Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Unknown - 1927

Country: United States
Language: English (intertitles)
Director: Tod Browning
Writers: Tod Browning (story), Waldemar Young (scenario), Mary Roberts Rinehart (novel "K" – uncredited), Joseph Farnham (titles)
Stars: Lon Chaney, Norman Kerry and Joan Crawford
Release Date: 4 June 1927 (USA)
Also known as: The Unknown (USA - original title); Alonzo the Armless (USA - working title); Az ismeretlen (Hungary); Demon cyrku (Poland); Den ukjendte (Norway); Der Mann ohne Hände (Austria); Der Unbekannte (Áustria); Garras humanas (Spain); Kädetön Alfonso (Finland); L'inconnu (France); Lo sconosciuto (Italy); O Homem Sem Braços (Portugal); O Monstro do Circo (Brazil); O anthropos horis heria (Greece - transliterated ISO-LATIN-1 title); The Unknown - Der Unbekannte (Germany)
Budget: $217,000 (estimated)
Production Co: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)
Runtime: 63 min (23 fps)  | UK: 49 min (BFI print)  | USA: 49 min (alternate version)
Sound Mix: Silent
Color: Black and White
Plot Keywords: Love | Circus | Murderer | Surgery | Surgeon  | Armless Man | Murder | Circus Performer | Knife Thrower | Blackmailer | Doctor | Engagement | Unrequited Love | Death | Aphephobia | Freak | Unnecessary Surgery | Knife Throwing | Horse | Fear Of Loving | Deception | Obsessive Love | Muscleman | Male Female Relationship | Killer | Blackmail | Amputee | Unethical Doctor | Silent Film | Father Daughter Relationship | Self Sacrifice | Arm Amputation | Amputation | Circus Train | Frigidity | Revenge | Liar |
Death Of Father | Based On Novel
Genres: Drama | Horror | Romance | Thriller 
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...
For many years this film only existed in murky 9.5mm dupes on the black market. In March 1973, at a screening of this film at George Eastman House, archivist James Card said that Henri Langlois and his staff at the Cinematheque Francais discovered a copy of it in 1968 among other miscellaneous cans of film marked "l'inconnu" (films "unknown" due to missing titles, etc.).
As 'Peter Dismuki' was born armless, he doubled for some shots of Lon Chaney where Dismuki used his feet for smoking or playing a fiddle.
Director Tod Browning loosely based the story on a real event of his circus days, where a man has masqueraded as an acrobat to evade the police.
Joan Crawford always considered The Unknown a big turning point for her. She said it wasn't until working with Lon Chaney in this film that she learned the difference between standing in front of a camera and acting in front of a camera. She said that was all due to Lon Chaney and his intense concentration, and after that experience she said she worked much harder to become a better actress.
Included among the '1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die', edited by Steven Jay Schneider. 
When Alonzo and Cojo are drinking wine, the glass suddenly fills between shots.
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.
When tricking Nanon's assistant to leave the stage, Lon Chaney clearly uses his hands to close the door behind him, although he plays a guy who's hands had been amputated earlier in the film

1 comment:

  1. This is indeed a very odd film but Chaney and Crawford are really good throughout. Like a strange dream it lingers... Tod Browning specialised in that!