In this early collaboration with director Tod Browning (Dracula, Freaks), Chaney delivers a dual performance of dramatic intensity, starring as Ah Wing, a kind-hearted student of Confucian ... See full summary »
Fingers is planning a half-million-dollar bank robbery in gang boss Cobra Collins' territory. Fingers' moll Connie tries to bluff Cobra into thinking the hit won't be for another week when the call comes through saying it's now.
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>
Director Tod Browning loosely based the story on a real event of his circus days, where a man has masqueraded as an acrobat to evade the police. See more »
During the scene where we fist 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 »
Let's give Tod Browning a hand. He risked life and limb to make this movie.
Anyway, I never thought I'd like a silent movie but this is one you can't turn away from. The performances are amazing, Lon Chaney is so good that you can read his mind, you almost don't need the words. And let me just say this about Joan Crawford: she never looked better than she does in this movie. Lithe, svelte, and statuesque, she glides through the movie like a ballet dancer, and her body is as taut as a leopard's. It's difficult to describe her youthful attraction without bringing to mind the caricature she became later in life with her shoulder pads and thick eyebrows, but in this movie she is simply stunning. Her eyes are so intense that they don't look real.
The story itself is very simple, sure people can describe it to you, but Chaney's Alonzo is so carefully fleshed out that he practically pops off the screen, you have to see it to believe it. He seethes with anger when the hunky Malabar makes a pass at Nanon. Nanon's pathological aversion to being touched by men is matched only by Alonzo's pathological obsession with Nanon. This is where the power of the movie lies. When the fickle Nanon's man-hands-phobia evaporates after spending several weeks with the anxious and ever-patient Malabar, she announces their engagement to Alonzo and his psychotic behavior explodes. You can read the mixture of irony, rage, and madness that simultaneously wash over Chaney's face. Browning lets this powerful scene go on for several minutes, and every moment is wrenching. As Alonzo teeters on the edge of madness, lamenting his dearly departed arms, Malabar and Nanon join in his laughter, thinking he is happy for them. It's a horrible thing to see, it's like watching a train wreck in slow motion.
If you only watch one silent film in your life, let this be the one. It's really weird and cool.
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