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 <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I've heard so much about this movie, and it was not a disappointment. The surviving print seems to be missing some scenes, which accounts for its short length, but I doubt it takes away much from this twisted, sadistic "Gift of the Magi" gone bad. Chaney's performance is remarkable and, at times, genuinely alarming, and the very young Joan Crawford is a typical, but nevertheless appealing silent film heroine. Parts of this film really had me squirming, particularly towards the end. Browning's visual sense is the most beautiful I've seen in any of his films other than Dracula, with a full range of greys, whites and blacks and painterly compositions. It's available on TCM's excellent Lon Chaney Collection DVD.
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