The Blackbird (1926)

“Life is what you make it.” A bizarre little crime melodrama from MGM and directed by Tod Browning (Freaks), The Blackbird features a “Jekyll & Hyde” type story with Lon Chaney in dual roles as “The Blackbird,” an underworld criminal who attempts to cover up his sordid activities by masquerading as his own twin brother, “The Bishop,” a kind-hearted clergyman with severely contorted legs who runs a rescue mission in the poverty-stricken Limehouse district of London. The Blackbeard and a rival criminal, “West End Bertie” (Owen Moore) both fall for a vaudeville performer named “Mademoiselle Fifi Lorraine” (Renee Adoree). The Blackbird decides to take extreme measures to win Fifi over. Meanwhile, The Blackbird’s ex-wife “Limehouse Polly” (Doris Lloyd) tries desperately to win him back and set him on the right path. The film was adapted from Browning’s story, “The Mockingbird.” I love the atmospheric opening close-ups featuring some of the seamy characters inhabiting the Limehouse district. And, of course, Chaney’s transformation between the Blackbird and Bishop characters is absolutely brilliant. Adoree, who appeared as “Melisande” in King Vidor’s The Big Parade (1925), died of tuberculosis in 1933 at the age of 35. Chaney was originally slated to star in Browning’s Dracula (1931) but passed away on August 26, 1930, and Bela Lugosi, who had performed in the Broadway production of Dracula, assumed the title role.

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