Friday, May 8, 2009

33. The Unknown - 1927

Synopsis: Alonzo is hiding in a circus as an armless performer so police will not discover his double thumb linking him to a string of circus murders. He falls for a Nanon who hates to be held. Realizing Nanon would discover his ruse on their wedding night, he has his arms surgically removed. Nanon gets over her chirophobia and falls for a strong man. Alonzo attempts to have horses rip off strong man's arms and is trampled to death in the process.

Review: You know what's unknown? Why this movie made the list! /statler&waldorf

I have nothing against b-movies. In fact, I love a well made b-movies--this is not a contradiction of terms--especially when said movie contains animals killing people but more on that when I review Jaws. I don't see why this particular movie is worthy when any other one would have fit the bill.

The Unknown has no discernable influence on film. The three big names involved--Tod Browning, Lon Chaney and Joan Crawford--are better known for other things which are worse than The Unknown--Freaks, Phantom Of The Opera and child abuse respectively. There is nothing shocking in finding out this film was lost for decades because no one remember "The Unknown" was the name of a film and not a bunch of reels to a film no one could identify.

That is not to say The Unknown is a bad movie. I enjoy it. I don't see what makes this movie better than any other b-movie beyond Chaney's performance which is quite good. It might be the best performance thus for on the list. Chaney's performance, while not as natural as Nanook or as affecting as the doorman from Der Letzte Mann, is the most subtle which seems contradictory since Chaney had to act like he didn't have arms.

I attended college with a guy that had no arms. Even after seeing him do everything my arms take for granted with his feet, Chaney still impressed me. Chaney had help by having Peter Dismuki--someone actually without arms--play his feet in some scenes.

As b-movies are generally exploitive, I should be as well. Here are the top five things Alonzo does to showcase his self imposed malady:

drink some wine
wipe his brow
smoke a cigarette

play a guitar (I legitimately saw someone do this once and he did not hold the guitar at all like this)

fire a gun

So, this movie is nothing to take much notice of beyond the performance of Lon Chaney. I personally never thought one performance makes a movie great even if that performance is. The movie has a certain level of watchability but only as a novelty. If you want a superior movie with Joan Crawford revolving around circus murders, I suggest Berserk!