Limehouse – The Blackbird (1926)

The Blackbird (1926) | Limehouse

Set in Limehouse, Tod Browning directed ‘The Blackbird‘ as a follow-up to the success of ‘The Unholy Three‘ which also stars Lon Chayney. While retaining the authentic associations of the area with criminals and low-life, ‘The Blackbird’ is free of the Fu Manchu cliché usually linked to Limehouse and which crops up in films of the period, noteably the depiction of ‘Chinatown’ in the Anna Mae Wong vehicle ‘Piccadilly‘ (which is where it is on the map). Chayney’s transformation from the evil to good ‘Bishop of Limehouse’ ‘twin’ brother is up to his usual standard. Limehouse (in fact the bit of the East End now usually called Limehouse is East Stepney, Limehouse itself was bombed flat in WWII and is buried beneath Westferry) resonates with mirroring and ‘doubling’. When it came time to make a film of Peter Ackroyd’s novel, ‘The Limehouse Golem‘ was mostly filmed in Yorkshire rather than in Stepney. St Anne’s, one of Nicholas Hawksmoor’s beautiful Queen Anne churches in the East of London counts—for the purposes of births, marriages and funerals that occur on the Thames—as a maritime vessel. The pub which used to belong to the Kray twins is now owned by Sir Ian McKellen and—definitely not a Russian spy—Lord Evgeny Lebedev.