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Reviews & Ratings for
The Unknown More at IMDbPro »

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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

A bit too short for a real high rating

Author: Johan Louwet
27 April 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Well I quite enjoyed this one but it is certainly not the best of Lon Chaney therefore the duration is a bit too short and a few questions remained unanswered which would have made the movie better if they had been answered. The doctor who eventually amputates the arms of Alonzo, what happened in the past between them that Alonzo threatened to blackmail him? What did Alonzo do wrong in the past that he had to pretend he was armless? Anyway if he could play a guy without legs convincingly in The Penalty, Lon Chaney was the ideal candidate to play a man without arms. the scenes where he throws knifes or smokes a cigarettes by means of his feet and toes are great. Its weakest point was the story even though the love triangle between "armless knife thrower" Alonzo, "gypsy girl" Nanon and "strong man" Malabar creates a lot of tension and some great scenes. Some praise Joan Crawford as Nanon but I don't see how her acting was better than other actresses of the silent era. It's Chaney who carries the movie obviously. Strongest scene was when after the amputation of his arms he was ready to confess his love to Nanon but meanwhile she had fallen for Malabar, that expression on his face said more than words could say. John George deserves a mention as Alonzo's sidekick, Cujo the dwarf.

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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

The Unknown

Author: jason-m-cook from United States
5 September 2013

This evening I've been watching The Unknown (1927) starting Lon Chaney. It could be renamed The Unsung, because it's too good to be denied the praises normally heaped upon Phantom of the Opera and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Chaney is so amazing here, embodying the character of Alonzo so completely. A lesser actor might not have been able to play the emotions so brilliantly without giving away the plot twists. Tod Browning must be commended as well for constructing this film with what seems just the right length, with no footage wasted, no filler at all; every scene is necessary and advances the story. If I have any complaint at all, it's that Joan Crawford is a bit over the top when she plays fear... but given how well she plays affection and joy, I can overlook it. 10/10

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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

A Browning masterpiece...

Author: JasparLamarCrabb from Boston, MA
12 October 2009

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This Tod Browning masterpiece stars Lon Chaney as an armless knife thrower in love with circus owner's daughter Joan Crawford. This being Chaney, you know he'll stop at NOTHING to get what he wants. A creepy, haunting movie with in your face horror that never lets up. Chaney is brilliant and Crawford is fine as the man-fearing gypsy girl. There's an overall sense of dread that's sustained throughout. With Norman Kerry as Malabar, the lovelorn strongman and Chaney's rival for Crawford's affections. John George is Chaney's dwarf sidekick who may or may not be the Devil himself. The moody cinematography is by Merritt Gerstad, who went on to photograph a wide variety of movies (from A NIGHT AT THE OPERA to WATCH ON THE RHINE).

A brilliant, ironic precursor to Browning's more famous FREAKS.

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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

Captivating and macabre offering from Tod Browning

Author: ametaphysicalshark from
13 June 2008

Although inconsistent Tod Browning's work has always fascinated me, from his earliest film with any sort of real availability, "The Wicked Darling" from 1919 through his final effort as director "Miracles for Sale" I always found something absorbing and interesting about his films, even the light-hearted ones that are so widely criticized. To me, he was one of the great American silent film directors and one who also made one of the more respectable transitions to directing talkies, with much of his best work coming in the thirties.

"The Unknown" is perhaps Browning's most respected film outside of "Freaks" which leads me to suspect that those who sing the praises of these two films while ignoring the likes of "Fast Workers" and "West of Zanzibar" are more interested in Browning's fascination with the circus and indeed circus freaks than the films themselves. "The Unknown" is a fascinating and absorbing little film but certainly not a masterpiece by any stretch.

The film's story revolves around Alonzo, a circus performer with a shady past who somehow manages to convince everyone that he is, in fact, armless. This works well with Joan Crawford's character Nanon because she is repulsed by a man's touch. Naturally Alonzo falls in love with her and eventually goes to great lengths to ensure that he is able to marry Nanon only to find that in his absence things have changed. Needless to say this film does not have a happy ending- at least not from Alonzo's perspective.

Browning keeps the film moving at a swift pace with not one minute being truly boring, but despite Browning's impressive direction and Lon Chaney's effective lead performance "The Unknown" never quite makes up for its huge gaps in logic and nearly offensively simplistic and overdone plot (not this plot exactly that is overdone, obviously, but the nature of the tale is). Definitely worth seeing but unfortunately not on par with Browning's best.


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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

Chaney is brilliant!

Author: Jem Odewahn from Australia
24 April 2008

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

My second Chaney film! Despite it's huge reputation as one of "the" silent films, I think I preferred LAUGH, CLOWN, LAUGH to this. That's not to say I didn't enjoy it. It's a very good film, and Chaney is again amazing as tortured circus performer Alonzo, who is hopelessly in love with young Nanon (Joan Crawford), who doesn't like to be touched by men. Alonzo, of course, is the armless performer who actually has arms, and after killing Nanon's father (she sees his deformed hand), he decides to have them removed so he can be with her. Things are not so simple. Crawford has suddenly gotten over her fear of being touched, and has fallen in love with the (boring) hero, Norman Kerry.

The film is coated with irony and it is remarkably perverse. I'm undecided about Browning as a director- he contributes some excellent moments, and some very dull, flatly directed scenes. His best asset is his star, Chaney. Crawford is less likable than Loretta Young in LAUGH, CLOWN, LAUGH- in fact, I found her rather unattractive and forgettable when compared to Young's sweet charm. I saw this over youtube (it's the TCM version) and it must be missing a few scenes, because the official running length has it at 65 minutes, and the version I watched ran under an hour.

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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

My Experience with The Unknown

Author: blair-11-wright-edu from Dayton, Oh
9 November 2003

I saw this movie a few weekends ago on cable TV. I thought it was just a terrific movie. My friend James helped me find out what the movie was called, because I didn't know. The male actor was great. He's very expressive and moving. And the female actress (men are actors, women are actresses) was great as well. But most of all, this story was quite Shakesperian. It is tragic and compelling.

If you get a chance to watch this movie, I recommend doing so, especially because I'm sure that it will be repeated on cable for a while.

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2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

Bold and Bizarre

Author: DarthVoorhees from United States
8 August 2008

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The Unknown has Tod Browning and Lon Chaney in their most macabre collaboration. Chaney plays Alonzo the Armless, a criminal who hides under in the open as a circus freak. Alonzo has mastered the use of his feet and thus he pretends to have no arms to cover his double thumb which is the evidence the police have on him. Alonzo eyes the affection of Nanon but Nanon fears the touch of a man. Nanon sees Alonzo as her watcher and protector but Alonzo wants more and he will do what he must to get it. Norman Kerry does what he does best, be the rival in Lon Chaney's love life, he plays Malabar who is also eying the affection of Nanon. In a moment of insanity or passion, Alonzo decides to have his arms actually amputated but while he is recovering from the dangerous operation Malabar woos Nanon and Alonozo's homicidal tendencies come out once again.

The Unknown is bizarre and well imagined but I was somewhat disappointed by it. The story is bizarre and Browning fans will love it but I feel that unlike his other films the story isn't given depth. In a great many ways The Unknown is beyond it's time. The story is filled with sexual tension, and I doubt that the 1927 audience didn't pick up on the obvious fact that Nanon's fear of being touched is because her father molested her. These are brilliant concepts but the film is afraid to do as much with them as I would have liked (perhaps this has to do with the elusive missing reels). I probably would nominate this as the one Chaney film I want to see remade for a modern audience.

We get to see a young Joan Crawford as Nanon and she is beautiful and we see glimpse of her great talent. Her smile truly is something to mystify a man.

The complaints are minor though because we get another masterful performance by Chaney. It's amazing to look at Chaney's career because this character is very similar to other characters he has played but yet it is still fresh and unique. I still feel He Who Gets Slapped is the best Chaney performance and it is interesting to compare these two characters because both are similar in their motives. Paul Beaumont yearns for love and Alonzo lusts for it. Alonzo is an interesting character, we know he is probably the most evil character CHaney has played but in the end we probably understand his actions and motives more than any other Chaney character. The reaction Alonzo gives to Malabar and Nanon's "good news" is expected. Alonzo doesn't get a chance for redemption unlike a lot of Chaney characters, he is meant to be punished for his sins.

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2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:


Author: Michael_Elliott from Louisville, KY
27 February 2008

Unknown, The (1927)

**** (out of 4)

Tod Browning's masterpiece set inside a circus where an armless man's (Lon Chaney) love for a woman (Joan Crawford) afraid of men with arms turns deadly. This is an extremely bizarre and twisted little film that ranks as one of the all time great silent pictures in my opinion. The film has a relentless evilness running throughout that hasn't been topped in too many pictures. Crawford and Norman Kerry are great in their roles but it's Chaney who steals the picture with his terrific performance. His breakdown scene is probably one of the most famous moments in the film and the way he displays anguish, pain and outright shock is something to really marvel at.

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2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

The Perfect Introduction to Silent Cinema

Author: oOgiandujaOo from United Kingdom
19 January 2007

I watched this movie last night and was literally shaking by the time it stopped. The camera trickery at the end (I assume it was camera trickery because it was far to dangerous to actually be real) with the wild horses is completely shocking.

Some of the camera-work in this movie is very skillful, my favourite was the spinning knife-throwing scene. A lot of early silents are just stage plays that just happened to have been filmed. This film demonstrates the true potential of the cinema.

This is my first Lon Chaney movie, and let me tell you, he is a god. The best thing about Alonzo (Lon Chaney's character) is that even though his story is completely bizarre it's also utterly believable. Chaney's face is incredibly emotive and he really involves you in his ghastly demise, the depths of which are just awesome. The soundtrack on the TCM archives disc is one of the best silent scores ever.

Because the film is so engaging, and because it is quite short, at about 50 minutes long (apparently some footage is missing, though it doesn't seem to make much difference), it is THE perfect introduction to silent cinema. Joan Crawford is very pleasing to the eye as object of Alonzo's affection, rather less zaftig than most early movie stars.

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3 out of 6 people found the following review useful:

Wow! Just ..... wow! Not even sure where to start my review!

Author: Ursula 2.7T from my sofa
24 August 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This movie packed so much story into one short hour, it might take me longer to write about than it did to watch! Lon Chaney plays Alonzo, an armless circus performer, who is disturbingly "in love" (more like psychotically obsessed) with fellow performer Nanon (Joan Crawford). Handsome strongman Malabar loves Nanon too, but Nanon is repulsed by Malabar. She personally likes him (actually, she can't admit it to herself yet, but she loves him), however Nanon has a major hangup: she can't stand to be touched. All her life she's been "pawed by beastly men", and now she cringes whenever any man tries to touch her.

Nanon hates hands/arms, Alonzo is armless. A match made in heaven, right? Wrong! A match made in hell, a weirdo gruesome hell that could only come from Tod Browning! Alonzo is one sick puppy -- we see him alone with his pal Cojo. Cojo is helping Alonzo get undressed ... unstrapping Alonzo's corset to reveal ... arms! Alonzo has arms that are strapped behind his back! Why would he do such a thing? Well, turns out Alonzo also commits robberies in every town the circus stops in. Alonzo needs to evade the cops, so he pretends he's armless. An armless man would be completely above suspicion for the *armed* robberies that have been taking place (pardon the pun). But wait, there's more! Alonzo has a very distinguishing physical characteristic that really makes it mandatory that he hide his arms: he has TWO THUMBS on one hand!

Alonzo and the circus owner (who also happens to be Nanon's father) do not get along. One night, Alonzo and the owner are fighting and the owner sees that Alonzo has arms. Alonzo cannot let him live, so he strangles the owner. Nanon looks out her trailer and sees her father being strangled by a man with two thumbs. She only sees the back of the strangler; she does not know it is Alonzo.

Soon, Alonzo is confiding to Cojo how much he must have Nanon. He says he will marry her. But, asks Cojo, what about your arms? Alonzo says he can get Nanon to fall in love with him and he will let her know on their wedding night that he has arms and that she will forgive him for deceiving her. But hellllooooo, says Cojo, how are you going to explain your TWO THUMBS? She saw a man with two thumbs killing her father. How are you going to explain THAT? asks Cojo. Then Cojo notices that Alonzo has lit his cigarette and is smoking it with his feet, even though he's out of his corset and could've used his hands. That's when Alonzo gets a truly sick idea: he'll have his arms surgically removed! He's adapted well to using his feet, and Nanon thinks he's armless anyway, and he's said a million times how he would do ANYTHING to have Nanon. Well, he meant it. Alonzo indeed gets his arms surgically amputated! (WOW!)

While Alonzo is in the hospital recuperating from his operation, Nanon and Malabar get closer. Malabar loves Nanon and is very considerate of her aversion to arms. Once, while walking down some steps, Nanon trips. Malabar instinctively reaches out and catches her, saving her from falling, but quickly realizing he's touching her, he pulls his hands away and puts them behind his back. Nanon tells him he doesn't need to do that. Her love for him and his love for her has finally helped her overcome her little hangup. They agree to marry, but Nanon wants to wait until Alonzo returns so he can attend the wedding.

Alonzo returns, and Nanon is ecstatic. Alonzo mistakes her happiness at seeing him for love. Alonzo is hopeful. Pathetic and hopeful. Nanon tells him, "I'm glad you've returned, now we can be married." Alonzo interprets "we" as "you and me", but in the next second when Malabar enters he realizes "we" means "Malabar and me". Alonzo does a really maniacal laugh/cry/breakdown that is amazing to watch.

Malabar then tells Alonzo about his new act he's been working on. He has his arms tethered to two horses who run in opposite directions on treadmills while Nanon whips them into a frenzy. Malabar's "act" is to hold on to the horses and not be knocked down or dragged off by them. What would happen if the horses get loose, Alonzo slyly asks. Oh, my arms would be torn off, Malabar says. YEAH BABY - you can see it in Alonzo's eyes: he is thinking, I cut off my arms for nothing, pal, and now I'm gonna make you lose your arms by sabotaging your little horsie act!

The night of Malabar's horse act comes, and Alonzo is sitting near the treadmill control. Alonzo waits until Nanon whips the horses to a furiously fast pace, and then kicks the control into stop. Nanon freaks out and runs in front of one of the horses to calm it down before it rips Malabar to shreds. Alonzo, horrified that Nanon might get killed, runs in between her and the horse, and is trampled to death. Malabar survives the ordeal without getting his arms ripped off, and the closing scene shows Malabar and Nanon in an embrace.

So, I guess that was more of a recap than a review! All I can say is that this movie is beautiful in a really horrifying sort of way. I don't think anyone other than Lon Chaney + Tod Browning could have pulled it off.

The score, by the way, was excellent. I don't normally even notice scores, but I really liked this one. It is obviously a modern composition, but it complements the movie really well. I especially liked the atonalities of the score during the opening credits and during the more gruesome scenes of the movie.

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