The Unknown (1927)
Genre: Silent Drama Thriller Romance
Directed By: Tod Browning (Freaks; Dracula)
Overview: In this role of an Alonzo the Armless, knifethrower and circus performer, Lon Chaney, 'The Man of a Thousand Faces', goes to great lengths to win the heart of his gypsy love. Really, really great lengths...
Acting: One must never forget that the silent era is rife with melodrama. I may say this over and over, but I mean that often it must be forgiven. Lon goes just a little overboard with his facial declarations of emotion, though I suppose that's mainly the fault of Browning. On the other hand, Crawford, as the beautiful and alluring gypsy Nanon and Norman Kerry as the circus strongman do quite the impressive job.
Cinematography: The film opens up with the biggest circus tent you've ever seen with a bold expressionist background. From there we go into armless circus tricks with guns and daggers. The costumes are genuinely something to rave about, you just won't be able to get away from them. Visually, this film is dynamic, exciting and kinda sexy.
Script: The intertitles in The Unknown are not flamboyantly artistic, so for those of you who just want a nice simple story to follow, this tells it very plainly. Still Lon Chaney's face tells the tale more than the writing does, and as always, it's always good to have silent film told silently, with the words as a secondary addition.
Plot: Nanon's affliction of a hand phobia seems a little too perfect. This story is certainly one of those ironic / poetic stretches of the imagination, but there's a bit more to it. There are a few secrets in store, and though mildly predictable, you wonder if the suspected events will actually come to pass. A very original love triangle tale.
Mood: The carnival of mystery and wonder with the underbelly of crime and madness is really what makes this a genuinely good story. Sure you could set a love story in a circus and I'll still tell you that it stinks, but adding such elements as jealously and deception at this intense a level is really what makes this a tale to remember.
Overall Rating: 78% (The Great Unknowns Tend To Be Unpolished Gems)
Aftertaste: I give this two thumbs up! HA! HA! HA! (You have to see it to get it...)
As part of the Lon Chaney collection, I would have expected The Hunchback of Notre Dame to be on this, but I'll see it soon enough. Lon is one of those actors that has a solid bunch of movies under his belt, but even though his reputation preceeds him, people don't really watch old cinema. If it's one thing I've learned while expanding my film repertoire all the way back to the beginning of time, it's that people don't appreciate how good a movie made before their parents were born is... not 'could be', but IS. It's infuriating to know that people won't watch a movie just because, "It's Old"... Unquote.
If that defines me as a snob then CRY FREEDOM!