Starring Priscilla Dean, Lon Chaney and Wheeler Oakman
April, 1921

There have not been many as well screened crook plays as this one. Possibly because there have been few that have been so entirely and so consistently of the underworld. It is not a locale of which I am particularly fond, and there is always the consciousness that it is being tricked out with a certain pictorial glamour to justify the romance. But there is no denying its value as a background for melodrama, and as Tod Browning has written, cast and directed "Outside the Law," there is practically a thrill a minute guaranteed. Also there is a generous sprinkling of morals as a sort of thematic deodorant, declaring that to be good is to be happy and that honesty, if not the best, is at least the safest and most comfortable policy. A Confucian friend of the crooks is San Francicso's Chinatown states the morals in his effort to induce "Silent" Madden and "Silky" Molly, his daughter, to go straight. But it requires several thousand feet of film for him to prove his points. During these adventures there are numerous fights, a picturesquely simple robbery, scenes of gang fights with the police, and some telling touches of home life influences worked upon the crooks while they are in hiding in a furnished apartment. Into these the child interest is rather naturally injected, with the help of another of those uncannily talented youngsters with whom the patient director seems able to do anything he wants to. Priscialla Dean is a convincingly human sort of crook, and she is splendidly assisted by Lon Chaney and Wheeler Oakman.

Starring Priscilla Dean, Lon Chaney and Wheeler Oakman

For weeks the billboards around New York have been plastered with paper reading, "If you play cards on Sunday, you are OUTSIDE THE LAW," and other reading matter, with the law portion heavily displayed. Much of the paper held the initials P.D., commonly understood as standing for Police Department. With the Blue Sunday talk, the posted paper caught attention, causing talk at first, and then simmering down to waiting for the development. That is at the Broadway theatre this week, a Jewel-Universal feature with Prscilla Dean starred.

"Outside the Law" is a Tod Browning picture all the way, written, directed and produced by him. Mr. Browning did the job well, very well, in all particulars, turning out a Universal that can stand up on the billing, most unusual for the U.

It's a crook picture, strictly underworld, but tense often and holding all the time. It starts with action and ends with action. There is little if anything in it that the censors may point to, and it carries a strong moral, which, in brief, is that virtue or honesty has its reward. That honesty is the best policy is plugged at throughout the picture, spoken through a Chinese sort of all-guardian to the crooks of Frisco, who inducs a very nice young couple, from crookland and children of crooks, to go straight.

Miss Dean is one of the very nice young couples, and Priscilla Dean in this picture is a film revelation. She has acquired pantomime for the screen, in expression, which is themost, and in the knowledge of how to use it. While the picture is exceptionally cast, also for a U film, Miss Dean goes to the fore and remains there, although Lon Chaney gives her a strong race, also Wheeler Oakman, the other half of that nice young couple, though crooks. It isn't often when two thieving thieves, with one concerned in a murder frame-up that sent the father of his girl to prison, can gain the audience's sympathy as this couple do. That's heart interest with the interest very high. Chaney, though, makes his "Blackie" sneaky role so vidious he throws the house right into the young couple's laps.

There are fights that are fights, scenes of Frisco's Chinatown, a well set ballroom and a little blonde kid that are all of continued interest or excitement. And that kid is a bear. The diretor who made him alternately laugh or cry to win over Molly (Miss Dean) did some directing there, and he had the child to do it with.

As a crook picture the exhibitor can go as far as he pleases with "Outside the Law." It's real underworld stuff, of an educational sort, bringing out the inner emotions of thieves, especially when hiding from the police, the somewhat now prevalent belief there is always a chance for a crook to reform, and crookedness itself. The double double-cross at the opening of the film is worth while alone, while the battle between the crooks at the ending is a stirring scene of picture, but with suspense maintained to its finish.

Reviews courtesy of Jon Mirsalis and The Lon Chaney Home Page (http://members.aol.com/ChaneyFan)

Video source: Movies Unlimited, Kino, Grapevine

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FEATURE OF THE MONTH: "Outside the Law" (1921)