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Terrible twosome clicked in the ‘20s

Sometimes an actor and a director just click. Few did so as well as Lon Chaney and Tod Browning in the 1920s, and this weekend the UCLA Film and Television Archive begins a two-month series devoted to them.

“I was trying to think of any kind of equivalence of a director-actor collaboration, and the only one I could really think of was Scorsese and De Niro in that they each bought out the best in each other,” series programmer Andrea Alsberg says. “They found a way to expand their capabilities of artistic vision.”

“Lon Chaney/Tod Browning: The Unholy Two” kicks off at 7:30 p.m. Saturday with one of Chaney’s earliest triumphs, 1920’s “The Penalty” (directed by Wallace Worsley) and the deliciously perverse 1927 thriller “The Unknown,” which Browning directed.

Introducing the program will be makeup artist and Chaney biographer Michael F. Blake, who will discuss Chaney’s career and present the only home movies of the publicity-shy actor known to exist.

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Born in 1883 to deaf-mute parents, Chaney developed gestures so he could “talk” with them. He parlayed this into a career in movies, coming to Hollywood in 1912. Chaney became known as “the man of a thousand faces” for his uncanny ability to transform himself for roles.

In 1921, he first teamed with director Browning for “Outside the Law” (screening Feb. 24).

After giving two of his most renowned performances in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and “The Phantom of the Opera” (Feb. 26) for Universal, Chaney went to MGM. There, he and Browning worked on the 1925 crime melodrama “The Unholy Three” (March 4). They collaborated six more times in the late 1920s in a series of bizarre and erotic melodramas and thrillers.

Browning wanted Chaney to appear in his 1931 version of “Dracula,” but the actor died of cancer in 1930 at age 47. He cast the Broadway star of “Dracula,” Bela Lugosi, who had worked with the director two years earlier in a small part in the thriller “The Thirteenth Chair.” Both Lugosi films screen Sunday.

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Susan King

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“Lon Chaney/Tod Browning: The Unholy Two,” James Bridges Theater, UCLA. $7. Saturday to March 12. Schedule: (310) 206-3456, www.cinema.ucla.edu

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