Monday, November 11, 2013

The Unknown (1927)

Today's film is The Unknown, a moody dark piece starring Lon Chaney as the villain.  He plays Alonzo, an armless knife thrower/gun shooter in the circus.  He's in love with Nanon, the circus owner's daughter.  Unfortunately, so is the strongman, Malabar.

Joan Crawford is stunningly beautiful as Nanon.  She's afraid of men's hands and often comes to Alonzo for comfort.  What she doesn't know is that he really does have hands and is just pretending. I know.  Alonzo's friend, Cojo, is the only one who knows his secret and tells him that if he really wants to marry Nanon, she's going to find out he has arms eventually.

I felt bad for Malabar because he seems like a genuinely nice person.  He's constantly rejected by the disgusted Nanon for the sole reason of him having arms.  I'm glad she got over her fear though.

Alonzo decides that the best course of action is to blackmail a surgeon into cutting his arms off.  While he is recuperating, Nanon gets over her fear of hands and agrees to marry the handsome Malabar.  Take a look at this guy, he is really nice looking and strong:

Alonzo finds this out while visiting Nanon after his surgery.  It's not like he can put his arms back on now!  While Lon Chaney may be the man of a thousand faces, a lot of them do border on overacting.  He ranges from disbelief at Nanon's loss of fear of hands, upset that he had the surgery, and hatred for his rival Malabar.  He plots to use his next strongman act against him to cut off his arms/kill him.  Can he succeed? No, Malabar is unhurt while Alonzo is killed accidentally by one of the horses in the act.  Without him to come between them, Malabar and Nanon can live happily ever after.

I often enjoy watching films about the circus, and this is a good introduction to Todd Browning's films.  A few years later, he will have another film involving circus life called Freaks.  I will give this film a 7/10.


  1. You're right about Joan Crawford. My reaction to seeing her at 21 in her circus act outfit was "Wow!" Before then I had only seen her in post-Code films and ones where she was older (i.e. Whatever Happened to Baby Jane).

  2. This is a very special film. There are not many like it. Freaks is one of those who comes close. There is a very special dark ambience to it, really it is rather gothic. I know Alonzo is scum, but he is also a very tragic character.

    1. Even though he is a criminal, I felt bad when he was rejected after all he went through.