Tod Browning - Director

Nationality: American. Born: Charles Albert Browning in Louisville, Kentucky, 12 July 1880. Education: Attended school in Churchill Downs. Family: Married Alice Houghton (actress Alice Wilson), 1918. Career: Ran away from home to join a carnival, 1898; worked carnival circuit, then Vaudeville and Burlesque shows; joined Biograph film studio as comedic actor, 1913; directed first film, The Lucky Transfer , 1915; joined Universal Studios, began association with Lon Chaney, 1919; signed by MGM, 1925. Awards: Honorary Life Membership, Directors Guild of America. Died: 6 October 1962.

Films as Director:


The Lucky Transfer ; The Slave Girl ; The Highbinders ; The Living Death ; The Burned Hand ; The Woman from Warren's ; Little Marie ; The Story of a Story ; The Spell of the Poppy ; The Electric Alarm


Puppets ; Everybody's Doing It ; The Deadly Glass of Beer ( The Fatal Glass of Beer )


Jim Bludso (co-d, co-sc); Peggy, The Will o' th' Wisp ; The Jury of Fate ; A Love Sublime (co-d); Hands Up! (co-d)


The Eyes of Mystery ; The Legion of Death ; Revenge ; Which Woman ; The Deciding Kiss ; The Brazen Beauty ; Set Free (+ sc)


The Wicked Darling ; The Exquisite Thief ; The Unpainted Woman ; A Petal on the Current ; Bonnie, Bonnie Lassie (+ sc)


The Virgin of Stamboul (+ sc)


Outside the Law (+ co-sc); No Woman Knows (+ co-sc)


The Wise Kid ; Under Two Flags (+ co-sc); Man under Cover


Drifting (+ co-sc); White Tiger (+ co-sc); Day of Faith


The Dangerous Flirt ; Silk Stocking Girl ( Silk Stocking Sal )


The Unholy Three (+ co-sc); The Mystic (+ co-sc); Dollar Down


The Black Bird (+ co-sc); The Road to Mandalay (+ co-sc)


London After Midnight (+ co-sc); The Show ; The Unknown (+ co-sc)


The Big City (+ co-sc); West of Zanzibar


Where East Is East (+ co-sc); The Thirteenth Chair


Outside the Law (+ co-sc)


Dracula (+ co-sc); The Iron Man




Fast Workers


Mark of the Vampire (+ sc)


The Devil-Doll (+ co-sc)


Miracles for Sale

Tod Browning (seated, front)
Tod Browning (seated, front)

Other Films:


Scenting a Terrible Crime (role); A Fallen Hero (role)


A Race for a Bride (role); The Man in the Couch (role); An Exciting Courtship (role); The Last Drink of Whiskey (role); Hubby to the Rescue (role); The Deceivers (role); The White Slave Catchers (role); Wrong All Around (role); Leave It to Smiley (role); The Wild Girl (role); Ethel's Teacher (role); A Physical Culture Romance (role); The Mascot (role); Foiled Again (role); The Million Dollar Bride (role); Dizzy Joe's Career (role); Casey's Vendetta (role); Out Again—In Again (role); A Corner in Hats (role); The Housebreakers (role); The Record Breakers (role)


Mr. Hadley in "Bill" series through no. 17; Ethel Gets Consent (role)


The Queen of the Band (Myers) (story); Cupid and the Pest (role); Music Hath Its Charms (role); A Costly Exchange (role)


Sunshine Dad (Dillon) (co-story); The Mystery of the Leaping Fish (Emerson) (story); Atta Boy's Last Race (Seligmann) (sc); Intolerance (Griffith) (role, asst d for crowd scenes)


The Pointing Finger (Kull) (supervisor)


Society Secrets (McCarey) (supervisor)


Old Age Handicap (Mattison) (story under pseudonym Tod Underwood)


Inside Job (Yarborough) (story)


By BROWNING: articles—

"A Maker of Mystery," interview with Joan Dickey, in Motion Picture Classic (Brooklyn), March 1928.

On BROWNING: book—

Skal, David J., and Elias Savada, Dark Carnival: The Secret World of Tod Browning, Hollywood's Master of the Macabre , New York, 1995.

On BROWNING: articles—

Geltzer, George, "Tod Browning," in Films in Review (New York), October 1953.

Romer, Jean-Claude, "Tod Browning," in Bizarre (Paris), no. 3, 1962.

Obituary in New York Times , 10 October 1962.

Guy, Rory, "The Browning Version," in Cinema (Beverly Hills), June/July 1963.

Savada, Eli, "Tod Browning," in Photon (New York), no. 23, 1973.

Rosenthal, Stuart, "Tod Browning," in The Hollywood Professionals (London), vol. 4, 1975.

" Freaks Issue" of Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), July/September 1975.

Garsault, A., "Tod Browning: à la recherche de la réalité," in Positif (Paris), July/August 1978.

Hoberman, James, "Tod Browning's Side Show," in the Village Voice (New York), 17 September 1979.

Loffreda, P., in Cineforum (Bergamo), vol. 31, April 1991.

Mank, G. W., "Mark of the Vampire—When MGM Challenged Universal . . . and Lost," in Midnight Marquee (Baltimore), no. 44, Summer 1992.

Douin, J.-L., "L'horreur est humaine," in Télérama (Paris), 9 June 1993.

Skal, David J., and Elias Savada, "One of Us," Filmfax (Evanston, Illinois), no. 53, November-December 1995.

Wood, Bret, "Hollywood's Sequined Lie: The Gutter Roses of Tod Browning," Video Watch Dog (Cincinnati), no. 32, 1996.

* * *

Although his namesake was the poet Robert Browning, Tod Browning became recognized as a major Hollywood cult director whose work bore some resemblance to the sensibilities of a much different writer: Edgar Allen Poe. However, unlike Poe, Tod Browning was, by all accounts, a quiet and gentle man who could nonetheless rise to sarcasm and sardonic remarks when necessary to bring out the best from his players or to ward off interference from the front office.

Browning came to Hollywood as an actor after working circus and vaudeville circuits. Browning tapped into this background in supplying elements of many of his films, notably The Unholy Three, The Show , and Freaks. He worked in the film industry as an actor until D.W. Griffith (for whom Browning had worked on Intolerance as both a performer and assistant director) gave him the chance to direct at the Fine Arts Company. Browning directed a few films for Metro, but came to fame at Universal with a series of features starring Priscilla Dean. Although The Virgin of Stamboul was admired by critics, it was his next film, Outside the Law , which has more historical significance, marking the first time that Browning directed Lon Chaney. (Browning remade the feature as a talkie.)

These Universal productions were little more than pretentious romantic melodramas, but they paved the way for a series of classic MGM horror films starring Lon Chaney, from The Unholy Three in 1925 through Where East Is East in 1929. These films were notable for the range of Chaney's performances—a little old lady, a cripple, an armless circus performer, a gangster, and so on—and for displaying Browning's penchant for the macabre. All were stylish productions, well directed, but all left the viewer with a sense of disappointment, of unfulfilled climaxes. Aside from directing, Tod Browning also wrote most of his films. He once explained that the plots of these works were secondary to the characterizations, a viewpoint that perhaps explains the dismal, unexciting endings to many of his features.

Tod Browning made an easy transition to sound films, although surprisingly he did not direct the 1930 remake of The Unholy Three. Instead, he directed the atmospheric Dracula , a skillful blend of comedy and horror that made a legend of the actor Bela Lugosi. A year later, Browning directed another classic horror talkie, Freaks , a realistic and at times offensive melodrama about the physically deformed members of a circus troupe. The film includes the marriage of midget Harry Earles to a trapeze artiste (Olga Baclanova).

Browning ended his career with The Mark of the Vampire , a remake of the Chaney feature London after Midnight; The Devil Doll , in which Lionel Barrymore appears as an old lady, a similar disguise to that adopted by Chaney in The Unholy Three ; and Miracles for Sale , a mystery drama involving professional magicians. Tod Browning will, of course, be best remembered for his horror films, but it should also be recalled that during the first half of his directorial career he stuck almost exclusively to romantic melodramas.

—Anthony Slide

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