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Outside the Law
Crime, Romance
IMDB rating:
Tod Browning
Priscilla Dean as Molly Madden (Silky Moll)
Melbourne MacDowell as Morgan Spencer
Wilton Taylor as Inspector
Stanley Goethals as That Kid
Lon Chaney as Black Mike Sylva / Ah Wing
Ralph Lewis as Silent Madden
E. Alyn Warren as Chang Lo
Wheeler Oakman as Dapper Bill Ballard
Type Resolution File Size Codec Bitrate Format
DVD-rip 624x464 px 700 Mb mpeg4 1300 Kbps avi Download
"Silky" Moll
Priscilla Dean was Universal's top female star of 1920 and was very much part of the Lon Chaney/Tod Browning team. She made nine features with Tod Browning as director, who knew how to showcase her unique personality, usually with her playing adventuresses and even thieves.

"Silent" Maddern (Ralph Lewis) and his daughter "Silky" Moll (Dean) are two shady characters slowly being reformed by wise Chang Lo but when Maddern is framed by Black Mike (Lon Chaney), "Silky" turns from the teachings of Lo and back to her lawless ways - just what Black Mike had hoped for. He plans to get her involved in a jewel robbery and double cross her but he hasn't counted on love - the love that "Dapper" Bill (Wheeler Oakman, Dean's husband at the time) has for "Silky". He informs her of the plans but rather than pull out she convinces Bill to help her pull a double cross.

Hiding out in "Knob Hill", Bill is going stir crazy and befriends the little boy down the hall where together they build a kite. The little boy (played by Stanley Goethals) brings about their redemption, well Bill's anyway as "Silky" finds the little boy very easy to resist!! The movie does get a bit bogged down in sentimentality (crying children, cute puppies) but fortunately Mike returns for some very realistic fight scenes at the close. Chaney was apparently given permission to play his part to the limit and his "Black Mike" character alternated between business like ruthlessness and uncontrollable violence best seen in the film's climatic gun battle, that escalated to fists and furniture. It was terribly realistic - even "Silky" Moll was in there throwing punches. She wasn't shy about drawing her gun either.

Chaney further enhanced his reputation by playing Ah Wing, a kind hearted student of Chang Lo's Confucious philosophy - conveying all his emotions with the movement of his eyes. Priscilla Dean really needs to be rediscovered - she had such an expressive face. In the scene where she is hugging the little boy (yes, she finally yields) her eyes express the whole range of emotions from unbending toughness to a dawning of maternal affection, all in the same take. Also look for Anna May Wong in a small uncredited bit with a group of girls.

Highly Recommended.
The Emergence of a Genius
I have always been a fan of Lon Chaney, but I have never had the opportunity to see some of his early films. "Outside the Law", released in 1920 is one of his early gems.

Chaney at this time, had not yet achieved the stardom that he was to experience in a few short years. In this film, Chaney plays two supporting roles, that of a thug named "Black Mike" and a Chinese servant named Ah Wing. The hero and heroine are played by Priscilla Dean and Wheeler Oakman. I had not heard of Ms. Dean before this, but I can say that she gave an excellent performance. Oakman, who wound up in "B" westerns in the 30s, was good as well.

Chaney's characters are totally different and his makeup for the Ah Wing character is phenominal. It gives us a glimpse of kind of makeup artistry that we would experience in his future films.

The tape that I watched this film on was duplicated from a partially decomposed nitrate print, however most of the "bad film" is in the final reels but is still watchable.

In "Outside the Law", we can see the emergence of the genius that was Lon Chaney.
There will never be another Lon Chaney!!
This is an awesome film, Lon Chaney is so creepy looking as the gangster 'Black Mike'. When Lon Chaney is on the screen you can't get your eyes off of him, his facial expressions and body gestures speak a thousand words. Not only was he brilliant as the gangster he also plays another role as a chinese servant, (a somewhat similar role he would reprise 2 years later in the film Shadows) the transformation is astonishing! Thats why he is called a man of a thousand faces!

The story is about Black Mike's attempt to frame an affluent citizen in a crime, and then have him turn against the law because of his time spent in jail as an innocent. Most of the story focuses on the man's daughter who turns to a life of crime by stealing some expensive jewelry. There is tons of swindling and double crossing in this film.

This Film Directed by 'Freaks' Director Todd Browning is a tense thriller that can still keep you riveted to your seat. It is most saddening that many of Lon Chaney's films are lost, the quality is pretty bad on this one with last reel being totally washed out. Something must be done to restore all of these films or we will loose an integral part of film history, and one of best actors ever!
Another great character study by Chaney.
Chaney is incredible in dual roles. You quickly realize that his characterizations are not just fancy make-up. He puts every fiber of his being into the roles.

The final fight scene/brawl lasts long enough to be in a Jackie Chan movie, and has a reality to it we no longer see in movies.
Two Chaney's for the price of one.
No need to go into the plot of this movie. I will just comment of the realism of the fight scenes, clever cutting allows both Chaney roles to be seen in rapid succession; the opportunity, as in "Ace of Hearts" to get a glimpse of 1920 fashions, decor and motor vehicles. It was interesting to see a wall-mounted light switch, as opposed to a pull-string on the lamp. Scenes in Wong Low's store also feature a ceiling; previously I had been led to believe that this was not done until, I think "The Magnificent Ambersons" (Orson Welles). Finally, it struck me that the actor, Wheeler Oakman, occasionally bore a resemblance to James Cagney both in his looks and mannerisms.Oakman had been in films since 1912, when Cagney was 13 years old.
Decent Chaney
Outside the Law (1920)

** 1/2 (out of 4)

After her gangster father is framed and sent to jail, a young woman (Priscilla Dean) decides to take revenge and start stealing herself. This goes against the wise advice of Ah Woo, an Oriental wiseman and Black Mike Sylva (Lon Chaney) a gangster who framed her father. This Tod Browning directed gangster/moral tale has a brilliant start and finish but the big problem is the center section when the girl is hiding out with a man who she eventually falls in love with. During this middle section Ah Woo isn't in the picture nor is Chaney's Black Mike or Ah Wing, a second character he plays in the film. The moral section of the middle half lasts way too long and just isn't very interesting. The shootout at the start and end of the film are highly entertaining and look terrific. Chaney is good as Black Mike, although he's a tad bit better in The Penalty made a few years later.
Lon Chaney...man of not quite 1000 faces.
Lon Chaney has been nicknamed "the man of 1000 faces" for his amazing ability to make himself look like so many different people. I have seen an awful lot of his films and am amazed at his makeup and characterizations--they were very impressive. However, at the same time, he played a couple of Asian roles where, frankly, he sucked. Perhaps for a White guy who doesn't look Asian he was pretty good in films like MR. WU and OUTSIDE THE LAW--but he still didn't look like a native! Fortunately in OUTSIDE THE LAW the film does not rely completely on this silly characterization. That's because although Chaney plays the part of 'Ah Wing' (a Chinese man), he also plays an evil gangster ('Black Mike')--and Black Mike is one of the major players in the film and Ah Wing is not. So, it's bad but the film doesn't hinge on the Ah Wing character.

The film is rather moralistic--beginning and ending with a quote supposedly from Confucius about enlightened leaders producing a Utopian society and all that. In other words, good politicians can somehow make society overcome its baser nature (something Freud and many others would probably not agree with).

As an illustration, you see the story of a gangster who is changing--giving up his evil ways. Yet, despite his new desire to do good, Black Mike is determined to destroy the man and his daughter. So, he tries to have the gangster framed for murdering a cop. Well, the plan isn't quite 100% perfect--the gangster is convicted of the crime he didn't commit but this enlightened legal system is fooled enough that he serves 8 months for being at the scene of the crime.

Here is the odd part. Despite this minor conviction, the gangster's daughter goes off the deep end. She joins forces with Black Mike to commit a jewel robbery and is now a hardened woman--presumably because of her father's wrongful conviction. So, we are asked to believe that a short sentence in prison causes this daughter to switch from the side of niceness to evil so quickly--not a particularly believable idea. Had they done the transition more slowly it would have worked more convincingly for me. What also isn't so convincing is how easy it was later in the film for the now evil lady to be turned towards niceness one again. She sure did seem fickle!! All this leads to a huge confrontation with Black Mike and there is certainly a lot more to this story. But, these are all things you'll need to find out for yourself.

Overall, while far from believable, the story is interesting and very well constructed for 1920. For lovers of silents, I'd give this film an 8. For the average shmoe, I'd score it a 6. Well worth watching--but just don't expect magic when it comes to seeing Ah Wing!
A feast—ancient lively crime melodrama, with Mrs. Dean, Chaney and Oakman, directed by the legendary Tod Browning
OUTSIDE THE LAW, a very enjoyable, lively, suspenseful and occasionally funny (intentionally, I mean) crime melodrama about railroading, features Priscilla Dean, an average beauty with slightly objectionable nose, as the tough babe shortly detoured from her criminal endeavors by the Confucianist wisdom, and Lon Chaney doing two roles, and is of interest to those interested in silent thrillers and crime melodramas, Tod Browning, Mrs. Dean, or Chaney.

The bitchy Molly, played to the hilt by the enjoyable and piquant Mrs. Dean, seems the most interesting character in this movie.

Wheeler Oakman is mild, but interesting, with a good—guy modern look.

Chaney plays both the villain of the movie, and a Chinese servant. OUTSIDE THE LAW should be of interest not only to regular Chaney or Tod Browning _completists (two partially superposed crowds), but to any silent cinema fan; it looks like a very decent job, by an insufficiently honored maestro, Tod Browning, and also recommended by a handful of good performances.
Minor but solid early Browning-Chaney collaboration recommended to fans of their collective output
Not a stab at the movie's quality but (as with many Lon Chaney vehicles) it's worth a watch mostly for his typically electrifying performance. He plays another tough as nails gangster bad guy called Black Mike (and has a secondary role as Ah Wing, Chinese sage Chang Low's assistant) but instead of merely fulfilling his genre role as antagonist and villain, he brings a level of malevolence that elevelates his character to a whole other kind of grotesque not far from horror territory.

As is true for other films that Chaney received second billing, he's mostly in the opening and closing 15 minutes which are packed with explosive action. The middle deals with the mandatory romance between protagonist Molly Maddoc (played by the sashy Priscilla Dean who steals scenes) and Black Mike's right hand man Bill who double crosses his boss out of remorse and love for miss Maddoc. They spend the middle act holed up in an apartment after a successful jewel robbery, hiding from cops and Black Mike alike.

All in all Outside the Law is not a masterpiece of any kind but fans of silent films and especially Lon Chaney will find enough to appreciate.
Confucius and Tod Browning say, "Crime Does Not Pay!"
With a sometimes hard-to-follow storyline, "Outside the Law" begins with some observations from a famous Chinese philosopher. Confucius said, "If a country had none but good rulers for a hundred years, crime might be stamped out and the death penalty abolished." This view lives through the ages, and brings us to the present setting of filmmaker Tod Browning's crime drama, "On the crest of a yellow torrent" to "the Orient of America" in San Francisco's Chinatown. The poppy-smoked streets and alleys are a haven for crime, but trusty Chinese do-gooder E. Alyn Warren (as Chang Low) is attempting to reform underworld mastermind Ralph Lewis (as "Silent" Madden).

Elsewhere, forces are plotting against Mr. Lewis' reformation. Fearsome and vengeful Lon Chaney (as "Black Mike" Sylva) arranges for Lewis to be framed for killing a cop during a shoot-out. Nasty business. Next, Mr. Chaney plans to lure Lewis' strong-willed daughter Priscilla Dean (as Molly "Silky Moll" Madden) into participation in a jewel heist. But Chaney's sticky-fingered friend Wheeler Oakman (as "Dapper Bill" Ballard) decides to team-up with Ms. Dean and escape with the booty. As the film plays, we see Dean and Mr. Oakman as a possible romantic couple. Oakman develops a fatherly relationship with a "Kid Across the Hall" (Stanley Goethals). Confucius approves.

This is a nicely-produced film. The actors are much more natural that you might assume, with Mr. Browning's direction being an obviously positive factor. The problem is that the story, while a good one, unfolds in a confusing manner and seems to leave out details regarding the characters' relationships and motivations; we must make assumptions. "Yellow-face" watchers note Chaney also plays Mr. Warren's devoted servant; both men use the standard tape method to achieve their "slant eye" effect. There is some obvious film deterioration during the climax (making it look like a fire is also blazing!) but the film's basic integrity is intact; still photographs reveal beautiful detail.

Also note the words "you dirty rat!" often wrongly attributed to James Cagney are written herein for Chaney.

****** Outside the Law (12/26/20) Tod Browning ~ Priscilla Dean, Lon Chaney, Wheeler Oakman, Ralph Lewis
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