West of Zanzibar - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

West of Zanzibar Reviews

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Antonius Block
Super Reviewer
August 27, 2018
Another successful Tod Browning and Lon Chaney silent pairing; these two seem to have been made for one another. Chaney plays a magician who has been crippled during an altercation with his wife's lover (Lionel Barrymore), and then plots revenge. Left with the pair's daughter (Mary Nolan), he sends her off to a sleazy place in Zanzibar, where as an 18 year old we find her in a dive bar bantering with men. The implication is clear. He steals ivory from Barrymore in order to goad him into coming to him, then sends for Nolan, in order to spring vengeance in the form of her degradation. Things don't go as he plans, but I won't spoil it.

Chaney gives a great performance, and with a range spanning glowering bitterness to frightened horror over some of his actions. He's so great physically in these types of roles, truly appearing as one who has no function in his legs as he pulls himself up and down from his wheelchair. Barrymore, Nolan, and Warner Baxter (in the role of a doctor) are all strong as well. Browning is fantastic at blending macabre elements, such as the natives' practice of burning a wife or daughter alive when a man dies, with psychological shock and horror. As compared to William J. Cowen's remake four years later ('Kongo'), I found this one to have a lesser degree of racism, though the 'savage cannibal'/'civilized man' aspects are present. It's unfortunate that a portion of the footage seems to be missing - in particular, when Nolan's character apparently has run away, only to appear the next day in a bedraggled, dirty appearance. Even so, it holds together and makes for a good watch, if you're in the mood for something dark.
August 6, 2017
I couldn't get past the exaggerated racism and ridiculous premise of this movie. A product of its time, it became rancid long, long ago.
November 28, 2013
I couldn't quite bare this film. The portrayal of Africans as savages and cannibals tainted my ability to watch it. It's a shame because Chaney & Barrymore are brilliant. However, in this context it is very hard to watch.
½ November 3, 2013
Lon Chaney's performance is fantastic and Tod Browning knows how to turn a melodrama into great entertainment.
½ October 27, 2012
Lon Chaney's performance is absolutely bone-chilling.
½ August 9, 2012
another creepy goodie from browning (freaks)
May 26, 2012
Tod Browning's silent melodrama certainly has mood going for it - he stocks his Africa with plenty of creatures slithering in the mud. Phroso (Lon Chaney) is a limehouse magician consumed with plans of revenge - romantic rival Crane (Lionel Barrymore) steals his lovely wife (fetching Jacquelin Gadsdon), taking the use of Phroso's legs in the process. Following Crane to Africa, Phroso painstakingly sets the stage to give Crane his just desserts, but the forces in play may be too powerful for anyone to control. A bit slow, and while "Zanzibar" may not reach the creepy heights of "Freaks", Chaney's sweaty, glowering Phroso is certainly compelling.
Super Reviewer
May 2, 2012
A remarkably dark, twisted movie, even by contemporary standards. And of course, it has a fantastic performance by Lon Chaney, playing a maniacal, vengeful Colonel Kurtz type who has paralyzed legs and laboriously drags himself around on his arms. "West of Zanzibar" is not as well-known as other Tod Browning films like "Dracula" and "Freaks," but it's just as powerful. I feel it desperately needed a flashier title -- "West of Zanzibar" suggests some dull National Geographic travelogue, not this sick, gripping melodrama. One warning: In a movie about African natives made in the 1920s, embarrassing racist stereotypes are a given.
½ February 28, 2012
What a brilliant society! When a man dies, the tribe sacrifice the wife and/or daughter (they don't get into too many specifics) and bury her with the man. Can we start doing that now? Obviously women can't live without their men. I mean, whose clothes would they hand wash? The only problem are lesbians. But as we all know Lesbians are just waiting for the right man to come along and set them straight.
½ April 6, 2011
so so silent like trader horn which i think they borrowed stock footage from
½ October 5, 2010
Tod Browning and Lon Chaney, Sr. team up again for more diabolical mayhem, this time for a twisted tale of a betrayed paralytic's revenge in the darkest Congo jungle.
June 1, 2009
Ok, so the "voodoo" tribespeople are outdated at best and racist at worst. But damn if this isn't exceptionally cracked melodrama, propelled by Lon Cheney, sans make-up, and he's incredible in every moment on camera. He didn't ever need to "Ham" it up, he just was made for the screen, especially in the case of this where it's about 'Dead-Legs', a paralyzed magician who spends 18 years crafting his plot of revenge against a former showman (Barrymore), and involving a certain daughter that his former love had with another man... OR DID SHE?

Now, off to Zanzibar, to meet the Zanzibarbarians! Here we go again!
½ June 1, 2009
And the Browning-Chaney team-up hits yet another one out of the park. Yes, you have to deal with, shall we say, "quaint" depictions of African natives, but as with the mildly stereotypical depiction of Asians in Where East Is East, I've seen worse. Browning delivers some well-wrought suspense and Chaney gives us several different shades of psychological horror. This may have been my favorite entry in Film Forum's Tod Browning Festival yet.
February 2, 2009
liked Chaney in this.
May 13, 2008
Unparalleled transformations by Chaney. Captivating, intense and appropriately exotic drama macabre.
Super Reviewer
April 9, 2008
A bit slow and overly dramatic but undeniably interesting and atmospheric vehicle for the legendary man of the thousand faces, Lon Chaney. well crafted revenge flick.
March 25, 2008
big fan of silent movies, i'm surprised (but pleased) to find this rarity here. a moving story though very harsh, dark and sometimes horrible (the tradition of burning the daughters alive especially). Lon Chaney is scary, and a feeling of actual uneasiness seizes us when he happens to almost crowl on the floor. I had the impression he was coming to me like a snake (and I was watching this alone late at night). a work that deserves to be watched.
February 28, 2008
Quite entertaining for the time it came out.
December 27, 2007
Tod Browning and Lon Chaney are a great team
½ November 15, 2007
Lon Chaney brings it. Tod Browning sells it. It's hokey and dated, but surprisingly effective. Featuring several of Browning's favourite themes - a father/child relationship gone wrong, physical deformity, and magic. One of their better pairings.
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