7.8/10
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The Unknown (1927)

A criminal on the run hides in a circus and seeks to possess the daughter of the ringmaster at any cost.

Director:

Tod Browning

Writers:

Tod Browning (story), Waldemar Young (scenario) | 1 more credit »
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1 win & 2 nominations. See more awards »

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Cast

Complete credited cast:
Lon Chaney ... Alonzo
Norman Kerry ... Malabar
Joan Crawford ... Nanon
Nick De Ruiz Nick De Ruiz ... Zanzi
John George ... Cojo
Frank Lanning ... Costra
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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:

View content advisory »
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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

4 June 1927 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Alonzo the Armless See more »

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Box Office

Budget:

$217,000 (estimated)

Gross USA:

$406,600, 31 December 1927
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

| (BFI print) | (alternate)

Sound Mix:

Silent

Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

In 2012 director Guy Maddin named this one of the ten best films ever made in the decennial "Sight & Sound" Directors Poll of the Greatest Films of All Time. See more »

Goofs

When we first 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

Alonzo the Armless: No one will get her... no one but me!
See more »

Alternate Versions

The Turner library print has a commissioned score by the Alloy Orchestra and runs 49 minutes. See more »

Connections

Featured in Tod Browning and Lon Chaney (2000) See more »

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User Reviews

 
Another Chaney Love Triangle!
18 November 2003 | by bsmith5552See all my reviews

"The Unknown" returns to a theme common in many of Lon Chaney's films, that of a man hopelessly in love with a woman he can never have.

Alonzo, the armless man is performing in a gypsy circus as a sharpshooter/knife thrower working with the lovely Nanon (Joan Crawford) as his assistant. He is of course in love with her. Rounding out the triangle is circus strong man Malabar (Norman Kerry) who is also in love with Nanon. Nanon it seems cannot bear to have a man's hands touch her (Joan Crawford?).

Alonzo is not what he seems to be. It turns out that he is a fugitive on the run and it is revealed that he actually does have arms and has created the armless man to hide a deformity that would identify him as the criminal the police are seeking. And given that Nanon cannot stand for a man to touch her, she repels Malabar's advances and places her trust in Alonzo.

Nanon's father, Zanzi (Nick DeRuiz) wants his daughter to stay away from Alonzo and confronts him on the issue one night. Zanzi discovers Alonzo's secret so Alonzo murders him. Alonzo then re-confirms his intention to marry Nanon. Alonzo's trusted friend Cojo (John George) points out to Alonzo that should he marry Nanon, she would surely discover that he has arms on their wedding night. So, Alonzo sure that Nanon will marry him, arranges to have his arms amputated.

When Alonzo returns from his ordeal he discovers that Nanon has gotten over her fear of men's hands and now plans to marry Malabar. Alonzo devastated, plots his revenge.

Chaney plays an unsympathetic character in this film, so much so that he doesn't evoke the usual audience pity that he had in other films. His scenes as the armless man are outstanding and the things he does with his feet are truly amazing. And he could express so much emotion with just his facial expressions. Crawford was just getting her career into going and went on to a lengthy career spanning over 40 years. Kerry had also appeared with Chaney in both "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" (1923) and "The Phantom of the Opera" (1925). The running time of the film varies depending on your sources. The version I saw runs about 50 minutes. The Citadel Book, "The Films of Joan Crawford" lists it at 65 minutes. IMDb lists running times of 61 and 49 minutes respectively. Despite the short running time it nevertheless presents a complete and riveting story. I would like to know what was cut out though.


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