Cast & Crew
Tiger Haynes, a wild-animal trapper in Indochina, bears the scars of many a mauling and cares for only one thing in life: his beloved daughter, Toyo. Bobby Bailey, the son of an American circus owner, falls in love with Toyo, and Tiger reluctantly gives them his blessing after Bobby saves the girl from a tiger. Toyo's mother, Madame de Sylva, arrives unexpectedly and uses all her feminine wiles to lure Bobby away from Toyo. Tiger seeks to eliminate her and sets loose a killer gorilla. Toyo begs him to save Madame de Sylva, and Tiger is badly mauled in a futile attempt to do his daughter's bidding. Madame de Sylva is killed, and Tiger lives only long enough to see Bobby and Toyo wed by Father Angelo.
Mrs. Wong Wing
Where East is East
The story dramatizes the attempts of Tiger Haynes (Chaney) -- a wild animal catcher in Southeast Asia -- to protect his beautiful daughter Toyo (Lupe Velez). Tiger is skeptical of Toyo's American suitor, Bobby (Lloyd Hughes), until the lad bravely saves Toyo from an escaped jungle cat. Before the young lovers are wed, Bobby is seduced by the exotic Madame de Sylva (Estelle Taylor), a sultry prostitute who, it turns out, is Toyo's mother and Tiger's estranged wife. Tiger warns her away from the boy but she responds by visiting the Haynes household, where she again entices Bobby away from his betrothed. Toyo is distraught when she learns that Bobby has fallen victim to the seductress, but Tiger turns the tables by uncaging a gorilla that Madame de Sylva had abused in the past. However, the release of the beast and Tiger's hatred of his ex-wife have unexpected consequences.
Although not acknowledged as such at the time, Where East Is East was the final component of Browning and Chaney's "Jungle Trilogy," preceded by The Road to Mandalay (1926) and West of Zanzibar (1928). The films are bound not only by their exotic settings but the recurring themes of physically disfigured fathers whose relationships with their innocent daughters are thwarted by long-running grudges, and inevitably end in tragedy.
Surprisingly, Where East Is East went into production almost immediately after the completion -- and prior to the release -- of West of Zanzibar. It was unorthodox for an actor/director team to essentially remake a film before its paint was dry, before its box-office popularity was proven. But it was Browning's nature to obsessively explore a theme that interested him -- evidenced by his back-to-back carnival films of 1927 (The Unknown and The Show) -- and with Chaney's box-office clout behind the project, the studio was willing to let them do just about anything they wanted.
In a 1928 article in Motion Picture Classic, Browning defended his frequent reworking of themes and narratives, "So far as plots go, there aren't any new plots. There's no such thing." In another interview, published around the same time, Browning said, "I do not believe that any author ever evolved a first-class screen character in his first attempt. We have to place one element against the other, try this or that, until we reach the best and most effective results." This was not only his screenwriting method, but his filmmaking method as well.
Under the working title Jungle, the film began shooting in the midst of the sound revolution. West of Zanzibar had been filmed without sound and was released with a Movietone track of music and effects, and there was much speculation that this might be Chaney's first talkie. But Chaney was not ready to subjugate his extraordinary gift of pantomime to the microphone. Sound recording technology was still crude, and the vocal acting style of the typical contract player was lacking in subtle expression. He delayed the inevitable yet again, and Jungle was shot MOS. Chaney would make one more silent film Thunder (1929), before finally speaking on camera, in Jack Conway's 1930 remake of Browning's The Unholy Three (1925).
Even though Chaney didn't want to speak, Browning was eager to explore the new technology and integrate it with the moving image. He even expressed his intention to record the sound and then re-edit the film for better synchronization (an inversion of the typical post-synch process). "When we listen to the film with its [Movietone] sound synchronization, we will 'cover' uncalculated noises by changing our scenes to fit...Any extraneous sounds that come along, we will just fit to the film. For instance, if the chug of motors comes in, we will make a battered flivver -- for there are many of them in the jungles now. We will of course have many wild animals, and cannot control their noises, but will film these animals in sequence to fit the sound."
A sizable chunk of the film's $295,000 budget went toward the construction of an elaborate waterfront village, which was reused (with minimal alteration) the following year in Lionel Barrymore's Madame X (1929).
An examination of the daily shooting reports shows that the crew frequently shot well into the night, with shooting days sometimes lasting fourteen, even eighteen hours (10:05 am-4:30 am was the longest). These were not technically challenging scenes, but those of heightened emotional conflict. The crew devoted two full days to the scene in which Tiger attempts to banish Madame de Sylva from his house. Unfortunately, the shooting reports offer only a sketchy account of each day's activities.
The press speculated that no-nonsense Chaney might have difficulty working with Velez and Taylor who were, according to Michael F. Blake's Chaney bio A Thousand Faces, "two actresses known to display fits of temperament." When pressed on the subject, Chaney told one reporter, "I'm not temperamental and I won't tolerate temperament in other people. I'm always on time; if the leading woman isn't on the set I just walk off and take off my make-up. Lupe and I are getting along all right; she's a great little actress."
Always attracted to the seamy side of life, Browning planned to film a sequence in the red light district of the jungle, to clearly establish the profession of -- and further villainize -- Madame de Sylva. It is unclear if the scene was ever filmed, but it does not appear in surviving prints of Where East Is East. The screenplay offers a tantalizing glimpse of what might have been:
MEDIUM LONG SHOT - EXT. ANOTHER CHINESE STREET
This is a section of a street of evil. A fringe of disreputable houses and cafes skirts the narrow sidewalk. Some of the doors of the cribs are open and the women sit within like bloated spiders waiting for their prey. Bobby comes into the picture, walking like a man in a mental fog. The camera tracks with him along the sidewalk, as he looks past the row of bawdy houses. Behind him, women leer and beckon. He pays no attention. One woman seizes him by the hand and nearly drags him in her door. He thrusts her savagely from him and moves on.
Though handicapped by its silence, in an era exploding with talkies, Where East Is East grossed $920,000, placing it 78th on Motion Picture Herald's list of top money-makers of 1929.
The critical reception was mixed, tending toward the negative. The New York Times wrote, "In it there are several shrewdly photographed and exciting episodes with snarling tigers, but [Browning] rather makes a mistake by beginning the picture with an ingenious and thrilling sequence. This results in the greater part of the production not living up to expectations."
Motion Picture grumbled, "It is about as twaddling a piece of cinematic cheese as you would find in a day's march." The New York News called it, "mediocre movie matter."
The film proved too intense for some viewers. New York Herald Tribune wrote, "The story is too much in the mood of a cheap magazine sex tale of the Orient to be anything more than ordinary melodrama."
The pro-censorship publication Harrison's Reports, which routinely attacked Chaney and Browning's films, panned this one as well: "The endeavor of the producers to find suitable material for Mr. Chaney has led them to accept all kinds of gruesome stories. In Where East Is East, the main feature is the hero's letting loose of a gorilla on his ex-wife, mother of the heroine, tearing her to pieces. The actual killing is not, of course, shown: it is only implied. But the thought is there. And it is an unpleasant thought."
Browning had occasionally used the release of a wild animal as the deus ex machina of his films: an ape in The Unholy Three, a reptile in The Show. In Where East Is East, the Chaney character unleashes a gorilla, but rather than employ special effects so that an actual animal could be used, he settled for a man in a furry costume, which severely undermines the dramatic impact of the moment.
Where East Is East was among the last silent pictures MGM would ever release, and critics were divided over its effectiveness as a non-talking entertainment. Motion Picture Herald wrote, "Mr. Chaney ought to get himself into the audiens [a short-lived term for the talkies] as quickly as possible. Which is a sort of reverse-English method of stating that Where East Is East might have been alright if it talked but it doesn't." On the other side of the fence, Motion Picture News defended it as, "an example that good silent pictures still can be made."
Maybe, but not by Browning. After Where East Is East, he made the jump into the "audiens" by adapting the popular stage play The Thirteenth Chair (1929). He then left MGM for Universal. It has been speculated that Chaney intended to follow him there when his contract expired, and there they would collaborate on Dracula. If this had been the plan, it did not come to fruition. The legendary actor spoke on screen in 1930, but died of complications from throat cancer later that year. Browning eventually made Dracula (1931). In the title role was an actor who had a supporting role in Browning's The Thirteenth Chair: Bela Lugosi.
One legend passed, another emerged.
Director: Tod Browning
Producer: Hunt Stromberg
Screenplay: E. Richard Schayer and Waldemar Young
Based on a story by Tod Browning and Harry Sinclair Drago
Cinematography: Henry Sharp
Production Design: Cedric Gibbons
Cast: Lon Chaney (Tiger Haynes), Lupe Velez (Toyo Haynes), Estelle Taylor (Madame de Sylva), Lloyd Hughes (Bobby Bailey), Louis Stern (Padre), Mrs. Wong Wing (Ming).
by Bret Wood