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Film / The Blackbird

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It's a pretty weird puppet show.
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The Blackbird is a 1926 film starring Lon Chaney, directed by Tod Browning (Dracula).

The movie is set in the sleazy Red Light District of Limehouse in London. Chaney is a thief and master criminal named Dan who also goes by his nom de plume "The Blackbird." Chaney also goes plays the Blackbird's twin brother, "The Bishop", who runs a Christian charity mission in Limehouse and is just as loved and respected as his brother Dan is hated and feared.

Dan for his part has as one of his associates West End Bertie, a society gentleman who in actuality runs scams in which he arranges for his wealthy guests to be robbed of their jewels. Dan and Bertie both fall for Fifi, a sexy vaudeville singer (Renee Adoree), but Bertie is the one she actually goes for. When Bertie is framed for murder by Dan, a distraught Fifi goes to the Bishop for help.

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What nobody—not Bertie, not Fifi, not Dan's criminal underlings, not even Dan's ex-wife Polly—knows is that Dan and the Bishop are the same person.


Tropes:

  • The Chanteuse: Fifi has a nightclub act, although she mixes up puppetry with the singing.
  • Clark Kenting: Dan doesn't even disguise his face when adopting the persona of the Bishop. He just sticks a pillow in the back of his coat to make himself look like a hunchback, and draws one leg up to make it look withered, and he hops around on a crutch. That's it. Everyone buys it. Scotland Yard buys it when they barge in looking for Dan.
  • Death Glare: Lon Chaney had a pretty scary Death Glare, and he uses it more than once in this movie when Dan sees his beloved Fifi in the arms of Bertie.
  • Fake Twin Gambit: Dan's routine in which he masquerades as the Bishop.
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  • A Foggy Day in London Town: Seen on multiple occasions throughout the film, helping to set the mood for sleazy crime-ridden Limehouse.
  • Funetik Aksent: It's a silent movie so Bertie's cockney accent is rendered onscreen with a lot of dropped H's in the title cards.
  • High-Class Glass: "West End Bertie" does this as part of his scam when he lures marks down to Limehouse.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Unlike many Chaney films, his evil character never really has a redemptive moment here. This movie ends with Dan, cornered by the cops, frantically changing back into his Bishop disguise. He throws himself down to the ground in order to fake having been attacked by Dan—and breaks his back for real. Shortly thereafter, he dies.
  • Late to the Punchline: When a flower girl steps on the toes of one of Bernie's entourage trying to sell her her wares, she angrily remarks that she should "put your feet where they belong"; the flower girl indignantly replies, "If I did, you wouldn't sit down for a month!", prompting the bar patrons to crack up. Another of Bernie's friends seems puzzled for a moment, then begins to laugh even harder than any of them.
  • Love Redeems: Bertie seems initially attracted to Fifi for sex, but winds up falling in love with her and vows to give up his criminal life.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: As noted above under Clark Kenting, Dan's disguides as the Bishop isn't at all convincing, yet everyone buys it.
  • Produce Pelting: The rowdy crowd at the vaudeville hall throws fruit and garbage at a matronly singer.
  • Red Light District: Limehouse is introduced with a montage of various johns chatting up various prostitutes.
  • Something Else Also Rises: Part of Fifi's act is a puppet show in which she basically wears a puppet on a coat, with her own head as the puppet's head. As her Fifi-puppet does a little dance, one of the puppet onlookers has his neck extend towards the Fifi-puppet. The growing neck with the knobby little head on the end is very phallic. See the page illustration.
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