Released 6/26/26 by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer; Director: Tod Browning; Producer: Irving Thalberg; Screenplay: Elliott Clawson, from a story by Tod Browning and Herman J. Mankiewicz; Cinematography: Merritt B. Gerstad; Settings: Cedric Gibbons and Arnold Gillespie; Film Editor: Errol Taggart; Titles: Joe Farnham; 7 reels (6641', some sources say 6551' or 6562'); Print Source: Warner Brothers Classics (incomplete, see notes below)
CAST: Lon Chaney (Singapore Joe), Lois Moran (Joe's Daughter), Owen Moore (The Admiral), Henry B. Walthall (Father James), Kamiyama Sojin (English Charlie Wing), Rose Langdon (Pansy), John George (Servant), Virginia Bushman, Lenore Bushman, Robert Seiter, Eric S. Mayne
SYNOPSIS: A captain is on board ship bound for Mandalay with his wife, who lies ill in her cabin. A storm is raging and the crew is on the brink of mutiny. The woman dies giving birth to a daughter, and the Captain leaves the child with a priest who raises her. Twenty years pass, and the captain is now known as "Singapore Joe," a vile creature with a blind eye who runs a Singapore brothel along with his Chinese associate, English Charlie Wing. A third partner in their shady dealings is "The Admiral," a young man who was once a reputable Englishman. Whenever he is in Mandalay, Joe always visits his daughter. She does not know who her father is, but is repulsed by the one-eyed Joe who frequents her shop. The Admiral wanders into her shop and, after making a crude remark to the girl, he apologizes and they eventually become romantically involved. Joe tells the priest that he is going to take his girl away to start a new life, but the priest warns him that his many sins make a clean break impossible. Joe learns that the girl is to be married, and on the day of the wedding, sneaks into the church, and is shocked to learn that her husband-to-be is The Admiral. Joe prevents the priest from carrying out the ceremony, then his men shanghai The Admiral. The girl suspects Joe and goes to his brothel is search of her fiancé. Charlie Wing lures the girl upstairs and is about to assault her when Joe enters and stops him. The Admiral arrives and attacks Joe, and during the fight the girl grabs a knife and fatally stabs Joe. Joe tells The Admiral to take her far away, and he holds Wing at bay while they escape. The priest arrives in time to see Joe die from his knife wound.
"The picture is Chaney, who unquestionably has a big following...The picture undoubtedly will go over big. It appeals to the modern taste for what is called 'morbid,' but which nowadays is spoken of as 'sensational.'" ---Variety
"In an intensely dramatic story, Lon Chaney...again demonstrates that he is without a peer as a genius of make-up...THE ROAD TO MANDALAY is one of the most stirringly dramatic and virile that Chaney has ever had and adds another laurel to his masterful characterizations." ---Moving Picture World
"There is, for instance, Lon Chaney, whose performance is not to be compared with his acting in other films. This picture is quite tedious, and it strikes one that Mr. Browning did not quite know what to do with the players in a number of scenes." ---The New York Times
NOTES: Long believed a lost film, THE ROAD TO MANDALAY existed in the MGM studio vaults in only fragmentary form until the mid-1980's. I had heard of a few 9.5mm French prints of the elusive title available in Europe, and through a U.S. collector obtained a print. Pathescope released many licensed silent features and shorts throughout Europe in the 20's in the 9.5mm format. This peculiar gauge had nearly the same aperture size as a 16mm print due to the full-frame picture made possible by putting a sprocket hole in the middle of the frame line. The print turned out to be a 35-minute French language abridgement of the original 7-reel version, but the continuity held up fairly well. For the restoration of the film, I had to track down a laboratory that could make an optically printed 16mm negative from the 9.5mm print. The English-to-French-to-English intertitles lost something in the translation, but I was able to restore the original intertitles from the original MGM cutting continuity. A few bridging titles were added to improve the coherence of the abridgement and the final negative was edited together for the version that now resides in the Warner Brothers Classics vaults.
After all that work, one would like to say that the finished product is a great film waiting to be rediscovered. Sadly, it is not. THE ROAD TO MANDALAY is probably the worst of the Chaney/Browning features done at MGM. It is predominantly style, with little substance, and even lacks many of the odd Browning touches that add to most of his other pictures of the era. Still, Chaney's make-up and performance are fascinating to watch. He "blinded" one eye by placing egg white over it, used collodion to form a deep gash across his forehead, and put several large tatoos on his arms. He spends much of the film sneering and growling, and comes across as one of the most distasteful characters of his career.
THE ROAD TO MANDALAY was shot in 28 days at a cost of $209,000. It earned a profit of $267,000, reinforcing the belief of studio heads that they could make a handsome profit on any film Chaney appeared in.
Also, check out lobby card #1, lobby card #2 in my Poster Gallery.
© 2000,2008 Jon C. Mirsalis
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