised many back in 1928 that Chester de Vonde's drama Kongo, which ran for 135 performances on Broadway in 1926, was adapted for the screen at all. It was lurid stuff even for the wicked stage..."
- Barson, 2021: "Chaney played "Dead-Legs" Phroso, a paralyzed former magician who raises the daughter of his hated rival in a brothel but does not know she is actually his own, in West of Zanzibar (1928)."
- Darr, 2010: "...the most lucid arguments for his mastery of visual storytelling are his great silent films, especially those starring Lon Chaney. West of Zanzibar may be the greatest of these."
Herzogenrath, 2006 p. 11: "With Chaney, Browning made a number of very successful movies focusing on the themes of obsessive revenge and the sexually charged mutilation of the body..."
Rosenthal, 1975 p. 27: "...the unknown parentage motif..." And: p. 19. And p. 44: "West of Zanzibar reaches the peak of its psychological horror psychological horror,,,"
- Rosenthal, 1975. pp. 19, 39: Composite quote.
- Solomon, 2006 p. 51: "...the prototypical figure of the stage magician is found most clearly in West of Zanzibar, 1928. It is worth knowing that before being crippled in an accident, the music-hall illusionist Phroso (Lon Chaney) resembles not so much the archetypal Mesphistophelian visage of Hermann the Great, but rather - with his finely waxed mustache - looks much like Browning himself..."
- Rosenthal, 1975 pp. 30-31: "Dead Legs' wife is stolen and (he believes) impregnated by an adulterous lover..." And p. 57: "
- Darr, 2010: "...Chaney's magician character's manipulative schemes..."
- Rosenthal, 1975 pp. 27-28
- Diekmann and Knörer, 2006 p. 73
- Rosenthal, 1975 p. 44
- Rosenthal, 1975 p. 20
- Sobchack, 2006 p. 31: Browning's "fascination of physical deformity (generated, perhaps, by self-consciousness about his own badly scarred leg and limp, the result of a horrific automobile accident in 1915.)..."
Rosenthal, 1975 pp. 9-10: "The typical Browning protagonist is a man who has been reduced to a state of an animal. In almost every instance he displays a physical deformity that reflects the mental mutilation he has suffered at some element of callous society." And p. 31: "The incident that prompts the regression [to an animal state] and search for vengeance is, in almost every case, sexual in nature."
- Rosenthal, 1975 p. 48: See Photo caption "slithering"
- Diekmann and Knörer, 2006 p. 74
- Harvey, 2009: "...Harrison's Report, a self-described advocate for independent exhibitors, remembered Kongo and asked in a front-page editorial, "How any normal person could have thought this horrible syphilitic play could have made an entertaining picture?" The film fueled the crusades of the censorship-minded, who used it as blatant evidence of Hollywood's 'cesspools'", but "West of Zanzibar did quite well at the box office..."
Wood, 2006 TCM: "West of Zanzibar was first screened in Los Angeles in November 1928. Its official opening was December 28, 1928 at New York's Capitol Theatre (the palace where MGM premiered its major productions). The response was overwhelming. It earned an unbelievable $88,869 in its first week at the Capitol. Motion Picture News wrote, "If you do not have a S.R.O. (Standing Room Only) sign in your theater... you had better order one immediately before playing this picture."
- Brandt, 2006 p. 129: Brandt quotes entire quatrain.
- Brandt, 2006 pp. 133-134: See Brand's section "Browning's Economy of Stereotyping"
Herzogenrath, 2006 p. 15: "...By situating the narrative in the borderland of Western civilization and Eastern tradition...the movie alludes to 'sexual and racial Otherness' which have been described in postcolonial theory as the pivotal features of Western colonial discourse."
- Brandt, 2006 p. 147: See footnote #2. Brandt refers to Kipling's novel Kim (1901) as evidence for this outlook.
- Brandt, 2006 p. 147
- Herzogenrath, 2006 p. 15
Brandt, 2006 pp. 130, 131: "As a highly ambivalent work of art, Browning's Where East Is East is caught in a strange predicament. While replicating some dominant images of the East and thus validating the [Eurocentric] ideology connected to them, the film also seeks to subvert and destabilize the authority of these myths....Where East Is East is marked by a complicated strategy of reinvention and deconstruction of ethnic stereotypes [in which] the binary logic of whiteness is symbolically suspended." Composite quote.
- Robinson, 1968 p. 125: "...Where East Is East (1929)...The premises of the films were outrageous."
Eaker, 2016: Where East Is East does not subscribe to any sort of orthodox realism..."
Diekmann and Knörer, 2006 p. 73: "...the sadistic cruelty and bestial brutality intermingled with the orientalizing chinoiserie of Where East Is East (1929)..."
- Eaker, 2016: "Where East Is East (1929) was the last of the Tod Browning/Lon Chaney collaborations, it was the last of Browning's silent films, and it contained many themes from their previous efforts together."
Herzogenrath, 2006 p. 11: "...their final collaboration Where East Is East, 1929..." And p. 15 "...last co-production of Tod Browning with Lon Chaney..."
Brandt, 2006 p. 130
- Brandt, 2006 pp. 129-130: Brief synopsis of film.
- Herzogenrath, 2006 p. 15: "...the film's dilemma is epitomized by the figure of Bobby Bailey (Floyd Hughes), the 'white boy' who finds himself torn between his fiance (accent) Toyo Haynes (Lupe Velez) and her mother Madame de Sylva (Estelle Taylor), an oriental beauty whose scheming nature threatens to tear the whole family apart."
- Eaker, 2016: "Tiger and Bobby run into Tiger's ex-wife and Toya's mother, Mme. de Sylva (Estelle Taylor, the real-life one time wife of Jack Dempsey)."
- Rosenthal, 1975 p. 28: "Tiger, in Where East Is East, has his entire life tied up with his daughter, Toyo, and is very ill at ease over her proposed marriage to Bobby Bailey until Bobby demonstrates his manliness in fending off an escaped tiger." And p. 64: Rosenthal provides short synopsis.
- Sobchack, 2006 p. 23: "...one frequent minor theme worth noting in the exotic melodramas is that of sacrifice...Tiger Haynes is mauled to death for love of his daughter in Where East Is East."
- Brandt, 2006 p. 134: Italics for "there" in original.
- Brandt, 2006 p. 135 and see p. 136 for on this subject.
- Brandt, 2006 p. 139
- Rosenthal, 1975 p. 31
Herzogenrath, 2006 p. 15: "Where East Is East...illustrates Browning's life-long tendency to interweave images of sex and race, creating an ambivalent narrative of sensual fulfillment and frantic dissillusionment."
- Rosenthal, 1975 p. 12: "Similarly, animals become the agents of destruction for Tiger in Where East Is East ..."
- Towlson, 2012: Towlson cites David J Skal and Elias Savada, Ronald V. Borstas and Elliott Stein on the topic.
- Skal and Savada, 1995 p. 4
- Sobchack, 2006, pp. 35-36: See footnotes for Ulmer source.
- Towlson, 2021: "the widely held critical opinion that Tod Browning was unable to adapt to the coming of sound in the 1930s...seems to me to be a fallacy that has unfortunately become general wisdom, arising from the necessity (originating in the 1940s, as a result of his falling out of favour with the studios) to denigrate Browning as a director [over the critical and financial disappointment of Freaks]...it subsequently became the adopted position of conservative-minded critics...tarnishing Browning's reputation as a filmmaker."
- Rosenthal, 1975 pp. 64-66: Filmography section
- Eaker, 2016: "The Thirteenth Chair (1929) is... Browning's first sound film. Like a lot of early sound films, it is bogged down with that wax museum-like staging. This is yet another drawing room murder mystery, taken from an antiquated stage play..." And: "...in handling that new invention called sound, Browning nor the production team were comfortable..."
- Eaker, 2016: "Two murders...a phony medium, a series of séances, a mysterious manor, stolen love letters, and potential blackmail all add up to standard Browning fare..."
- Nixon, 2006 TCM: "The suspects are played by a virtual who's-who of recognizable character actors: Conrad Nagel...Leila Hyams, later Venus in Browning's Freaks... Margaret Wycherly...Joel McCrea's scenes were deleted before the film's release."
- Nixon, 2006 TCM: "Lugosi made a number of silent film appearances before his runaway success on Broadway in Dracula." And: "...a matinee idol [in Germany]. His first American film was The Silent Command (1923)."
- Barson, 2020: "...Chaney was not yet open to the notion of making a sound picture, so Hungarian actor Bela Lugosi was recruited to play the police inspector investigating a murder at a seance."
- Eaker, 2016: "...the main testing was the upcoming role of Dracula and for that reason Browning grabbed Lugosi, who had made the role a mega hit on the stage circuit."... And: "Browning's work with Lugosi traces an interesting development through the three films they collaborated on."
- Eaker, 2016: "Lugosi had lived in the states and performed the [stage role in Dracula] for years before the film version so the actor's delivery for Dracula was a directorial choice, as indicated in interviews."
- Eaker, 2016: "Browning remade Outside the Law in 1930. The remake starred Edward G. Robinson and received comparatively poor reviews."
- Barson, 2021: "Chaney finally made one sound film, a remake of The Unholy Three, before his sudden death from bronchial cancer in 1930, but Jack Conway directed it instead of Browning, who had jumped to Universal and could not take the property with him. Instead, he remade another of his Chaney silents, Outside the Law (1930), with Edward G. Robinson taking the part left vacant by Chaney's death."
- Bronfen, 2006 p. 154
- Sobchack, 2006 p. 29: "Browning made only one true horror film, Dracula (1931)."
- Bronfen, 2006 p. 158
Conterio, 2018: "Dracula (1931) and Freaks (1932) – his two most famous and enduring titles..."
Nixon, 2003 TCM "Dracula became Browning's most successful and lasting film, matched in film history only by what many consider his masterpiece, the unique and astonishing Freaks (1932)."
Morris, 1998: "Hugely popular and vastly influential, this is the magna carta of vampire movies and the first of the great cycle of Universal horror films."
Thomson, 2010: "The year 1931 was a turning moment in film horror history..."
- Barson, 2021: "Dracula was an enormous success and was the first of the classic Universal horror films of the 1930s and '40s."
- Thomson, 2010: "Browning had already approached Universal with the idea of doing Dracula at the studio, with Lon Chaney. The Bram Stoker novel had become a sensation on the New York stage in 1927 ..."
Eaker, 2016: "Tod Browning's Dracula is often unfairly compared to Murnau's unauthorized Nosferatu, and it is an unfair comparison because the two are very different films, which merely happen to share the same literary inspiration."
- Bronfen, 2006 p. 158
- Thomson, 2010: "The Bram Stoker novel had become a sensation on the New York stage in 1927..."
- Sobchack, 2006 p. 29: Dracula (1931) "originally slated for Lon Chaney..."
- Sobchack, 2006 p. 36: "Chaney's connection with Browning was, at the very least, catalytic."
Baxter, 1970 p. 100: "Browning had hoped to use Chaney in Dracula, but the actor died in August 1930, just after completing work on his first sound film, a remake by Jack Conway of his 1925 success The Unholy Three..."
Harvey, 2009: Chaney's "complications from pneumonia and lung cancer ...spiraled out of control. He'd been originally cast as the star..."
Nixon, 2003 TCM: "Universal first intended to make the picture with Lon Chaney, under the guidance of Chaney's frequent director, Tod Browning."
- Bronfen, 2006 pp. 158, 159
- Thomson, 2010
Baxter, 1970 p. 100: Due to Chaney's terminal illness "Browning had to use the Hungarian Bela Lugosi, who had played the role on Broadway."
Harvey, 2009: "With Chaney gone, the role went to its stage interpreter, Hungarian thespian Bela Lugosi..."
Barson, 2021: "Lugosi had already played the part [of Dracula] onstage for three years, and that version was the primary basis for the film."
Brogan, year: "Browning originally wanted Chaney for Dracula and was reportedly unhappy with Bela Lugosi's portrayal."
- Rosenthal, 1975 pp. 16-17
- Bronfen, 2006 p. 160
Barson, 2021: "Lugosi's " unctuous line readings that made him inseparable from the character of the elegant vampire.
Eaker, 2016: "Lugosi himself discussed how intensely Browning directed his acting in the film, stating that the direction was very different than the way he had played the part on Broadway."
- Bronfen, 2006 p. 153
- Charles, 2006 p. 81
- Bronfen, 2006 p. 160: Bronfen provides a sympathetic sketch of Lugosi's post-Dracula career.
Eaker, 2016: "...Browning did have a rewarding collaborative partnership with...Lugosi, even if he did not find it as satisfying" as his association with Lon Chaney.
- Bronfen, 2006 p. 157: "Critics have repeatedly faulted Browning for not having adequately used the filmic means available to him, by letting not only the vampires fatal bites but also his own death occur off screen..." And pp. 158-159: Bronfen includes David Skal and James Ursine among Browning critics on these matters. And p. 163: "Browning does not show the actual consummation of the Count's lust."
- Bronfen, 2006 p. 159: "This shift in attitude is often attributed to Browning ...had wanted Lon Chaney for the part of the Count" but had Chaney had declined the role "because of the progressive stage of his throat cancer... [and died] during the shooting." And: See Chandler's observations on Browning.
Nixon, 2003 TCM: "According to David Manners, the production was "extremely disorganized." Asked about the experience of working with Tod Browning, Manners said, "It's funny you should ask. Someone asked me who directed [Dracula] and I had to say, I hadn't the faintest idea!...the only directing I saw was done by Karl Freund, the cinematographer."
Towlson, 2012: "...Karl Freund (who himself had ambitions to direct, took advantage of Browning's problems with Universal on Dracula to direct The Mummy)."
- Bronfen, 2006 p. 158: Universal "categorically opposed any hefty additional production costs...forced to shoot the film in sequence [and a] frugal use of special effects" enforced by studio management.
- Bronfen, 2006 pp. 159-160
- Rosenthal, 1975 pp. 16-17: Van Helsing's "will is strong."
Eaker, 2016: "The Dracula of Browning and Lugosi is an outsider...who comes to nourish on the aristocratic London Society, who he, paradoxically, yearns to join."
- Rosenthal, 1975 p. 35
- Sobchack, 2006 p. 29: "Much has been written by various critics about the static and stagy quality of the film...Nonetheless, every critic who emphasizes the film's 'uncinematic' qualities goes on to describe those 'few' scenes the are cinematic. Indeed, there is quite a list."
Eaker, 2016: "The much maligned second half of the film shifts perspective, but still does not resemble a real world at all and casts an aquatic spell over the receptive viewer."
- Nixon, 2003 TCM: "The opening sequence of Dracula, with its Transylvania setting, is among the finest work Browning ever did on screen, and it owes much to cameraman Karl Fruend."
Bronfen, 2006 p. 152: "Most critics have praised the opening sequences of Dracula for its convincing cinematic dramaturgy, attributing it primarily to [cameraman] Karl Freund..."
Eaker, 2016: "The introduction to the inhabitants of Castle Dracula is among the most discussed in the annals of Universal Horror...The static silence is punctuated with genuine dread, surreal humor, and the unnerving whimpers of an opossum. Karl Freund's camera pans over a decidedly unreal set..."
Sobchack, 2006 p. 29: "...the artistry of Renfield's (Dwight Frye) carriage ride to Castle Dracula" [Sobchack quoting critic Roy Huss]
- Rosenthal, 1975 p. 54: "In Dracula, Browning clarifies some of the early action by means of one of his favorite devices, an animal montage in which a particularly sinister event is intercut with shots of small creatures. As each of Dracula's wives emerges from her tomb a rooting rat disappears behind a ledge or a wasp pulls itself from a tiny coffin-shaped compartment. The metaphor defines the nature of the vampire and conveys the impression of a reawakening of evil and parasitic search for sustenance."
- Solomon, 2006 p. 58: "Unlike Browning's Dracula (1931), which uses largely cinematic effects to ultimately present vampirism as scientifically verified 'reality', London After Midnight presents apparently supernatural phenomena as the work of stage magic."
Bronfen, 2006 pp. 167-168: "The danger of Browning's vampire consists precisely in the fact that it isn't corporeal but spectral." [Count Dracula's figure produces no reflection in a mirror.] The illusionist legerdemain is not explained to the movie audience.
- Conterio, 2018: "Dracula (1931)...[was] altered by Universal to avoid offending the public and religious groups...Dracula was recut for its 1936 rerelease, shorn of roughly 10 minutes and tweaks made to the soundtrack (the muting of Dracula's death sigh, for example)."
Eaker, 2016: In his original edit, Dracula was ten minutes longer and was even more deliberately paced, with Lugosi's count almost entirely invisible during the second half...But, Universal spoiled that by cutting several scenes and adding close-up shots of the vampire grimacing, much to Browning's permanent dismay (he refused to ever watch the film again)."
- Bronfen, 2006 p. 158: "After its opening night on 13 February 1931 at the Roxy Theatre in New York City, it sold over 50,000 tickets within the first two days, bringing in a profit of $700,000 in the first year. As the most commercially successful film for Universal during the Depression."
- Harvey, 2009
- Barson, 2021: "The success of Dracula enabled Browning to flourish throughout the early 1930s."
- Herzogenrath, 2006 p. 16: "Browning's boxing drama Iron Man is one of the rarely discussed movies of this cinematic auteur (italics)."
- Grindon, 2006 p. 173: "Neither Stuart Rosenthal nor Elliott Stein discusses the picture in their profiles of the filmmaker...David J. Skal and Elias Savada...fail to mention the title" in their index" of Browning's films.
- Grindon, 2006 p. 173
- Grindon, 2006 p. 173: Iron Man is "an important but neglected film among Browning's ourve...the film has been neglected in the critical literature, probably because it lacks the macabre quality for which Browning's films are known."
- Rosenthal, 1975 p. 9
- Herzogenrath, 2006 p. 16: "...the thematic continuity between Browning's more famous tales of grotesque horror and this boxing film. The moral and sexual frustrations that Stuart Rosenthal argues are central to Browning's work are readily apparent."
- Grindon. 2006 p. 175
- Rosenthal, 1975 pp. 8-9: "obsessive" and "compulsive." And pp. 23-43 for Rosenthal's discussion of these four themes.
- Grindon, 2006 p. 175: "Jean Harlow's golddigging vamp is avaricious, aspiring and sexually predatory." Caption for photo.
- Herzogenrath, 2006 p. 16
- Grindon, 2006 p. 178
- Baxter, 1970 p. 100: "Browning left Universal and joined Metro [after completing The Iron Man]. M-G-M appears frequently in the Thirties as a producer of horror films..."
- Harvey, 2009: "Dracula's enormous popularity fast-tracked Browning's return to MGM, under highly favorable financial terms and the protection of longtime ally, production chief Irving Thalberg.
- Sobchack, 2006 p. 28
- Harvey, 2009: "Dracula's enormous popularity fast-tracked Browning's return to MGM, under highly favorable financial terms and the protection of longtime ally, production chief Irving Thalberg.
Cady, 2004 TCM: "Brought back at some cost to MGM, Browning made his ultimate horror movie Freaks (1932)."
- Eaker, 2016: "After the 1931 box office success of Browning's Dracula and Whale's Frankenstein, MGM second- in-command Irving Thalberg approached Browning and asked him to come up with something to outdo both of those films. Browning responded with his manifesto, Freaks."
Baxter, 1970 p. 101: "Browning had been hired by Metro to make a more ambitious version of the many circus films then being produced. Characteristically, he took as his subject not a conventional drama of life under the [[wikt:big top|]] but a cynical story called "Spurs" by fantasy writer Tod Robbins."
Towlson, 2012: "In the case of Freaks it seems that Thalberg hired Browning to direct, but Browning had known of the short story, "Spurs," on which Freaks is based for years..."
Rosenthal, 1975 p. 14: "The dwarf in "Spurs" is a hideously arbitrary and vicious individual compared to the victimized Hans in Freaks."
- Sobchack, 2006 p. 34: Sobchack, reports that Browning (who produced the film for MGM), convinced Thalberg that the story by Tod Robbins was suitable for adaption, and Thalberg purchased the rights.
Morris and Vieira, 2001: "In mid-1931, MGM production head Irving Thalberg summoned scenarist Willis Goldbeck [and] commissioned Goldbeck to write a vehicle for Browning's comeback, something 'even more horrible than Dracula.'"
Henry, 2006 p. 42
- Towlson, 2012: "While Browning helped Thalberg oversee the whole production [for Freaks], there is no evidence that the mogul interfered during shooting once production commenced. Browning was left alone to direct.
Rosenthal, 1975 pp. 58-59: "Tod Browning had the good fortune of being a complete filmmaker, producing and developing scenarios for many of his pictures. Without this kind of independence Freaks, undoubtedly the most personal film made at M-G-M during the Thirties, would have been an impossible project."
- Eaker, 2016: "From the beginning of Freaks' genesis...Louis B. Mayer, was vehemently opposed to it even at the conceptual stage, and his objections only intensified... Fortunately, Thalberg came to Browning's aid and saved filming from being sabotaged on numerous occasions."
Sobchack, 2006 p. 34: "Thalberg came to Browning's defense in relation to Freaks (1932)."
- Sobchack, 2006 p. 27
- Barson, 2021: "Browning delivered a surprise with Freaks (1932), a truly shocking morality play that boldly cast a number of actual sideshow performers."
- Eaker, 2016: "...Browning only shows the freaks in their natural, behind the scene, daily environment. Browning never resorts to showing the freaks on stage or in performance."
Sobchack, 2006 p. 27: "Not only does the film treat the freaks compassionately, it also allows for a humor that underscores their humanity and Browning's respect for them."
- Eaker, 2016: "During filming, many on the MGM lot found the sight of the freaks so disturbing that they sought to have the production stopped..."
- Towlson, 2017 Part 2: "Reality vs. appearance (physical beauty masking perversity) is one of the key themes in Browning's work. Another is sexual frustration and emasculation. These themes lie at the very heart of Freaks."
- Morris and Vieira, 2001: "...The "beautiful" characters – Cleopatra and Hercules, whose working lives depend (like movie stars) almost entirely on the way they look – are maimed or killed. The movie shows the folly of trusting the kind of beautiful surface..."
Rosenthal, 1975 pp. 35-36: "Sexual frustration is the very essence of Freaks...We are struck by the gross incongruity of the pair [and] the collision of absolute sexual opposites...an opportunity [for Cleopatra] to enjoy the kind of cruel sexual jest upon which she thrives." Browning emphasizes the disparity in their physical stature, appearance.
- Rosenthal, 1975 p. 36: See here for description of scene.
- Rosenthal, 1975 p. 14: "Since this is one of those rare instances in Browning's pictures in which guilt can be indisputably fixed, the freaks can be totally justified in their attack."
- Rosenthal, 1975 pp. 13-14
Herzogenrath, 2006 p. 194: Herzogenrath reminds us that "Offend one, offend them all" is a paraphrase from a passage in The Epistle of Saint Paul to the Corinthians, 12:26-27.
- Sobchack, 2006 p. 27: "Freaks combines the heightened chiaroscuro shadows and lightning bolts of Expressionism with a flat gray documentary style." And p. 28: "...the freaks' revenge on Cleopatra and Hercules is visualized in near Expressionistic style."
Towlson, 2012: "...Freaks demonstrate a sophisticated use of staging, framing, editing, and camera movement...Browning's control of the editing...is reflected in his comment that 'the director does the real writing of the story in the cutting and projection rooms'...Browning's close involvement in all the facets of production, the guiding hand in the script-to-screen process, including the camera shots and the editing, seems to have been Browning's...the cinematic skill evidenced in Freaks...is attributable mainly to him."
- Sobchack, 2006 pp. 27-28: "...the famous wedding feast..sequence is a masterpiece of sound and image, and utterly unique in conception and realization."
Eaker, 2016: "The wedding banquet scene is still among the most discussed moments of Freaks." And: "The sequence is beautifully filmed by Browning."
Rosenthal, 1975 pp. 37-38: Rosenthal explains the significance of the scene.
- Herzogenrath, 2006 p. 196: The significance of the wedding banquet sequence presented here.
- Diekmann and Knörer, 2006 pp. 75-76: The final scene in Freaks "a shocking fit of grandguignolesque mutilation and horrific vengeance..."
Rosenthal, 1975 p. 50: See here of Browning's technical handling of the sequence.
- Eaker, 2016: "When Browning finished Freaks, Thalberg, who had previously defended Browning, did not hesitate to cut nearly a half hour of footage from the film (and, as was the norm at that time, burned the excised footage)."
Conterio, 2018: "...Freaks (1932)...was altered by MGM, to avoid offending the public and religious groups. Up to 30 minutes was chopped from Freaks..."
- Rosenthal, 1975 p. 59: "The disastrous public reaction to Freaks seems to have shaken front office confidence in the director. In the following seven years he worked on only four pictures..."
Barson, 2021: "...Freaks was greeted with almost universal revulsion upon its original release...Freaks all but finished Browning's Hollywood career; he would direct only four more films."
- Harvey, 2009: "...Freaks struck many as deeply distasteful and it proved a major contributor to Hollywood's stringent enforcement of the Production Code beginning in 1934. Though not universally decried at the time, Freaks was enough of a scandal and money-loser that Browning's career never fully recovered."
Eaker, 2016: "...Freaks, in effect, ended Browning's career."
- Herzogenrath, 2006 p. 11: "Keeping his hands clean from controversial material after the scandal that Freaks (1932) had caused, Browning shot some 'lighter' movies..."
- Cady, 2004 TCM: "...both Gilbert and Browning managed to transform Fast Workers into a perversely fascinating melodrama cut with streetwise humor."The title "fast workers" is a double entendre alluding "both to the construction workers' skill at riveting and to their style with women."
Rosenthal, 1975 p. 44
Wood, 2006 TCM: "Browning and Gilbert re-teamed in 1933 for the racy pre-Code drama Fast Workers, where Gilbert plays 'Gunner' Smith, another detestable womanizer in need of redemption."
- Rosenthal, 1975 p. 23-24
- Rosenthal, 1975 p. 23-24: See here for explanation of categories.
- Rosenthal, 1975 p. 44
- Rosenthal, 1975 p. 46
- Rosenthal, 1975 p. 44: "...the series of events that lead to Bucker's premeditatedly allowing Gunner to fall off a skyscraper." And p. 45: "The technique that Browning used for constructing instants of terror was workably carried over into the sound era. It is apparent that Browning conceived horror primarily in visual terms...the camera movement in Fast Workers, when Mary realizes that Bucker is contemplating murder, is positively chilling."
Cady, 2004 TCM: "As for Browning, he stages several strong scenes, particularly one in which Robert Armstrong's Bucker realizes the depth of his friend's betrayal. The director's style here has echoes of his [silent era] work with Lon Chaney..."
- "Fast Workers (1933), Toronto Film Society (Ontario, Canada), June 20, 2018. Retrieved November 19, 2020.
- Eaker, 2016: "In 1935, Browning requested to remake Midnight as Mark of the Vampire... even though he was still under Thalberg's protection... neither Mayer nor the studio had forgiven Browning for Freaks (1932) and his salary for Mark was cut to half of its former amount...."
- Eaker, 2016: "...Thalberg did give Browning the green light to proceed with the inferior Mark of the Vampire (1935) three years [after completing Freaks (1932)].}
Rosenthal, 1975 p. 15: Browning's Mark of the Vampire a "remake" of his London After Midnight (1927).
Sobchack, 2006 p. 31: "Mark of the Vampire is essentially a remake of London After Midnight…"
Wood, 2006 TCM: "After the enormous success of Dracula (1931), director Tod Browning was inclined to return to the vampire film...Universal Studios owned the rights to the Dracula franchise...He maneuvered around this obstacle by remaking a vampire chiller he had shot in 1927: London After Midnight."
- Rosenthal, 1975 p. 63: See synopsis for London After Midnight in Filmography
- Sobchack, 2006 p. 31:"Barrymore "resembles...Dr. Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan) in Dracula (1931)
- Evans and Banks, 2020: "It would definitely be London After Midnight, a 1927 film with Lon Chaney and directed by Tod Browning. That was really the template for Mark of the Vampire…"
Conterio, 2018: "1935's Mark of the Vampire, an atmospheric remake of London after Midnight, re-teamed Browning with Bela Lugosi.
- Charles, 2006 p. 83: "...Count Moro is not vampire at all but an actor hired to scare a murder suspect…"
Eaker, 2013: "Browning ended his collaboration with Lugosi with this film. Their work together started with The Thirteenth Chair (1929) ."
- Wood, 2006 TCM: "Intending to one-up his own definitive vampire film, Browning loaded Mark of the Vampire with horror movie iconography…"
Eaker, 2016: "...Mark of the Vampire is saturated with sensational Gothic texture (which includes opossums inhabiting the castle).
Sweney, 2006 p. 203-204: "Mark of the Vampire is not a typical vampire film. The opening sequence signals of world of different traditions, one with a different language and beliefs we may not share nor understand...the villagers and servants in the film speak Czech...the world is split between what is 'real' and what is 'modern'."
- Herzogenrath, 2006 p. 16-17: "The exposition of the vampires as faked by a theatre company puts the film into Browning's pictures about the carnival…"
- Sweney, 2006 p. 206: The picture is "in the realm of Browning's carnival films...showing the audience how easy it is to dupe them…In the last five minutes of the film, the vampires are revealed to be actors" hired by Professor Zelen.
- Sweney, 2006 p. 204: See here for cinematographer James Wong Howe's comments on Browning film direction. Quotation are Sweney's, not Howe's.
Sweney, 2006 p. 204-205: Though Howe was "credited as the film's sole cinematographer" though he was removed by production manager JJ Cohn because of Howe's handling of the lighting effects . See p. 205 for complaint registered by star Elizabeth Allan re: Howe.
Conterio, 2018: " James Wong Howe's spectral use of light bathes gothic sets in an eerie glow."
Eaker, 2016: "For Mark of the Vampire, Browning worked with cinematographer James Wong Howe. Howe's work in the film was praised, but Howe did not care for working with Browning, who he said 'did not know one end of the camera from the other'"
- Rosenthal, 1975 p. 54
- Sweney, 2006 p. 205-206: "By far the most interesting part of the film is its famous tracking shot which occurs approximately 17 minutes into the film...This one-minute sequence is one of the greatest visual feasts in the cinema of the macabre..."
- Rosenthal, 1975 p. 54-55
Sweney, 2006 p. 206: "The motion of the two nightwalkers, the motion of the bats and the motion of the camera all combine in a fluid journey that takes the viewer down into the castle cellar and through its walls...conducted without dialogue, their silence lends a further tension to the film."
- Sweney, 2006 p. 206: "The sexual aspect, here a lesbian scene with a male voyeur, in undeniable...inherent in vampirism itself. Sweney praises Ben Lewis for the "exquisite" editing.
Eaker, 2016: "The visceral editing somehow adds to the film's appeal...adding up to an outrageous, hallucinatory film with genuinely perverse personality and a surreal, ominous style…" And: "...Borland is equally impressive. Her Luna...inspired Charles Addams' Morticia in The Addams Family (1964 TV series)
- Sweney, 2006 p. 204: "...there is no orchestral music in the film at all, except for the opening and closing credits (it is an M-G-M film)..." And: "The soundtrack of Mark of the Vampire contributes in no small part to the overall atmosphere…Douglas Shearer, 12-time Oscar winner and brother to Norma Shearer, is credited as Recording Director."
- Sweney, 2006 p. 204: "...the only melodic music within the film is made by the performers: the singing and violin playing of the villagers, and the melodramatic organ (played by a dead man…)"
- Sweney, 2006 p. 204:
- Sweney, 2006 p. 206-207: "...a great piece of cinematography" with Luna's "extraordinarily convincing transformation form monster to human...it makes [murderer] Baron Otto a believer" in vampires.
- Diekmann and Knörer, 2006 p. 74: "...only in the last five minutes of Mark of the Vampire (1935), the audience will learn that everything it has witnessed over the last 50 or 60 minutes was nothing but a setup - a theatrical trap designed to lure a suspect into a reenactment of a crime."
Wood, 2006 TCM: "But the film's crowning achievement is the elaborately twisted ending that Browning springs on the viewer like a diabolical jack-in-the-box."
Sweney, 2006 p. 201: "...its melodramatic plot only enhances the surprise ending; its surprise ending, so patently false, does not negate what has come before it, but rather asserts the dream logic of the film itself." And p. 207: Lugosi quote.
- Sobchack, 2006 p. 28: "The Devil Doll, 1936, Browning last bizarre melodrama and his penultimate film, is reminiscent of his The Unholy Three, 1925." And: p. 36: "...The Devil Doll...heavily influenced, perhaps, by Browning former association with Chaney."
Toole, 2003 TCM: "Odd as The Devil Doll may sound (it was co-scripted by Erich Von Stroheim), it fits well within the Browning canon of bizarre storylines."
- Herzogenrath, 2006 p. 11: "The Devil-Doll, scripted with Erich von Stroheim…"
Eaker, 2016: "The Devil Doll (1936) is based on Abraham Merritt's novel "Burn, Witch, Burn" with the screenplay by Guy Endore, Erich von Stroheim, and Browning. "
Sobchack, 2006 p. 29: See here for quotation.
- Rosenthal, 1975 p. 25: "...The Devil-Doll follows the same pattern as in Browning's The Unholy Three (1925)."
- Rosenthal, 1975 p. 25: "...Lionel Barrymore breaks out of prison in order to destroy the three bankers who framed him for the embezzlement they committed." And: p. 14: "Barrymore's instruments of revenge in The Devil-Doll are tiny, deadly, living dolls who have no wills of their own and respond to his telepathic commands. By extension through these miniatures he is able to dominate his enemies..."
Eaker, 2016: "Malita (Rafaela Ottiano), who also is, conveniently, a mad scientist. Marcel dies, but not before showing Lavond the scientific discovery that he and Malita have been working on for years. They are able to shrink animals and people to a sixth of their normal size."
- Sobchack, 2006 p. 28-29
Toole, 2003 TCM: "...part of the film's cult appeal is Browning's twisted sense of humor, which is most evident in the scenes with Malita who becomes addicted to miniaturizing humans."
- Rosenthal, 1975 p. 25: "Browning drags out Chaney's old lady make-up from The Unholy Three (1925) as a disguise for Barrymore as he goes about his work of angry destruction… Echo [Chaney] made up as the grandmother [Granny O'Grady] bears a remarkable resemblance to Barrymore disguised as the elderly woman [Madame Mandilip] who sells dolls in the Devil-Doll."
Baxter, 1970 p. 101-102: "The Devil Doll (1936) is still one of the Thirties' most effective examples of atmospheric fantasy. The characteristic Browning elements- long dash greed as a motive, transvestism- long dash reappear in the story of an escaped convict who is given the secret of reducing human beings to miniatures and uses it to revenge himself on the men who put him on Devil's Island."
- Rosenthal, 1975 p. 25
- Rosenthal, 1975 p. 25: See here for "indirect frustration" definition, also p. 23.
- Rosenthal, 1975 p. 27-28
Eaker, 2016: "Ironically, to prove his innocence Lavond must again go into exile at the film's end and must forever forsake his daughter..."
- Rosenthal, 1975 p. 25: See here for "indirect frustration" definition, also p. 23. And: p. 39: "In Browning's films, real suffering brings out the dangerous qualities in a man. Whatever good deed he may eventually do is the result of his initial strength of character and in spite of externally imposed suffering that forces men like Paul Lavond into new and deeper guilt. Levond is a snarling, hateful man."
Eaker, 2016: "As Lavond, Barrymore delivers a subdued, controlled performance... Although a sympathetic character, Barrymore conveys genuine creepiness in the revenge scenes..."
- Toole, 2003 TCM: The Devil-Doll is a "very smooth, visually accomplished piece of cinema...The special effects are impressive for the era, particularly the scenes featuring oversized sets and "miniature" people."
Eaker, 2016: "By the time of The Devil Doll, Browning was comfortable with the sound medium and the film benefits from this, fluid camera work, and the charmingly rudimentary flx for the incredibly shrunken people."
Sobchack, 2006 p. 28-29: "The scenes that involve the 'dolls' (really miniaturized people) as they attempt to carry out the murderous telepathic commands of a vengeful Lavond are often chilling, but most often also interesting (italics) - observed by a camera objectively recording the fascinating details of their progress."
Baxter, 1970 p. 102: The idea of miniaturization is used with more drama in this film than in others of its kind, and the attacks which Lionel Barrymore engineers...are directed with eerie skill…"
- Sobchack, 2006 p. 31
- Diekmann and Knörer, 2006 p. 73: "The only direct connection we could find between the worlds of Grand Guignol and Browning is the actress Rafaela Ottiano who, after a distinguished career as a Grand Guignol performer went on to play went on to play in a number of supporting roles in a number of Hollywood movies, Tod Browning's The Devil Doll, 1936, among them."
Eaker, 2016: "What makes The Devil Doll unique is the science fiction angle and a female mad scientist in Ottiano (who has an Elsa Lanchester like streak in her hair)."
- Eaker, 2015: "...Thalberg's protective umbrella vanished when the producer died prematurely, shortly after the release of Browning's The Devil Doll (1936)." And: "...The Devil Doll (1936) he did not even receive screen credit…" And "...The Devil Doll. was also the beginning of the end for Browning's unparalleled brand of artistry." And: "After Devil Dolls, Browning sat dormant for two years until he was able to direct Miracles for Sale (1939)... "
- Rosenthal, 1975 p. 8
- Eaker, 2016: "Tod Browning's final film, Miracles For Sale (1939)..."
- Eaker, 2016: "After The Devil Dolls, Browning sat dormant for two years until he was able to direct Miracles for Sale (1939)..."
- Eaker, 2016:
Rosenthal, 1975 p. 49: "Browning's swan song...is a fairly routine mystery against a background of the occult."
- Solomon, 2006 p. 51: Miracles for Sale, 1939, a murder mystery set in the realm of theatrical magic..."
Sobchack, 2006 p. 31: "Browning's last film, Miracles for Sale, is a mystery melodrama" that is immersed in sideshow illusionism but "the murder has an empirical solution."
- Eaker, 2016: Miracles for Sale...featured yet another Browning depiction of below-the-waist mutilation." And: "Miracles For Sale begins with a typical Browning scenario: mutilation." And: ""Browning...retains thematic continuity up to this, his last work."
Rosenthal, 1975 p. 49-50: See here for entire quote.
- Eaker, 2016: "...the most studio bound of Browning's films…"
Rosenthal, 1975 p. 49
- Kalat, 2013 TCM: "Released on August 10, 1939, Miracles for Sale, which had been budgeted at $297,000, ended up losing $39,000 at the box office. The film did receive decent reviews from publications like Variety [and] The New York Times…"
Eaker, 2016: "Tod Browning was unceremoniously (and inevitably) fired after this film, even though Miracles for Sale did fairly well at the box office and with critics."
- Harvey, 2009: Browning's "gruesome sensibility grew increasingly out of place amid MGM's reach for glamour and prestige. By the end of 1941, his status at the studio was so reduced that he preferred retirement."
- Eaker, 2016: "Browning's career came to a whimpering close in 1939." And: "He was unceremoniously fired by MGM producer Carey Wilson, whose early career Browning had greatly assisted."
Towlson, 2012: "After Miracles for Sale (1942), he never made another film and felt himself 'blackballed' by Hollywood."
- Diekmann and Knörer, 2006 p. 76
- Eaker, 2016
- Herzogenrath, 2006 p. 11: "After his final film Miracles for Sale (1939)...[he did] some occasional scenario writing for MGM. In 1942, Browning retired to Malibu, California."
- Harvey, 2009: "Sadly, soon after, his wife Alice died—also of complications from pneumonia—leaving him something of a Malibu recluse for the two remaining decades of his life.
- Herzogenrath, 2006 p. 11: Browning's "wife Alice died" in 1944.
- Herzogenrath, 2006 p. 11: "Variety mixed up his wife's death with Browning and published his obituary in 1944."
- Sobchack, 2006 p. 36: "In 1949 Browning was awarded a life membership in the Director's Guild of America dash- an honor afforded to only four other individuals by the time of his death from cancer in 1962."
- Eaker, 2016: "Browning's remaining twenty five years were spent as a widower recluse in alcoholic seclusion."
- Alford, 1995: "Browning was diagnosed with cancer of the larynx in 1962, and underwent an operation. Mute and mutilated, he had arrived at, or regressed to, the silent-move state of speechless disfigurement that had been his obsession and his avatar."
Eaker, 2016: "Like his main star Lon Chaney, Browning developed throat cancer, which rendered him mute."
- Herzogenrath, 2006 p. 11: "On 6 October, 1962, Browning died alone in the bathroom of his house at Malibu Beach."
Eaker, 2016: "Browning died an obscure, alcoholic recluse in 1962...the perennial outsider, he could [not] have cared less."
- Sobchack, 2006 p. 36
- Eaker, 2016
- Rosenthal, 1975 p. 9:
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