LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT, THE LOST FILM; BY GENE STEVENS
London After Midnight, the title turns many heads in the monster kid community! Lon Chaney’s (SR.) famed lost film helped to lay the ground work as one of the first in a string of vampire movies. Though very sedate in its approach compared to the early silent “Nosfertu” which still scares me to this very day, Chaney’s work cast him in multiple roles and the movie sets became a model for future horror movies for years to come.
For several years now rumors have persisted that the infamous lost London After Midnight was located in a film vault in California. Also known as The Hypnotist. The 1927 American silent film of the horror genre was distributed by Metro Goldwyn Mayer and was based on the short story “The Hypnotist” by Tod Browning who also directed the film. London After Midnight starred Lon Chaney, Marceline Day Conrad Nagel, Henry B Walthall, and Polly Morgan. The movie is now lost and remains one of the most famous and eagerly sought of all lost films of all time. The last known copy was destroyed in the 1967 MGM vault fire. In 2002, Turner Classic movies aired a reconstructed version using the original script and film stills. Synopsis: The film is set in London during the 1920‘s,and is one of the earliest movies (besides “Nosferatu” 1922) in the vampire genre. Character, Sir Roger Balfour is found shot to death in his home. Inspector Burke (Lon Chaney) of Scotland Yard is called in to investigate. The suspects are Williams (the butler), Sir James Hamlin and his nephew, Arthur Hibbs. A suicide note is found and the case is supposedly closed. Five years later, the old residence of Balfour is taken up by a man in a beaver-skin hat, with large fangs and gruesome, sunken eyes. His assistant is a ghostly woman, with flowing robes and raven black hair. Could it be Balfour, returned from the dead.. an original zombie or vampire?
THE BACK STORY OF LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT
The story of the search for the lost film has grown into an internet legend, and it’s star Lon Chaney “The Man of a Thousand Faces” has a cult like following even today. An internet search of the horror classic reveals several websites and youtube movies dedicated to “London After Midnight”. But probably the most interesting is a story is to be found posted on an internet message board called the Horror Drunx, dated July, 23rd 2008, at web address http://thehorrordrunx.yuku.com/topic/753 by an author using the name of Sid Terror. In which he claims to have run into a copy of the film which was being stored in a film storage facility in Los Angeles. The following is an excerpt from his story in which Sid Terror states; “Yes. It is true. For those who scoff and doubt (I’m sure you will be legion) that the most notorious lost film of all times was located, I will say it again with authority and conviction… I, Sid Terror, saw Lon Chaney’s lost classic LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT with my own eyes. Without a doubt. No I am not talking about a recreation made completely from still photos, I’m talking about the entire long-lost motion-picture!” “From what I saw, the film was in remarkably good condition also, showing little or no signs of dreaded “nitrate cancer”. My inspection complete, as I carefully and reverently closed the film cans, it occurred to me… I could be the first person in the last 40+ years to have actually opened those film cans. And I was one of a handful of people still alive on the planet who can say he “saw” the film LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT. Not projected. But I saw it. A few things puzzled me. If the film cans were labeled THE HYPNOTIST, why did the title card on the film say LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT? Also, Rosalind (and employee of Bonded film storage) had told me that the film was “incomplete,” possibly missing as much as a reel… Yet, the number of reels and running time (72 to 78 minutes, depending on which research book you check) seemed to match. All I could add up from those facts could be that the film WAS complete, but whomever had checked the print was… A) Used to seeing films with a running time of 90 minutes to two hours long, the modern day norm for a feature length film– but not the norm for 1927. B) Whomever checked in the film had failed to figure in that silent films have a slightly shorter footage length, because instead of running at 24 frames per second as is required for sound film, they run at approximately 18 frames per second, making the duration one-third longer. My years of hands-on experience as a projectionist and filmmaker had taught me just a few things that maybe the average film vault worker may not know as second nature. Before I left the shelf where the treasure of a Monster Kid’s lifetime sat, I pulled a black Sharpie pen from my pocket. Below THE HYPNOTIST on the labels of the film cans, I added “A.K.A. LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT. I had found it, the most infamous lost film on the planet, it was the least I could do to make sure it did not get lost so easily again. In fact, at that point, it was almost all I could do.”
The story claimed that the storage facility where London After Midnight was stored, eventually closed doors and the films were moved to different locations. The story intrigued me (to say the least), so I began my own investigation. Initially, I took the path of least resistance and I attempted to contact the author of the “found article” Sid Terror by email. I felt that the KISS (keep it simple stupid) method would be the best route to take. This attempt however, failed and I have yet to hear from Sid terror via email. One good sign was that the email address didn’t bounce back, so that’s probably a pretty good indicator that it still exists, but whether its owner does (or not) is a whole different story. I then checked on the location of the film vault, which was alleged to have been located at 5890 West Jefferson Blvd, Los Angeles, CA. The facility was a film storage facility that was referred to by multiple names, including the Turner/Jefferson facility, the Jefferson Film Storage Facility and “Bonded Film Storage” which seems to be actual business name, though nothing is certain here. A simple internet check revealed that the location is still home to film / movie related businesses, though this fact neither adds or detracts from the mystery.
In August of 2015, I inadvertently discovered more information about “London After Midnight” I was however sworn to secrecy and I after much thought, I can only reveal our secret in this short poem;
The moon does shine upon the face.
Light falls from the face onto the pages of the book.
Time does seal the lips.
But the eyes see and reel from the truth
Behind the door safe and sound
Big ben lights the night and tolls the hour
But only one person knows
And sudden terror rules the night