Alonzo is an armless knife thrower and gun shooter for a circus---or so he appears. He is actually a burglar with his arms intact. He and his accomplice, Cojo (a little person), are hiding from the police, and Alonzo views his disguise as perfect, especially since it keeps from view an unusual deformity of his left hand that would immediately give him away as the burglar. Nanon, the daughter of the circus owner, is the target in his act. Although Alonzo is in love with her, Nanon's father despises him. Nanon is attracted to Malabar, the circus strong man, but she is also repulsed by his uninhibited sexual advances and desire to touch and hold her. Apparently her phobia extends to the touch of any man. Alonzo feeds her fears in the hopes that Nanon will fall in love with him since he is "armless." Because Zanzi discovers Alonzo really has arms, Alonzo kills him, but Nanon witnesses the killing without seeing Alonzo's face; however, she does see the telltale deformity of his left hand. ... Written by
Patrick Robbins <email@example.com>
For many years this film only existed in murky 9.5mm dupes on the black market. In March 1973, at a screening of this film at George Eastman House, archivist James Card said that Henri Langlois and his staff at the Cinematheque Francais discovered a copy of it in 1968 among other miscellaneous cans of film marked "l'inconnu" (films "unknown" due to missing titles, etc.). See more »
When Alonzo and Cojo are drinking wine, the glass suddenly fills between shots. See more »
A circus performer ventures into THE UNKNOWN regions of fate when he allows love to be twisted by hatred.
Master actor Lon Chaney and his friend, acclaimed director Tod Browning, took their love of the macabre and fashioned this weirdly entertaining & suspenseful little silent film, made wonderful by Chaney's powerful over-the-top performance. Playing the armless wonder in a gypsy circus, Chaney's face is a casebook of emotions as he longs for the chieftain's daughter. After making a tremendous, indeed, outrageous, sacrifice for her, he discovers it is all an utter waste. Chaney's agony is horribly apparent as he feels his life crumble around him. The actor uses his superb physical conditioning to great effect, his feet as facile as any hands--the extreme punishment undergone to play the part enormously impressive.
In an important early film role, Joan Crawford is both sultry & disarming as the object of Chaney's desires; her intense neurotic phobia concerning men's hands certainly makes her character more interesting. Norman Kerry is affable & tender as the circus strong man who also loves Crawford. John George as Chaney's dwarf accomplice and Nick De Ruiz as the brutal circus chief are quite effective in their colorful roles.
MGM gave the film fine production values, especially in the circus scenes--a milieu dear to Chaney's heart.
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