Plot: As the Russian civil war rages on, peasant Sergei (Lon Chaney) struggles to merely survive and forages what he can manage to find. This includes searching any corpses he happens to stumble upon, when he hopes to find a little food or anything else to help him keep persisting. On one such hunt for sustenance, Sergei notices a beautiful woman (Barbara Bedford) being accosted by revolutionaries, so he intervenes and rescues her from harm. She is grateful and asks for help to reach the town of Novokursk, which he is all too pleased to assistant with, as he is quite taken with her from the start. In order to travel safely, she tells him to lie to any others and pose as husband and wife, but that ruse doesn’t hold up well. When the two rest in what seems to be an abandoned house, they’re once again accosted and while Sergei is beaten, he refuses to betray the woman and soon help arrives from other soldiers. What will become of Sergei, his beautiful new friend, and the war torn landscape around them?
Entertainment Value: I have to think Mockery has gotten some unfair treatment over the years, as I found it to be a solid drama with good performances, but some seem to have gone in with weighted expectations. Lon Chaney’s presence is likely the main draw for most viewers and perhaps because his performance is rather straight forward, rather than supplemented by extensive makeup or robust flourishes, Mockery might not have lived up to those expectations. But I think it is a well crafted drama that might get a bad rap for not being as stylish as some of director Benjamin Christensen’s other work, despite all of the positives here. So no, the production design isn’t lavish or epic, but it is by no means cheap or lackluster, instead costumes and locations are quite good, just not massive in scale. The story is what drives Mockery and while it is a melodrama, I think it is well executed and performed, telling an interesting, if a little slow paced narrative that always held my interest. The focus is on Sergei and his development is handled well, with sufficient time and character investment to make the evolution of his character carry some weight. So I will concede the pace is sluggish at times, but overall, I think Mockery is well worth a look.
Although his work here isn’t as flashy or perhaps memorable as some of his signature roles, Lon Chaney is terrific as always in Mockery and fans of his work should find a lot to like here. He utilizes some makeup, but not as much of a transformation happens here as in some of his more famous turns. Even so, Chaney blends into the character of Sergei and that is a testament to his thespian skills, which allowed him to make use of makeup and such, but he didn’t require those extras. His approach here is thoughtful and sensitive, with a good deal of emotion that pours through his performance, but doesn’t feel too over the top. This is a melodrama, so things do run broad at times, but Chaney keeps things reined in well enough. A few scenes are fantastic and Chaney really sparks within the role, leaving me wishing there was more of those opportunities. The rest of the cast is fine, but no one stands out or performs on the level of Chaney, despite some enjoyable efforts. You can also see the talents of Ricardo Cortez, Mack Swain, Johhny Mack Brown, and Barbara Bedford.