Lady Killer: Lon Chaney Jr.

I recently set aside some time to watch all six of Universal’s Inner Sanctum Mystery films starring Lon Chaney Jr. Seeing these relatively short (60-67 minute) B-movies back to back over a couple of days was a joy and I found new things to admire and appreciate about the film’s leading man. But afterward I made the mistake of scouring through various film books and poking around websites looking for background information about the movies and I really shouldn’t have bothered. What I found angered me, then it depressed me and finally it just made me sad so I decided to share my frustration with you, dear readers.

I knew that the Inner Sanctum Mystery films had plenty of critics who didn’t appreciate these low-budget productions with minimal thrills and chills but I wasn’t prepared for some of the thoughtless scorn I saw hurled at them. One complaint that was leveled at these films over and over again was the apparent miscasting of Lon Chaney Jr. as a romantic figure. Critics seemed to revel in coming up with new ways to insult and degrade Chaney’s physical appearance and acting abilities while continually pointing out how utterly absurd it was to have him playing an unassuming lady’s man and an object of desire. After enjoying these films and appreciating the way Chaney was cast against type, I found these comments particularly painful to read. After all, these films were made between 1943- 1945 and Chaney’s lifelong battle with alcoholism and reoccurring health problems hadn’t taken their toll yet but many critics were all too eager to pigeonhole the broad-shouldered, soft spoken and sad eyed actor as a dimwitted lump and a crude brute that women couldn’t possibly find appealing.

While Chaney might not be conventionally handsome by today’s standards or anyone’s idea of a typical matinee idol, he was an attractive man at one time with his own kind of charm. His boyish good looks may have started to fade by the 1940s as he finally gained the kind of roles that would make him a star but his natural charisma was always evident. Was Lon Chaney Jr. a lady killer? Not exactly, unless you count the dead bodies he may have left in his wake while playing various monsters and mad men but he also wasn’t the mindless murdering oaf that he was forced to depict throughout most of his career thanks to his unforgettable portrayal of Lennie Small in OF MICE AND MEN (1939).

Continue reading “Lon Chaney Jr. – Lady Killer” at Turner Classic Movies official blog: The Movie Morlocks