The Gist (West of Zanzibar)
In West of Zanzibar (1928), Lon Chaney's ninth performance for director Tod Browning is undoubtedly his most ferocious. In this fable of unfathomable cruelty, Chaney plays Dead-Legs Flint, a ruthless human monster who engineers a horrifying revenge upon the man who stole his wife. Before he was a wheelchair-bound maniac, Dead-Legs was the amiable Phroso, a music hall entertainer who performs a magic act with his wife (Jacqueline Gadsden). But when Anna runs away with the wealthy ivory trader Crane (Lionel Barrymore), Phroso falls from a balcony and injures his spine. The incident renders him unable to walk, and incapable of any thought other than diabolical cruelty. He takes Anna and Crane's love child and has her raised "in the lowest dive in Zanzibar" (i.e. a brothel), and sets up his own kingdom in the jungles, where he deceives the superstitious natives with his magic tricks.

When Maizie (Mary Nolan) turns eighteen, Dead-Legs introduces her to the horrors of the jungle and gets her hooked on alcohol. Then, Dead-Legs invites Crane to visit his compound and be reintroduced to his thoroughly defiled daughter. Unforeseen events complicate the father-daughter reunion, and reveal that Dead-Legs' elaborate plot is more ungodly than even he imagined. Chaney's over-the-top performance was a major influence on the growth of the horror super villain, and shades of Dead-Legs can be found in such contemporary anti-heroes as Chucky (Child's Play, 1988), Freddy Krueger (A Nightmare on Elm Street, 1984), and Jason (Friday the 13th, 1980). West of Zanzibar is so mean-spirited and vile that it provoked watchdog organizations to call for a more stringent system of censorship in the film industry.

Director: Tod Browning
Producer: Irving G. Thalberg, Tod Browning
Screenplay: Elliott Clawson (based on the play Kongo by Chester de Vonde & Kilbourn Gordon
Cinematography: Percy Hilburn
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Cast: Lon Chaney (Phroso), Lionel Barrymore (Crane), Warner Baxter (Doc), Mary Nolan (Maizie), Jacqueline Gadsden (Anna), Roscoe Ward (Tiny).

by Bret Wood