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Reviews & Ratings for
The Unknown More at IMDbPro »

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Fascinatingly Bizarre

Author: CJBx7 from United States
16 July 2014

THE UNKNOWN (1927) tells the story of Alonzo, who travels with a gypsy circus in Spain as an armless knife-thrower and marksman. He pines for Nanon (Joan Crawford), a beautiful woman who can't stand to be touched by men, but Alonzo must compete with the strongman Malabar (Norman Kerry) for her affections. Complicating all of this is a secret that he dare not reveal, for fear of being captured by the law. His obsession with Nanon leads him to make a very startling decision. Directed by Tod Browning.

SCRIPT: Tod Browning is famous for making movies with a bizarre, somewhat morbid element. There's certainly an abundance of that in this film. This is a melodrama with a twist – it's rather unsettling and fascinating at the same time. THE UNKNOWN delves into what happens when affection crosses the line into obsessive possessiveness and jealousy… and yet, somehow, one empathizes a bit with Alonzo. The movie is very brief, clocking in around 50 minutes, and yet it makes more of an impact than many longer movies. SCORE: 8/10

ACTING: Much of the movie's success is due to the central performance of Lon Chaney, an uncommonly gifted actor. Once again he creates a figure that is villainous, yet empathetic. He is remarkably expressive, particularly in the scene where he realizes that he has made a great sacrifice for nothing – pretending to laugh yet really crying in horror. He uses his feet with great skill too, throwing knives, lighting matches and playing guitar! This movie is undoubtedly his show. Joan Crawford is effective as Nanon, capturing her character's emotions well and displaying some of the star quality that would take her far in her career. Norman Kerry isn't typically acclaimed, but he acquits himself very well as the strongman Malabar, appropriately charming and somewhat roguish, yet also tender. The other cast members do fine work as well. SCORE: 9/10

CINEMATOGRAPHY/PRODUCTION: The sets accurately evoke the feel of a traveling circus. The cinematography is minimalistic, yet effective- evocative with some chiaroscuro effects and well-composed shots (particularly in an operating room). Some of the editing is a bit choppy during the knife-throwing scenes – you can tell that someone else was throwing the knives off-camera. Fairly well done overall. SCORE: 7.5/10

SUMMARY: THE UNKNOWN is a fascinatingly bizarre film. Even though the central character is a villain, Lon Chaney shows the human core inside of him. The acting is remarkable and the story is brief yet makes a strong impression. MOVIE SCORE: 8/10

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In These Arms

Author: utgard14 from USA
3 January 2014

Tod Browning and Lon Chaney classic about a knife thrower named Alonzo (Chaney) who pretends to have no arms. He uses his feet to throw knives. He falls in love with a gypsy girl named Nanon (Joan Crawford). She has a fear of being touched so she rebuffs the advances of men, including a circus strongman who is in love with her. Alonzo will do anything to have Nanon and takes drastic measures to ensure she never finds out his secret.

One of Chaney's most memorable performances. He learned to use his feet as hands to throw knives, light cigarettes, scratch his head, etc. You can bet none of today's stars would go to the kinds of lengths Chaney would for a role. Director Tod Browning was Chaney's favorite collaborator. They worked on ten movies together and this is one of the best. A creepy, suspenseful film with an exciting finale.

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Brilliant... and kinky

Author: Frances Farmer from United States
8 August 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is a wonderful vehicle for two great stars -- Lon Chaney at his zenith and Joan Crawford in her earliest days. Joan's character has some very unusual hangups about men which Lon Chaney's supposedly armless "Alonzo" is well equipped to satisfy... or so it seems. But there's more to Alonzo than meets the eye (he actually has arms!) and Joan's extreme sexual reticence (only on screen, btw...) melts when she takes a closer look at the strongman. Thus Joan goes from being a prude dripping with sensuality to being highly conventional, but Chaney's character just gets more and more freakish in his behavior. Sullenly brooding one moment, laughing maniacally the next, Alonzo is a sociopath whose antics sometimes veer into cartoonishness but never fail to enthrall. The final scene, where Chaney dies protecting Joan who nearly dies protecting Chaney's strong-man rival from having his arms torn off (how perfect!) is absolutely priceless.

"The Unknown" features a grippingly offbeat and suspenseful tale, beautifully acted and skillfully shot and edited. Unless you cannot tolerate silent films you must see this one -- cannot recommend too highly.

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Author: Zbigniew_Krycsiwiki from United States
18 June 2013

Ludicrous premise has surprisingly effective results: an armless circus performer is involved in a love triangle, with a girl who hates to be touched by anyone, and another who cannot keep his hands off her. "Alonzo the Armless" throws knives with his feet, and fires weapons with his feet. But the sick and twisted part of this macabre story is that Alonzo the Armless does in fact have arms, which he eventually has amputated, solely to win the love of the girl who dislikes being touched. When that proves futile, his attention then goes to eliminating his competition.

Sick, macabre, obsessive love story manages to come across well, we feel sorry for Chaney's antihero and his unrequited love, until he begins plotting to kill the girl's suitor by nearly having him torn apart by two horses, in a chilling ending. Alonzo's plot to kill girl's suitor nearly kills his love instead. In a last move, Alonzo saves his love from a death he very nearly caused, only to be killed himself.

Film is a bit difficult to find, and most certainly one of the oddest movies you can imagine, but still worthwhile, in a chilling sort of way.

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One of the greatest silent films ever

Author: Marco Chiappetta ( from Italy
2 May 2013

Little, simple and synthetic, but astonishing and great for its content, "The Unknown" is one of the zeniths of silent cinema, a bright and flooring horror mélo, grotesque and devastating, absolutely mad and unpredictable in its overturns, monstrosities and controversies. Here circus is a metaphor of world, where everything is art-made, hallucinated, petty, and the sane people are the real monsters, more than dwarfs and mutilated ones. Helped by the alienated and masochistic performance by legendary Lon Chaney, made up as a real mutilated man, Browning made a work of pure cinema, which strikes over the visual surface, in the depth of subconscious, in a state of delirium and horror which looks like dream, and it's indeed the purest, more secret and perverse side of human mind. His ability to manipulate pictures and psychologies makes this film a compendium about destructive vortex of human passions, and about the thin lines which separate the opposites: human and beastly, true and fake, sane and insane, hate and love, which mix up all together and estrange points of views in a confused turmoil, which lasts even after the mocking and tragic ending.

**** out of 5

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Interesting Film

Author: e-bradley from United States
17 March 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I didn't know what to expect with this movie because I had never seen a silent movie before, but yo my surprise I actually liked this film. The plot is interesting if not a bit predictable. I thought it was very weird that the main girl had a fear of hands, but I guess there are weirder things to be afraid of. I was disappointed in the end that there were no twists. I would have liked to have seen the girl find out that he cut his arms off for her, but I guess it was easier to end the film with him dying. I thought the acting in this film was very well done. I think part of the reason I enjoyed this film was because the actors were so expressive that it made it easy to understand what they were thinking or feeling even though they were not talking. I would have liked to seen a few more dialouge cards, but even without them I was able to follow the story. This was definitely a good movie to see for a first-timer viewing a silent film :)

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The unknown: review

Author: trahwerdna from United States
17 February 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The unknown is a great story of love, obsession, and personal identity. You can really see in the expression of Alonzo's (Lon Chaney) face that he loves Nanon and despises anyone who comes between himself and Nanon. Since Alonzo is a fugitive and wanted for murder, he covers up his hand deformity. It was interesting to see Lon Chaney's amazing acting skills and his complete mastery of his feet. You can see why in older movies, the stars had eye liner to accentuate the passion, fear, love, etc. I believe that the theme of this movie is how love is blinding. Alonzo cut off his own arms to marry a woman for crying out loud. Another key theme in the movie was justice. You could tell through Alonzo's ruthlessness that he would be the one to pay in the end.

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this movie changed my standards for silent films.

Author: neeleythezombie from United States
15 February 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The unknown was a very entertaining and enjoyable film that had raised my expectations and appreciation for silent films. My little experience with silent films had given me an impression that they were not very serious and more so a transition used to help improve and experiment with film technology, this movie has drastically changed that view.

The unknown did a very good job of establishing a relatively complex plot without the use of anything other than music and brief caption slides. the movie was also able to keep this plot easy to follow with the restrictions of sound. my only large complaint on the movie was Nanon's unrealistic fear of men's hands as if they were some sort of sentient attachment to mens arms.

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first silent film for me

Author: j-schardt from United States
2 February 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The movie The Unknown was the first full silent film I have ever view from being to end. I was very impress on just how much feeling the actors could portray without using words.I thought in some cases like the actors seemed a bit dramatic(the scene when Nanon Zanzi describes her fear of hands) but as the movie went on it seemed that there dramatic's made for a more suspenseful film. I also felt that Nanon gave up her fear of hands to fast. Something more significant should have happened when to make her give up her extreme fear of mans hands. The sound track I felt played a huge part. The movie would not have been the same without the constant creppy music playing in the background, telling the audience when to except and anticipate whats going to happen next.

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exciting but scary

Author: Sweets742 from United States
2 February 2010

I would like to talk about the editing first. When Nanon was being rotated on the wheel device, her clothes were shot off. To me the editing was a little off. One second they were there, the next they weren't. I found it funny when all the men were after nanon. But would always end up with the same guy who has no arms! I really liked that this silent film had a lot more words then other silent films. Usually you would get a sentence here and there. It kept you up with everything that was going on. So that you wouldn't get lost. I thought the editing was alright except for the fights and animals. I enjoyed the cinematography. It made it seem that you were watching the circus. The acting was alright. I think Nanon father really reminded me as a ring leader.

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