IMDb > The Unknown (1927)
The Unknown
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The Unknown (1927) More at IMDbPro »

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Overview

User Rating:
7.9/10   4,570 votes »
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Director:
Writers:
Tod Browning (story)
Waldemar Young (scenario)
(more)
Contact:
View company contact information for The Unknown on IMDbPro.
Release Date:
4 June 1927 (USA) See more »
Genre:
Plot:
A criminal on the run hides in a circus and seeks to possess the daughter of the ringmaster at any cost. Full summary » | Add synopsis »
Plot Keywords:
Awards:
2 nominations See more »
User Reviews:
Armed and dangerous See more (94 total) »

Cast

  (in credits order) (verified as complete)

Lon Chaney ... Alonzo
Norman Kerry ... Malabar

Joan Crawford ... Nanon
Nick De Ruiz ... Zanzi
John George ... Cojo
Frank Lanning ... Costra
rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Louise Emmons ... Gypsy Woman (uncredited)
Italia Frandi ... Girl in Audience Flirting with Malabar (uncredited)
Venezia Frandi ... (unconfirmed) (uncredited)
Julian Rivero ... Man in Audience (uncredited)
Billy Seay ... The Little Wolf (uncredited)
John St. Polis ... Surgeon (uncredited)
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Directed by
Tod Browning 
 
Writing credits
Tod Browning (story)

Waldemar Young (scenario)

Joseph Farnham (titles) (as Joe Farnham)

Mary Roberts Rinehart  novel "K" (uncredited)

Cinematography by
Merritt B. Gerstad (photography) (as M. Gerstad)
 
Film Editing by
Harry Reynolds (film editor)
Errol Taggart (film editor)
 
Set Decoration by
Richard Day (settings)
Cedric Gibbons (settings)
 
Stunts
Paul Desmuke .... stunt double (uncredited)
 
Camera and Electrical Department
Clarence Sinclair Bull .... still photographer (uncredited)
 
Costume and Wardrobe Department
Lucia Coulter .... wardrobe
 
Music Department
Jack Feinberg .... set musician (uncredited)
Sam Feinberg .... set musician (uncredited)
 
Crew believed to be complete


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Additional Details

Also Known As:
Runtime:
63 min (23 fps) | UK:49 min (BFI print) | USA:49 min (alternate version)
Country:
Language:
Aspect Ratio:
1.33 : 1 See more »
Sound Mix:
Certification:

Did You Know?

Trivia:
Included among the '1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die', edited by Steven Jay Schneider.See more »
Goofs:
Continuity: 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 »
Quotes:
Malabar the Mighty, Circus Strongman:You are a riddle, Nanon. You shrink from me... yet you kiss my flowers when I am gone.See more »
Movie Connections:

FAQ

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37 out of 40 people found the following review useful.
Armed and dangerous, 6 June 2005
Author: Brandt Sponseller from New York City

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.

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