Outside the Law (1920) + The Exquisite Thief
Saturday, March 25
VenueWalter Reade Theater
The March 17 screening will be presented as a silent screening. The March 25 screening will be presented with live musical accompaniment by Donald Sosin (piano) and Joanna Seaton (voice, percussion, and title song lyrics).
Outside the Law
Tod Browning, 1920, USA, 35mm, 76m
Browning’s second outing with Lon Chaney was primarily conceived as a vehicle for silent starlet Priscilla Dean, with whom Browning would make nine films in all. Under the salutary influence of Confucian philosopher Chang Low (E. Alyn Warren), criminal leader Silent Madden (Ralph Lewis) and his daughter, Molly (Dean), are striving to lead a reformed life in San Francisco’s Chinatown—until Silent’s rival, the menacing gangster Black Mike Sylva (Chaney), frames him for murder. Seeking vengeance and restitution—with the help of her new lover, Sylva’s erstwhile co-conspirator—Molly becomes embroiled in a cat-and-mouse battle of wits involving a risky jewel heist and layers of deception and double-crossing, all of which culminates in a thrilling shoot-out between Sylva and Low’s servant (also played by Chaney, whose appearance in the dual roles was made possible by then-novel feats of trick photography and editing). 35mm print preserved by the Library of Congress.
The Exquisite Thief
Tod Browning, 1919, USA, 35mm, 11m
Excavated during the Dawson Film Find in 1978, the second reel of The Exquisite Thief (the only known surviving footage) picks up during a car chase and follows Universal leading lady Priscilla Dean—in one of several crooked heroine roles she played for Browning—as she burgles high-society dinner guests. While little can be gleaned from this mere fragment, the candlelit exterior nighttime scenes suggest Browning was already tapping natural sources as a means of achieving sophisticated lighting effects, a technique he would use with uncanny results in subsequent features. 35mm print preserved by the Library of Congress.