West of Zanzibar (1928)

70 mins | Melodrama | 24 November 1928

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HISTORY

According to a production directory in the 11 Aug 1928 Exhibitors Herald and Moving Picture World, the project began 21 Jun 1928.
       Following the opening credits, a title card reads: "Ashes to ashes! Dust to dust!" Although the film was based on the 1926 Chester De Vonde-Kilbourn Gordon play Kongo, onscreen credits and M-G-M press materials at the time of the picture’s release indicated only that it was based on a story by De Vonde and Kilbourn. Most reviews did note, however, that the film was based on the play. Some modern sources credit Waldemar Young with co-writing the film's scenario. According to modern sources, when the Hays Office refused to allow M-G-M to film an adaptation of Kongo, the studio made a few changes, then decided to attribute it to a story by the two playwrights. Modern sources add Fred Gambold, Art Winkler, Edna Tichenor and Rose Dione to the cast.
       Most contemporary reviews lists Lon Chaney's character name as "Flint," although in the onscreen cast of characters list, he is named "Phroso." Inter-titles also name him Phroso until the African sequences, at which point he becomes "Dead-Legs." The play Kongo was adapted again by M-G-M for the 1932 film Congo (See Entry). That film was directed by William Cowen and starred Walter Huston as "Flint," a roll he created in the Broadway ... More Less

According to a production directory in the 11 Aug 1928 Exhibitors Herald and Moving Picture World, the project began 21 Jun 1928.
       Following the opening credits, a title card reads: "Ashes to ashes! Dust to dust!" Although the film was based on the 1926 Chester De Vonde-Kilbourn Gordon play Kongo, onscreen credits and M-G-M press materials at the time of the picture’s release indicated only that it was based on a story by De Vonde and Kilbourn. Most reviews did note, however, that the film was based on the play. Some modern sources credit Waldemar Young with co-writing the film's scenario. According to modern sources, when the Hays Office refused to allow M-G-M to film an adaptation of Kongo, the studio made a few changes, then decided to attribute it to a story by the two playwrights. Modern sources add Fred Gambold, Art Winkler, Edna Tichenor and Rose Dione to the cast.
       Most contemporary reviews lists Lon Chaney's character name as "Flint," although in the onscreen cast of characters list, he is named "Phroso." Inter-titles also name him Phroso until the African sequences, at which point he becomes "Dead-Legs." The play Kongo was adapted again by M-G-M for the 1932 film Congo (See Entry). That film was directed by William Cowen and starred Walter Huston as "Flint," a roll he created in the Broadway production. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Exhibitors Herald and Moving Picture World
11 Aug 1928
p. 77.
Film Daily
6 Jan 1929
p. 10.
Los Angeles Times
14 Oct 1928
p. H4.
New York Times
31 Dec 1928
p. 9.
Variety
9 Jan 1929
p. 11.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
Tod Browning's Production
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTOR
PHOTOGRAPHY
Photog
ART DIRECTOR
Settings
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
COSTUMES
Ward
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the play Kongo by Chester De Vonde and Kilbourn Gordon (New York, 30 Mar 1926).
DETAILS
Release Date:
24 November 1928
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles opening: week of 14 October 1928
Production Date:
began 21 June 1928
Copyright Claimant:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Distriobuting Corp.
Copyright Date:
24 November 1928
Copyright Number:
LP25865
Physical Properties:
Black and White
Sound, also silent
Sd eff and mus score by Movietone
Duration(in mins):
70
Length(in feet):
6,150
Length(in reels):
7
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
Yes
SYNOPSIS

The signature trick of London magician Phroso involves an upright coffin with a secret revolving door that switches a skeleton with Phroso’s wife and assistant, Anna. Unknown to Phroso, Anna has fallen in love with Crane and plans to accompany him to Africa. Because Anna cannot bring herself to tell the devoted Phroso, Crane asks her to leave the theater and let him do it. When Phroso hears what Crane has to say, he starts to fight him, and during their struggle, the magician falls from the second floor, horribly crippling his legs. Months later, as Phroso drags himself through London, he learns that Anna has had a baby and gone into a local church. When he finds her lifeless body next to her baby girl, he bitterly vows revenge against Crane and his “brat.” Many years later, in a Congo outpost west of Zanzibar, Phroso has become known as “Dead-Legs” Flint. Embittered and cruel, he uses magic tricks and voodoo to control the natives. With him at the outpost is the alcoholic physician “Doc” and underlings Babe and Tiny. As part of his plan for vengeance, Dead-Legs has directed his men to steal ivory shipments from Crane, now a trader at another outpost. Unknown to Crane, Anna’s baby, named Maizie, was taken by Dead-Legs to be reared by a madam in a Zanzibar brothel. Although young and beautiful, Maizie has become a cynical alcoholic, whose only hope is to one day meet her father, about whom she knows nothing. When Babe is sent to the brothel to bring Maizie back to the outpost, he tells ... +


The signature trick of London magician Phroso involves an upright coffin with a secret revolving door that switches a skeleton with Phroso’s wife and assistant, Anna. Unknown to Phroso, Anna has fallen in love with Crane and plans to accompany him to Africa. Because Anna cannot bring herself to tell the devoted Phroso, Crane asks her to leave the theater and let him do it. When Phroso hears what Crane has to say, he starts to fight him, and during their struggle, the magician falls from the second floor, horribly crippling his legs. Months later, as Phroso drags himself through London, he learns that Anna has had a baby and gone into a local church. When he finds her lifeless body next to her baby girl, he bitterly vows revenge against Crane and his “brat.” Many years later, in a Congo outpost west of Zanzibar, Phroso has become known as “Dead-Legs” Flint. Embittered and cruel, he uses magic tricks and voodoo to control the natives. With him at the outpost is the alcoholic physician “Doc” and underlings Babe and Tiny. As part of his plan for vengeance, Dead-Legs has directed his men to steal ivory shipments from Crane, now a trader at another outpost. Unknown to Crane, Anna’s baby, named Maizie, was taken by Dead-Legs to be reared by a madam in a Zanzibar brothel. Although young and beautiful, Maizie has become a cynical alcoholic, whose only hope is to one day meet her father, about whom she knows nothing. When Babe is sent to the brothel to bring Maizie back to the outpost, he tells her that she will be seeing her father. After they arrive, Maizie immediately becomes frightened of Dead-Legs, fearful that he is her father. He tells her that he is not, but refuses to reveal his true purpose in sending for her. That same day, Maizie is horrified by a native ceremony in which a young girl is burned to death on her father’s funeral pyre, a native custom dictating that, when a man dies, his wife or daughter must be burned with him. Sometime later, Dead-Legs has forced Maizie deeper into addiction, groveling for everything. Although Doc takes pity on her, he is too weak to stop her torture. Meanwhile, Dead-Legs has sent word to Crane that he should come to meet the person responsible for stealing his ivory. When Crane arrives and sees the props for Phroso's old coffin trick, he is amused to discover that Dead-Legs is his old rival. After telling Crane that the pathetic Maizie is his daughter, Dead-Legs feels triumphant until discovering that, rather than sobbing, Crane is laughing. Crane then reveals that Anna never went away with him because she hated him for what he did to her husband. With the realization that Maizie is his own daughter, Dead-legs is shattered by the knowledge of what he has done. When Maizie and Doc come inside, Dead-Legs looks tenderly upon her, but, not knowing the truth, she recoils from him. Although Doc and Maizie have fallen in love, she continues to think that there is no escape, even when Dead-Legs tells them that there is a boat waiting to take them away. Soon Crane, who is near death after the natives have attacked him as part of Dead-leg’s original plan, is brought to him. Realizing that, as he had directed them, the natives now want Maizie to go onto the funeral pyre with Crane, Dead-Legs tells Doc to keep him alive as long as possible. Later, after Doc learns that Maizie is Dead-Legs’s daughter, he promises Dead-legs not to tell her. In a desperate attempt to save her, Dead-Legs tells Doc, Tiny and Babe to make their escape in the boat while he keeps the natives occupied. When the natives learn that Crane has died, they demand that Maizie be sacrificed. Dead-Legs tells them to put her in the coffin, then, using his old trick, enables Maizie to escape from the back. Later, as Doc and Maizie sail away, looking forward to a new life together, one of the natives grabs the necklace that Dead-Legs always wore from the ashes of the sacrificial fire. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.