Friday, October 16, 2009

33. The Unknown (1927)

Running Time: 60 minutes
Directed By: Tod Browning
Written By: Tod Browning, Waldemar Young
Main Cast: Lon Chaney, Joan Crawford, Norman Kerry, John George


Hopefully my great movie streak keeps up, because The Unknown makes the third movie in a row that was magnificent. I'm so glad that I was able to catch this one on Turner Classic Movies, as Netflix doesn't carry the DVD and the cheapest version of this film on Amazon is $25.

Lon Chaney plays Alonzo the Armless, a traveling circus performer who's gimmick is that he throws knives with his feet. Alonzo is assisted by the lovely Nanon (Crawford) for whom he has fallen in love with, but she doesn't know it yet, however they are best friends. One of Nanon's pet peeves is men who cannot keep their hands to themselves and one man who possesses this trait is Malabar the Mighty, a strongman performer who also travels with the same circus, and who is also in love with Nanon. One of the reasons Nanon is so close with Alonzo, is because he is armless and therefore cannot paw at her like most men do.

But back to Alonzo, who has a big secret that he's keeping from everyone, except his trusty sidekick Cojo. The secret...he has arms! With the help of Cojo, Alonzo keeps his arms strapped to his torso at all times, unless he's alone, and in no danger of being found out. He also doesn't want to be found out by the police, because he's a fugitive and the fact that he has two thumbs on his right hand would make him an easy suspect to catch. When the circus owner and Nanon's father, Antonio Zanzi discovers Alonzo's secret, Alonzo strangles him, and Nanon witnesses it, except she doesn't see the perpetrators face, only his two thumbed right hand.

After some thought, Alonzo comes to the realization that he'll never be able to have Nanon to himself, because if they were ever to marry, she would first of all, discover that he has arms, and second of all realize that he was the man that killed her father. He schemes up a plan to have his arms surgically removed, so that he may be with Nanon and live happily ever after, so he does it. After several weeks of recuperation, Alonzo returns to Nanon, but discovers that her initial dislike for Malabar the Mighty has turned to love and in Alonzo's absence they've gotten engaged. The scene where Alonzo is told of the engagement is priceless, as he breaks down into a temporary fit of hysteria, laughing and screaming.

While I didn't care too much for Chaney in The Phantom of the Opera, he was absolutely marvelous in this as Alonzo the Armless where some of his mannerisms and expressions speak volumes, in a day when movies were still silent. The Unknown was almost a short film, running at approximately sixty minutes and when the hour was up, I didn't want it to end. When you, the viewer, learn of Malabar and Nanon's engagement, while Alonzo is lying up in a hospital bed, recuperating from having his arms removed for Nanon's sake, you just know that when he gets back the shit is totally gonna hit the fan...and it totally does. Joan Crawford also hands in a mighty fine performance in The Unknown and at only twenty two at the time of this picture, she's not too shabby to look at either, gracing the screen with her ravishing beauty. As one last quick after thought, for anyone looking to get into the exciting world of silent cinema, I think The Unknown would be a great start in dragging a silent virgin into the genre.

RATING: 10/10 For those of you who are interested in taking in The Unknown, I do believe it's on YouTube as well, and at only sixty minutes, is well worth the watch.

NEXT UP: Oktyabr...which means October...and how ironic that I'll be watching it in the month of October!

October 16, 2009 4:34am


  1. Only just caught up with this - thanks to my R1 player and a (rather pricy) imported Lon Chaney disc set.. but so glad I did.
    I really enjoyed this.. so much so i immediatly watched again with the commemtary. I have to say 'Freaks' slightly (very slightly)pipped it, as that was a deeper story, but this had me fully gripped. Without spoiling things for anyone who has yet to see this, the climax with the horses was increadably tense wondering how things will work out.
    The film came with two other Lon Chaney (non list) films which I am now looking forward to.
    Totaly 10/10, and in the top half dozen of films to thank the list for, as I'm sure I would not have seen this gem otherwise.


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