The movie London After Midnight (1927) is a silent mystery horror film directed by Tod Browning. The plot revolves around the mysterious death of Roger Balfour, found dead in his London home. Initially ruled a suicide by Inspector Burke of Scotland Yard, the case is reopened five years later when two strange figures are seen inhabiting the abandoned Balfour mansion. These figures, a man with sharp teeth and a top hat and a pale woman in robes, prompt Sir James Hamlin to call upon Burke once again.
In the shadowy streets of London, the death of Roger Balfour casts a pall over the city. Initially deemed a suicide by Scotland Yard’s Inspector Burke, the case is met with skepticism by Balfour’s neighbor, Sir James Hamlin. Despite his protests, the case is closed, only to be thrust open five years later when the Balfour mansion, shrouded in neglect, becomes the haunt of two eerie figures: a man donning a beaver-felt top hat, brandishing sharp teeth, and a silent, pale woman in flowing robes.
These unsettling sightings compel Sir James to seek out Burke once more. The investigation deepens as Burke learns that the night of Balfour’s death, only a select few were present: Sir James, Balfour’s daughter Lucille, the butler Williams, and Sir James’ nephew, Arthur Hibbs. A curious discovery is made when the lease for the Balfour estate is found to bear the signature of the deceased himself, prompting Burke and Sir James to exhume Balfour’s grave, only to find it disturbingly vacant.
A series of macabre events ensue, from the maid’s bizarre encounter with the Man in the Beaver Hat to the vampiric girl’s descent from the mansion’s rafters, and the ghastly revelation of Balfour’s living corpse. Amidst the chaos, Burke confides in Lucille his belief that her father was murdered.
Taking measures to shield Lucille from the vampiric threat, she is escorted to the Balfour mansion. There, Sir James is lured by the Man in the Beaver Hat, who is none other than Burke himself, and falls under a hypnotic spell that transports him back in time. Within the mansion’s walls, the fateful night of Balfour’s demise is reenacted before an unseen audience, revealing Sir James as the true culprit, driven by a desire to wed Lucille against her late father’s wishes. Once the truth is unveiled, Burke lifts the trance, and Sir James is apprehended as the murderer.
- Lon Chaney as Professor Edward C. Burke / The Man in the Beaver Hat
- Marceline Day as Lucille Balfour
- Henry B. Walthall as Sir James Hamlin
- Percy Williams as Williams – Balfour’s Butler
- Conrad Nagel as Arthur Hibbs
- Polly Moran as Miss Smithson the New Maid
- Edna Tichenor as Luna – Bat Girl
- Claude King as Roger Balfour
- Andy MacLennan as Bat Girl’s Assistant
- Allan Cavan as Real Estate Broker
London After Midnight (1927) is known as one of the most famous lost films, with the last known copy destroyed in the 1965 MGM vault fire.
The film’s makeup and special effects, particularly Chaney’s character, have had a lasting impact on horror cinema.
A reconstructed version using still photographs and the original script was aired by Turner Classic Movies in 2002 .
“The movie received a lukewarm response by film critics of the time, who found the plot to be nonsensical and convoluted. Audiences were much more favorable, however, and the film became a commercial hit. Its success prompted MGM to renew their contract with Browning; four years later in 1932, he would go on to direct Dracula with Bela Lugosi in the starring role. Browning would also revisit London After Midnight in 1952 when he remade it as a sound film, Mark of the Vampire, starring Lionel Barrymore and Lugosi. Boasting impressive star power and helmed by a director who would go on to be known as the Edgar Allan Poe of film, the two movies have their deserved spots in film history. But it’s London After Midnight that’s grown particularly infamous over the years, both for its status as a lost film and the controversy behind its release.”