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29 June 2011

[Silent Film Marathon] 20# The Unknown (1927)

My Rating: 8/10

Directed by: Tod Browning

Written by: Tod Browning & Waldemar Young
Genre: Drama, Horror, Romance, Mystery & Suspense
Runtime: 50 Minutes

Certainly one of the darker films, if not the darkest, piece of work silent film star Lon Chaney and director Tod Browning collaborated and created. Once more Chaney gives a remarkable performance to the screen as Alonzo, the armless. The story is short, but in this 50 minute feature you’re in for a great ride. Browning is one of the great mysteries of film history. His life story is filled with contradictions (some he created himself). No one argues the fact that he was the architect of the classic American horror film Dracula (1931), with Bela Lugosi as Dracula. His success is one that is grounded in his macabre but decidedly non-supernatural silent works. Beyond that the story gets cloudy. Then we all know the idea of his film Freaks, which results were so horrific it basically destroyed his career. The Unknown is a pretty dark story but is highly entertaining and is one of the greatest last silent films, as 4 months later the fir talkie arrived, The Jazz Singer.

Plot:
Nanon in the circus act
The circus is in town and our first scene we meet Alonzo the Armless, and the circus owners daughter, Nanon, who are performing an act. Alonzo being armless (this soon changes) he uses his feet to throw knives around Nanon against a board, which is considered now one of those cliché circus tricks.  Alonzo is madly in love with Nanon, and wants her all for himself. One night we discover Alonzo has arms with his good friend Cojo who takes the corset off where his arms are hidden behind his back. Nanon has a pathological fear of being touched by any man. This leads Alonzo to believe that he is attractive to Nanon so long as his keeps his arms hidden. Halfway through the film, Alonzo murders the circus manager--a crime witnessed by Nanon, who was only able to glimpse Alonzo’s distinctively mutated thumb. To cover up his crime, and to make himself the perfect mate for Crawford, Chaney blackmails a doctor into amputating his arms. Upon returning to the carnival, the now-genuinely armless Alonzo learns to his horror that Crawford has overcome her aberration of being touched, thanks to handsome circus strong man Malabor. Enraged, Chaney plots to kill Kerry in a horrible fashion...but guess who ends up seriously dead?

A short but excellent story
There is a great irony to the story that gives it it’s rush of excitement. It shows to what extent people go to at time for love and the story is truly excellent for it’s length. Once more silent film legend Lon Chaney provides a wondrous performance as he has with previous silent films before this. There is so much to comment on with the story, but doing that would utterly ruin the plot. There are plenty of characters and a high amount of suspense to keep you entertained for it’s 50 minute runtime.
Alonzo (left) with his friend Cojo (right).
Overall:
It is a drama of obsession that is still shocking nearly 85 years later, and the extremes of which I am not about to divulge here. You will have to see it for yourself to witness the film’s dark glory. In conclusion,The Unknown may be short, but it’s dark and twisted story gives it edge and excitement enough to keep the modern day viewer enthralled.

Ratings:
Screenplay/Story: 8.4/10
Characters: 8.3/10
Emotion: 8.2/10
Visuals & Editing: 8/10
Direction & Cinematography: 8.4/10
Music: 8.3/10
Overall: 8.4/10

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