The Unknown (1927) was a silent horror movie starring Lon Chaney as carnival knife thrower “Alonzo the Armless” and Joan Crawford as his beloved carnival girl Nanon. The film was also one of the most offbeat psychological dramas ever produced by a major studio, especially one such as MGM. Tod Browning, a former circus performer, and Lon Chaney’s intense performance were a match made in heaven. The story is just as strange and troubling as the main character. There is only a brief glimpse of the act, but its weirdness also contributes to the overall setting. The circus setting creates a suitable backdrop for an unusual love triangle. The youthful Joan Crawford plays Chaney’s troubled partner in his knife-throwing act well as Norman Kerry’s eager but dull-witted strongman.
Chaney, a master actor, and Tod Browning, an outstanding director, took their love of the macabre and turned it into a strangely entertaining & suspenseful little silent movie. As an armless wonder in a gypsy circus, Chaney’s face is a casebook of emotions as he longs for the chieftain’s daughter. He makes a tremendous, even outrageous, sacrifice for her, only to discover it was all for naught. As Chaney feels his life crumble around him, his agony is horribly evident. He shows off his excellent physical conditioning to significant effect, his feet as fluid as any hand–the extreme punishment he underwent to portray the part is impressive.
Joan Crawford portrayed the role of a carnival girl. She is sultry & disarming as the object of Chaney’s desires in one of her most critical early roles; her neurotic phobia of men’s hands gives her character an interesting depth. Norman Kerry reveals tenderness and affability as Crawford’s circus strongman despite his strength. The colorful roles played by John George as Chaney’s dwarf accomplice and Nick De Ruiz as the brutal circus chief are pretty compelling.
Here are some stunning photos of Joan Crawford during the filming of ‘Unknown (1927)’.