“The Unknown” (1927) directed by Tod Browning, starring Lon Chaney & Joan Crawford / Z-View

The Unknown (1927)

Director:  Tod Browning

Screenplay by:  Waldemar Young; from a story byTod Browning;  Joseph Farnham (titles) 

Starring:  Lon Chaney, .Norman Kerry, Joan Crawford andJohn George

Tagline: Against a background of colorful circus life, and the sinister shadow of the underworld, is played a drama of love and revenge that will grip you! And through it stalks the mysterious figure of a deformed circus performer- The Unknown – a role just made for the brilliant Lon Chaney!

The Plot: 

“Alonzo the Armless” (Chaney) works as a circus stunt performer.  He uses his feet to throw knives and shoot a gun with deadly accuracy.  Alonzo is not the man’s real name. He goes by it because he’s hiding from the law.  The truth is that Alonzo has arms. He keeps them bound tightly to his body. No one (except his trusted partner Cojo) is aware of the deception.  Alonzo hides his arms because he was born with a deformed double thumb that the police know about.

Alonzo is in love with the circus owner’s daughter, Nanon (Crawford). Although Namon likes Alonzo, she is unaware of the depth of his affection for her.  Malabar, the circus strongman, also has feelings for Nanon.  As Alonzo’s obsession with Nanon grows, so does his willingness to cross any line to have her.  Before the tale is done, Alonzo will murder multiple people and do something so unexpected, to say more would ruin the twist.

Thoughts (beware of spoilers)

Tod Browning and Lon Chaney collaborated on eight films.  The Unknown is considered to be their best work. It has been called a “masterpiece of silent cinema” and I couldn’t agree more.

The step that Alonzo takes to win Nanon is so shocking that the audience is still reeling when Browning hits a twist worthy of O. Henry.  If you haven’t tried or liked silent films, I’d suggest you give The Unknown a shot.