West of Zanzibar
Wednesday, March 22
VenueWalter Reade Theater
A 35mm release print presented silent with a synchronized orchestral score and sound effects.
One of the most demented melodramas to emerge from Hollywood’s pre-Code era is this misdirected revenge yarn about a cuckold magician named Phroso (Lon Chaney), who is paralyzed from the waist down while grappling with his wife’s lover, Crane (Lionel Barrymore). Eighteen years later, Phroso bitterly follows Crane, an ivory trader, to the Congo and effectively becomes a wheelchair-bound Conradian demigod hellbent on punishing his nemesis and his born-out-of-wedlock daughter (Mary Nolan). Along the way there is plenty of preposterous dialogue, an imperfect critique of colonialist arrogance, and some skin-crawling sadism involving one of Browning’s pet themes: parent-child alienation. In just over an hour, West of Zanzibar invokes a claustrophobic fever dream with a palpable sense of dread and a vivid production design, complemented by the film’s moody shadowplay (courtesy of DP Percy Hilburn, who also shot The Unholy Three and The Blackbird). 35mm release print presented with a synchronized orchestral score and sound effects.