A general store clerk and aspiring detective investigates a mysterious disappearance that took place quite close to an empty insane asylum...
Lon Chaney ... Dr. Ziska
Johnny Arthur ... Johnny Goodlittle, the under clerk
Gertrude Olmstead ... Betty Watson
Hallam Cooley ... Amos Rugg, Watson's head clerk
Charles Sellon ... Russ Mason, the constable (as Charles A. Sellon)
Walter James ... Caliban
Knute Erickson ... Daffy Dan
George Austin ... Rigo
Edward McWade ... Luke Watson
Ethel Wales ... Mrs. Watson
A belittled clerk uses his ingenuity as an amateur detective to track down THE MONSTER responsible for some rather eerie recent disappearances.
This is a wonderfully creepy silent film. With very good acting & excellent production values courtesy of MGM, it is too bad this movie is not better known. The large amounts of humor help to lighten the load considerably and are very welcome.
The Master, Lon Chaney, adds another portrait to his gallery of grotesques. Slyly underplaying his character and letting his marvelous face act for him, Chaney more than makes up for the fact that his role is rather small. It is certainly ironic that this gentle man & terrific actor should be remembered principally for his bizarre & monstrous creations.
Comic Johnny Arthur receives co-star billing with Chaney and he deserves it, since he carries the bulk of the action. He does a fine job with his character, giving him backbone & spunk rather than allowing any milquetoast tendencies to ever predominate. With the coming of sound, Arthur would perfect a nervous, whiny persona. He made his last screen appearance in 1951, the year of his death at the age of 68.
Special kudos should be given to Walter James, Knute Erickson & George Austin for their strong support as a trio of very odd lunatics, all quite different & memorable.
THE MONSTER is considered by many to be the first in a long line of Mad Doctor films. It is also a prime example of the Old Dark House genre of spook stories. It certainly has many of the elements: a crumbling edifice, a distressed young lady, escaped madmen, bony hands appearing from hidden panels, secret passageways and sudden death. The Old Dark House has for long years been a respected avenue in literature & movies to maximize suspense & tension. Indeed, it's only a short walk from the Edwards Sanitarium in this film to Wuthering Heights, Baskerville Hall, Manderley & the Bates House...
This is a bizarre little horror/comedy, mostly a comedy, the horror aspects almost parody. Lon Chaney has the top billing, but he's the evil adversary to a group of three, the leader being an amateur detective far too reminiscent of the previous year's Sherlock Jr. by the great Buster Keaton. He carries around a book called How to Be a Detective, and there are frequent zoom-ins which underline certain passages in the book. This is the ancestor to the type of film where a group of normal people are abducted into a strange house with a strange owner.
As for the film's quality, its humor is generally on target, but it is never all that funny. A lot of giggles, but I never laughed out loud. It is often very slow moving, but it has a few wonderful set pieces and suspense scenes. Lon Chaney's villain is pretty entertaining; I really wish they would have had more of him. There's much more footage of his evil henchman. The climactic scene is excellent.
Although certainly not one of Lon Chaney's most well-known pictures, this one really epitomizes the late-Saturday-night horror movie. Even today, it's perfect for re-living the good old days (or nights) while at home on a late-night weekend, eating popcorn and drinking beer. Of course, there is no longer a "scare" in any old movie, but the art of the movie itself is what makes the classic horror pictures still work.
Chaney's "Dr. Ziska" is more low-key than a lot of his roles (and I am a big Lon Chaney fan, anyway) and he does most of his acting (up until the end of the movie) with subtle nuances and subdued facial expressions - I love it! Johnny Arthur is so great, I just wish that they could somehow have gotten his unforgettable voice into the picture. I don't think that it's supposed to be "funny" at all, it's just trying to illustrate Johnny Arthur's character as green, naive, timid, yet motivated and valiant.
This is the old Gothic "scary" movie at its best; I have it on video and watch it often.
THE MONSTER is not as well known as Chaney's other 1925 releases, including "The Phantom of the Opera" (Universal) and "The Unholy Three" (MGM), but one can say that this could be called the "granddaddy" of the mad scientists genre. Chaney fans would somewhat be disappointed, however, to watch Johnny Arthur having more screen time while Chaney's character doesn't get to make his first screen appearance until 30 minutes from the start of the movie. Chaney was obviously put into this production for box office assurance, but all in all, it does have its moments of thrills and chills supported by suspicious looking characters.
In the supporting cast are Charles A. Sellon playing the constable; Walter James as Calliban, Ziska's creepy assistant; and Knute Erickson as Daffy Dan. Available for viewing on cable TV's Turner Classic Movies, it is accompanied by a bright musical score originally written for this film and others for the PBS presentation of "Movies, Great Movies" (1973), a 13-week tribute to MGM silent films. Predating those other "haunted house" thrillers such as Universal's THE CAT AND THE CANARY (1927) and THE OLD DARK HOUSE (1932, with Karloff), I'd say THE MONSTER is worth seeing once, even for curiosity sake.
* The original play opened in New York on 9 August 1922 and had 101 performances. Walter James originated his movie role as Calaban in the play. In the 1933 revival, DeWolf Hopper Sr. played Dr. Ziska.