Unknown, The (1927) * Weird & Wacky *


Hubba Hubba, Joan Crawford. Dare I go so far as to say, BOING!
Hubba Hubba, Joan Crawford. Dare I go so far as to say, BOING!

Genre: Silent Drama Thriller Romance

Starring: Lon Chaney (The Hunchback of Notre Dame The Phantom of the Opera), Joan Crawford (Grand Hotel Johnny Guitar)

Directed By: Tod Browning (Freaks Dracula)

Overview: Alonzo the Armless, knife-thrower and circus freak goes to extreme lengths to win the heart of Nanon, his gypsy love. 


When first I saw The Unknown, in December 2006, it was still in the early days - the early days of Squish as critic, as 1001 explorer and as silent cinema frontiersman, if I may be so pioneer-glorious. After adding a hefty dose of Silent education, I revisited The Unknown with the fondness that comes from a film that's a real original piece of entertainment. It's a film that, although it forces the plot into a singular theme sharpened to a nigh-fanatical point, is strange enough and beautiful enough to really leave a lasting impression. I would dare say after copious hours of film consumption, it's still the most bizarre love story I've ever seen on film.

The Unknown is the story of Alonzo the Armless, a circus performer who impresses audiences with his leg tricks. He's a stunt shooter, a knife thrower and has a slew of other parlour tricks up his... pant leg. His beautiful assistant is the woman he is secretly in love with, Nanon. Malabar the Mighty, the Circus Strongman, professes his love to Nanon nightly, but she has a genuine phobia. Having been pawed at all her life, she's not one who likes being manhandled, groped, held even. Malabar makes his money with his impressive arms, ever wondering why Nanon shrinks away from his touch. Alonzo seems like the perfect match for her, but he has a few dark secrets of his own. I dare not hint at any of them, but they're all worthy of exploration.


The carnival of mystery and wonder with such an underbelly of crime and madness is really what makes this a genuinely good story. Love stories aren't really my thing, but adding such elements as jealously and deception at this intense a level is really what makes The Unknown a tale to remember. The visual highlights of The Unknown are still as grand and dynamic as they were in 1927, including epic-scale Expressionism-inspired sets like the exaggerated and most impressive circus tent in the opening scene. Add the proven talent of Lon Chaney and Joan Crawford as the beautiful, alluring and downright sexy gypsy Nanon and it's a film that is not surprisingly found to be one of the 1001 You Must See Before You Die.

His love is true, but certainly dark.
His love is true, but certainly dark.

Performance: 8 Cinematography: 8 Script: 7 Plot: 8 Mood: 9

Overall Rating: 80% (The Great Unknowns Tend To Be Unpolished Gems)
Aftertaste:

Lon Chaney, aka "The Man Of A Thousand Faces" is one of those old time actors that people might actually recognize even if they've never seen any silent films. Even though his reputation may precede him, films this old have a tendency of not being seen. If it's one thing I've learned while expanding my film repertoire all the way back to the beginning of time, it's the old truth that people won't watch a movie just because "It's Old". To them I say this new version with a haunting score done in 1997 adds a nice haunting quality, and the story holds up to even the most insistent modern movieplexist. At 46 minutes, or half-your-usual-feature length, you really have nothing to lose.

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This movie in particular is very ageless...I was on pins and needles at the end, and that for me in a mark of a good horror film. It doesn't matter how old it is if it can succeed at that.


I really love this film and look forward to seeing it again, and revisiting the review now that I'm a much better critic, if I do toot so myself.

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