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The Unknown (1927)

Unrated | | Drama, Horror, Romance | 4 June 1927 (USA)
A criminal on the run hides in a circus and seeks to possess the daughter of the ringmaster at any cost.



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1 win & 2 nominations. See more awards »


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Complete credited cast:
Nick De Ruiz ...


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 <elfdorado@sbcglobal.net>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


A superb mystery thriller, unusual and startling even for a Chaney film. Lon as "The Unknown" eats, drinks, shoots a rifle and dresses with his feet. Don't miss this startling spectacle. (Print Ad- The Cobbleskill Index,((Cobbleskill, NY)) 13 October 1927)


Unrated | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:





Release Date:

4 June 1927 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Alonzo the Armless  »


Box Office


$217,000 (estimated)
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Company Credits

Production Co:

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Technical Specs


| (BFI print) | (alternate)

Sound Mix:

Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?


Joan Crawford always considered The Unknown (1927) a big turning point for her. She said it wasn't until working with Lon Chaney in this film that she learned the difference between standing in front of a camera and acting in front of a camera. She said that was all due to Chaney and his intense concentration, and after that experience she said she worked much harder to become a better actress. See more »


When we first meet Alonzo and he is throwing knives with his feet, the shot shows the girl against the board and there are no knives. It cuts to Alonzo throwing and when it goes back to the girl to see the impact there are knives in a silhouette around her. See more »


Nanon Zanzi: You are right, Alonzo... brute strength does not mean everything to all women. Alonzo, all my life men have tried to put their beastly hands on me... to paw over me. I have grown so that I shrink with fear when any man even touches me.
See more »


Spoofed in Cemetery Man (1994) See more »

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User Reviews

Chaney Masterpiece
20 June 2004 | by See all my reviews

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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