HOME ENTERTAINMENT : Eight-Tape Collection Reveals Many Faces of Lon Chaney


Silent film great Lon Chaney was known as the "Man of a Thousand Faces." Several of his most memorable ones are on view in the new Kino on Video "Lon Chaney Collection."

The collection features eight Chaney films ($25 each), plus an informative documentary, "Lon Chaney: Behind the Mask." The highlight of the documentary is the 1914 one-reel Western "By the Sun's Rays," one of Chaney's earliest films. All prints have been restored and digitally remastered from the best available material.

Chaney rose to fame in the early 1920s, during an era when the majority of film actors epitomized glamour, sophistication and beauty. Chaney, however, gave moviegoers indelible portraits of ugliness and pathos. His characters ranged from victims to villains.

Chaney's masterful use of makeup, extraordinary body language and vibrant acting style made him one of the decade's top stars. His career was cut short, though, when he died of throat cancer in 1930 at the age of 44. His final film, "The Unholy Three," was his only talkie. His son, Lon Chaney Jr., followed in his footsteps creating the title role in the 1941 classic "The Wolf Man."

The highlight of the Chaney collection is "The Phantom of the Opera." The 70th anniversary deluxe edition has been remastered from a 35mm archive print and features the original two-strip Technicolor masked ball sequence, an original full orchestra score, the original trailer and an examination of the making of the film.

Seven decades after its release, this lavish thriller is still the definitive "Phantom," due to Chaney's horrifically scary makeup and his heartbreaking performance. Watch it with the lights on!

It was the lavish 1923 "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" that made him a superstar. Chaney's hideously hunchbacked bell-ringer Quasimodo is one of the cinema's greatest creations.

In the exciting 1920 crime melodrama "Outside the Law," Chaney plays the dual role of a vile gangster named "Black Mike" Silva as well as a sweet Chinese youth, Ah Wing. It was directed by Tod Browning, who made several films with Chaney.

Chaney is wonderfully entertaining as the wily Fagin in 1922's "Oliver Twist," which stars Jackie Coogan--fresh from his success in "The Kid"--as the charming orphan Oliver. Directed by Frank Lloyd.

"The Shock" and "The Light of Faith" are two Chaney vehicles from 1923. In the overly melodramatic "The Shock," Chaney gives a terrific performance as a disabled San Francisco gangster who is reformed by the love of a wonderful woman. In Clarence Brown's "The Light of Faith," he plays a New York gangster who finds redemption when he comes into possession of the Holy Grail. Both prints feature color tinting.

In 1922's "Shadows," Chaney is a Chinese laundryman who must battle racism after he's shipwrecked on the coast of a small fishing village.

And in 1920's "Nomads of the North," Chaney eschews his grotesque makeup to play a virile hunter from the Canadian Northwest.

"Lon Chaney: Behind the Mask" is a fairly absorbing documentary that attempts to offer insight into the life of this publicity-shy actor, born of deaf-mute parents, through rare home movies, behind-the-scenes footage, interviews and footage from 17 of Chaney's earliest films.

Documentary: "Big Sur--The Way It Was" is a groovy, outtasight flashback to the late '60s. Shot by filmmaker Robert Blaisdell from the mid to late '60s, "Big Sur" is a fun look at the free spirits who inhabited the beautiful California coast town.

Narrated by Doug McClure, who was starring as Trampas on "The Virginian" during this time, the highlights of the documentary are the delicious interviews with Henry Miller and his friend Emil White; founders of Big Sur institutions Lolly Fassett (Nepenthe), Helmut Deetjen (Big Sur Inn) and Michael Murphy (Esalen Institute). Though completed in 1972, "Big Sur" never found a distributor and languished for more than 20 years until Endorphin Productions digitally remastered and restored this time capsule for home video. "Big Sur" is available for $25 through Endorphin at (408) 372-2308.

New This Week: "Casper" (MCA/Universal Home Video, $23) is the box-office hit based on the classic Harvey comics character. Christina Ricci, Bill Pullman, Cathy Moriarty, Eric Idel and Casper, "The Friendly Ghost," star.

Jack Thompson plays a boisterous widower and Russell Crowe is his easy-going gay son in the comedy-drama "The Sum of Us" (Hallmark Home Entertainment).

Christopher Reeve, Kirstie Alley, Linda Kozlowski and Mark Hamill star in "Village of the Damned" (MCA/Universal Home Video), John Carpenter's remake of the classic 1960 horror film.

Chris Farley and David Spade of "Saturday Night Live" fame star in the comedy "Tommy Boy" (Paramount Home Video). Rob Lowe, Brian Dennehy and Bo Derek also star.

Liam Neeson looks great in a kilt as the famed Scottish hero Rob Roy McGregor in the action-adventure "Rob Roy" (MGM/UA). Jessica Lange and Tim Roth also star.

Ice Cube, Chris Tucker, Nia Long and John Witherspoon star in the hip-hop comedy "Friday."

Nancy Travis, Quentin Tarantino and Dylan McDermott headline the quirky comedy-adventure "Destiny Turns on the Radio" (HBO Video).

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