top of page

DVD/BluRay Review: OUTSIDE THE LAW (1920)

One of Kino Lorber’s best silent film releases, “Outside The Law” has everything. The film is outstanding, the music score by Anton Sanko enhances the visuals perfectly, and the extras are terrific, with an audio commentary by veteran film historian Anthony Slide, and an alternate ending.

The film also has historical significance as being only the second collaboration between writer-director Tod Browning and actor Lon Chaney, the two later setting the template for horror cinema. In this film, Chaney plays a dual role: an American gangster and a Chinese student of Confucian teachings. It shows both his gift for makeup artistry and versatility as an actor.

Priscilla Dean plays Molly, who, with her gangster father, have been reformed by the teachings of Confucius, via the instruction of their mentor Chang Lo (E. Alyn Warren). However, when her father is framed by rival gangster Black Mike Silva (Chaney) and sent to prison, the woman becomes bitter, hooks up with a safecracker (Wheeler Oakman), and plots revenge. The film is bracketed by two spectacular shoot-outs; action sequences that are remarkably well shot, with director Brownlow keeping the action within the frame from different angles.

Since Priscilla Dean is the star of this movie, it is important to note that her performance does command the film, despite its including an actor the caliber of Chaney in a dual role, and an early example of his responding to Tod Browning’s direction. Along with her work in comedies from Lyons and Moran to Laurel and Hardy, Priscilla Dean was a leading player in silent melodrama and this movie offers one of her top performances. Her scenes with a visiting child (Stanley Goethals) show a subtle nuance that truly understands the intimacy of the camera close-up.

The story is that this film was lost for decades when a 35mm print was discovered at a farm house where a traveling salesman had left it behind years earlier. Many scenes were already in a state of decomposition. This 4K restoration does feature the scenes that had been decomposing (all watchable enough), but for the most part the visuals are striking in their sharpness and clarity. One of the special features offers a comparison between the visuals restored for this bluray and a 16mm print of the film.

Outside The Law is one of the finest silent film releases on Blu Ray, and is most highly recommended. It can be ordered at this link: Outside The Law

James L. Neibaur
bottom of page