(Visual) Notes on Culture
  The Weirdest of Lon Chaney
I had the pleasure of recently watching a Lon Chaney film that had always escaped ready grasp...THE UNKNOWN (1927). A short feature from the sound era, the film concerns Alonzo (Chaney), an apparently armless man who performs circus tricks. He loves Nanon (a young Joan Crawford), a young gypsy waif who has a totally "normal" save for her otherworldly fear of men's arms and hands. That is right, she apparently had a past episode in which a man's appendages violated her - groping at least, rape perhaps - and therefore stops all advances from Malabar the Mighty (Norman Kerry). Truth be told, Alonzo is just using the circus as a front to hide out for murder. He binds his arms with a bodice to avoid suspicion...for you see, Alonzo would be easily caught for his transgressions...HE HAS TWO THUMBS ON ONE OF HIS HANDS! This is easily the most bizarre "reveal" I've encountered in a horror/thriller film in a while - all this in 1927.

Forgoing the usual "high brow" analysis, THE UNKNOWN is a very interesting, illustrative, and wholly left-field film. It is definitely worth the 45 minutes. While other Chaney is far more popular (THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME) and some of his films far more compelling (LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT comes to mind), THE UNKNOWN is an absolute one-of-a-kind film.
If you liked it, you should try FREAKS (1932) by the same director (Tod Browning), which is even more bizarre and unsettling.
I've seen and enjoy FREAKS. In my mind, its far more interesting than DRACULA. But as far as Chaney-the-Chameleon goes, THE UNKNOWN is just so bizarrely set-up and executed.
Couldn't agree more - "The Unknown" is the best of the Browning/Chaney films. I'd also highly recommend Browning's "The Devil Doll" with Lionel Barrymore (available in the "Hollywood's Legends of Horror" box set).
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