7.9/10
5,803
101 user 46 critic

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.

Director:

Writers:

(story), (scenario) | 1 more credit »
Reviews
1 win & 2 nominations. See more awards »
Learn more

People who liked this also liked... 

Certificate: Passed Crime | Drama | Romance
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  

A sideshow ventriloquist, midget, and strongman form a conspiracy known as "The Unholy Three" and commit a series of robberies.

Director: Tod Browning
Stars: Lon Chaney, Mae Busch, Matt Moore
Drama | Mystery
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  

A magician seeks vengeance upon the man who paralyzed him and the illegitimate daughter he sired with the magician's wife.

Director: Tod Browning
Stars: Lon Chaney, Lionel Barrymore, Mary Nolan
Certificate: Passed Drama
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  

A professional clown and a self-indulgent count learn to help each other with their problems, but then become romantic rivals.

Director: Herbert Brenon
Stars: Lon Chaney, Bernard Siegel, Loretta Young
Drama | Romance | Thriller
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.9/10 X  

A bitter clown endeavors to rescue the young woman he loves from the lecherous count who once betrayed him.

Director: Victor Sjöström
Stars: Lon Chaney, Norma Shearer, John Gilbert
Horror
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  

A mad, disfigured composer seeks love with a lovely young opera singer.

Directors: Rupert Julian, Lon Chaney, and 2 more credits »
Stars: Lon Chaney, Mary Philbin, Norman Kerry
Crime | Drama | Film-Noir
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  

A blue-collar worker on New York's depressed waterfront finds his life changed after he saves a woman attempting suicide.

Director: Josef von Sternberg
Stars: George Bancroft, Betty Compson, Olga Baclanova
The Penalty (1920)
Certificate: Passed Crime | Drama | Horror
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.5/10 X  

A deformed criminal mastermind plans to loot the city of San Francisco as well as revenge himself on the doctor who mistakenly amputated his legs.

Director: Wallace Worsley
Stars: Charles Clary, Doris Pawn, Jim Mason
Drama | Horror | Romance
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  

In fifteenth century Paris, the brother of the archdeacon plots with the gypsy king to foment a peasant revolt. Meanwhile, a freakish hunchback falls in love with the gypsy queen.

Director: Wallace Worsley
Stars: Lon Chaney, Patsy Ruth Miller, Norman Kerry
Freaks (1932)
Drama | Horror
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.9/10 X  

A circus' beautiful trapeze artist agrees to marry the leader of side-show performers, but his deformed friends discover she is only marrying him for his inheritance.

Director: Tod Browning
Stars: Wallace Ford, Leila Hyams, Olga Baclanova
Certificate: Passed Crime | Drama | Mystery
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7/10 X  

A romantic rivalry among members of a secret society becomes even tenser when one of the men is assigned to carry out an assassination.

Director: Wallace Worsley
Stars: Lon Chaney, Leatrice Joy, John Bowers
The Crowd (1928)
Drama | Romance
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8/10 X  

The life of a man and woman together in a large, impersonal metropolis through their hopes, struggles and downfalls.

Director: King Vidor
Stars: Eleanor Boardman, James Murray, Bert Roach
Drama
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.8/10 X  

One of the first feminist movies, The Smiling Madame Beudet is the story of an intelligent woman trapped in a loveless marriage. Her husband is used to playing a stupid practical joke in ... See full summary »

Director: Germaine Dulac
Stars: Germaine Dermoz, Alexandre Arquillière, Jean d'Yd
Edit

Cast

Complete credited cast:
...
...
...
Nick De Ruiz ...
...
...
Edit

Storyline

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

Taglines:

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)


Certificate:

Unrated | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

 »
Edit

Details

Country:

Language:

Release Date:

4 June 1927 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Alonzo the Armless  »

Box Office

Budget:

$217,000 (estimated)
 »

Company Credits

Production Co:

 »
Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

| (BFI print) | (alternate)

Sound Mix:

Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
See  »
Edit

Did You Know?

Trivia

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 »

Goofs

When Alonzo and Cojo are drinking wine, the glass suddenly fills between shots. See more »

Quotes

Malabar the Mighty, Circus Strongman: See, Nanon! Eyes that adore you... hands that long to caress you... and strength to protect you! Why do you always draw away from me?
Nanon Zanzi: Why isn't he different from other men! Why doesn't he keep his hands off me?
Nanon Zanzi: Hands! Men's hands! How I hate them!
Nanon Zanzi: Men! The beasts! God would show wisdom if he took the hands from all of them!
Nanon Zanzi: Forgive me, Alonzo... I did not mean you.
Nanon Zanzi: You are the one man I can come to without fear.
See more »

Connections

Spoofed in Cemetery Man (1994) See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

This FAQ is empty. Add the first question.

User Reviews

 
Armed and dangerous
6 June 2005 | by (New York City) – See all my reviews

The Unknown is one of the more interesting Lon Chaney collaborations with director/writer Tod Browning, as Chaney's typically physically malleable performance is often executed here in conjunction with "stunt double" Peter Dismuki. It also features a great, early appearance by Joan Crawford, a complex, gripping, allegorically deep but economically told story by Browning, and it is an excellent instantiation of themes found throughout Chaney and Browning's other work. It even strongly presages Browning's 1932 film, Freaks.

Chaney is Alonzo the Armless, a performer in Antonio Zanzi's circus. Alonzo is in love with Nanon (Crawford), Antonio's daughter and Alonzo's assistant in his act, which consists of him using his feet to shoot guns and throw knives around Nanon with precision aim. In a typical Chaney film complicated love triangle, Nanon and Zanzi Circus strongman Malabar are also attracted to each other, but Nanon has an aversion to being touched and keeps distancing Malabar and any other man who wants to be intimate.

Alonzo is the perfect complement for Nanon then, since he cannot manhandle her. She feels safe with him. But Antonio objects to Alonzo's approaches towards Nanon. Complex confrontations and a number of fabulous twists ensue, and Chaney fans will likely expect the resultant profound tragedy with the reciprocally bittersweet "happy ending" consequences.

I probably made that synopsis sound more soap-operatic than it should, since it doesn't very well convey the overall twisted, creepy atmosphere that Browning achieves in The Unknown. Like Freaks, this isn't exactly a horror film, but it has all the unsettling, macabre attitude of one. Alonzo is one of Chaney's more demented, sinister characters, as almost every move he makes has a nefarious, ulterior motive. This even includes the reason that he joined the Zanzi Circus in the first place. It becomes quickly clear that Alonzo will stop at nothing to have Nanon all to himself. But because the character has no arms, he can't very well resort to physical bullying. Instead, Chaney paints a subversive and deviously manipulative character. Even the character's love for Nanon feels wicked--it's more of an unhealthy obsession than love.

Browning makes good use of his largely pared down sets and cast. Except for the opening circus scene, most of the film takes place among only four characters, in only a handful of circus wagon (used later for both Freaks and Chaney's 1928 film Laugh, Clown, Laugh) and apartment locations, with the ending, set in a theater, symmetrically reflecting the opening of the film. A single scene in a formal courtyard provides a nice, symbolic contrast, as does the use of the "extended technique" of a thin piece of gauze placed over the camera lens for some of Nanon's scenes.

Equally economical is Browning's complex story, which tells as much--with the aid of the performances--through implication of various backstories as it does through direct action. The (heavily allegorical) subtexts are fascinating. Nanon is frigid, so her most intimate relationship is with a man who has been effectively castrated. He is so obsessed with her that he'll physically sacrifice himself to enable a relationship. She secretly desires a normal love, but can't have one until she falls into it, or is tricked into it in a way. No one is quite honest with anyone else except for a man who is a relative simpleton, there to be manipulated. But he's the one who ends up coming out ahead, even though he never quite knows what is going on.

Browning had to construct a number of elaborate set-ups to produce the illusion that Chaney had been using his feet to do everyday activities for a long time. We often see Chaney's body but Peter Dismuki's feet, such as when Alonzo is playing guitar, smoking, drinking, and so on. Occasionally, Dismuki just stood in for Chaney, usually when Alonzo has his back to the camera, but at least in one wider shot, we can see Dismuki's face.

The 1997 score on the Turner Classic Movies version of the film by the Alloy Orchestra is occasionally excellent--especially during the climax of the film, and occasionally a bit pedestrian. When it's only pedestrian it's at least unobtrusive. The score has a modern, occasionally "rocky" feel that meshes surprisingly well.

There are a few scenes missing from the print transferred to the TCM DVD, but for many years, The Unknown was thought to have been lost, similar to Browning and Chaney's 1927 film London After Midnight. A print was found at the Cinémathèque Française, mixed in with a lot of other films marked "unknown" because the contents were (at least temporally) unidentifiable. The missing scenes do not hurt the coherency of the film, which is a must-see at least for any Chaney or Browning fans.


42 of 45 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

Contribute to This Page