The Unknown (1927)

Article #138 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 8-1-2001
Posting date: 12-15-2001

An armless knife-thrower (who isn’t really armless but performs in a harness) in a circus is in love with another circus performer who can’t stand men putting their arms around her; the knife-thrower encourages this distaste in her to keep her away from the strongman to whom she is attracted. He decides to have his arms surgically removed for good in order to win her and cover up his deception, but she overcomes her repugnance to being held just as he does this.

This is perhaps my favorite Lon Chaney performance as well as my favorite Tod Browning movie. I always marvel at the skill with which Chaney pulls off this role, despite the fact that the harness he wore contributed to his back problems; the scene where he tearfully lights and smokes a cigarette with his feet without realizing that his hands are free to do this at the moment is wonderful. It’s not really a horror movie, but is often included in lists of this sort, probably due to the presence of Chaney, the role he’s playing, and a certain depravity in the proceedings. Joan Crawford plays the woman he loves, and John George his sidekick.

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