The movie The Unknown (1927) is a silent horror film that tells the story of Alonzo the Armless, a circus performer with a dark secret. Directed by Tod Browning, the film stars Lon Chaney as Alonzo, a man who pretends to be armless but in reality has his arms tightly strapped to his body. His act involves throwing knives and shooting rifles with his feet, which mesmerizes audiences and conceals his true identity as a criminal on the run.
Alonzo harbors a deep love for Nanon, the circus owner’s daughter, played by Joan Crawford. Nanon has a phobia of men’s arms and thus finds comfort in Alonzo’s seemingly harmless presence. The movie The Unknown (1927) takes a twisted turn when Alonzo’s love drives him to extreme lengths. He decides to permanently rid himself of his arms by blackmailing a surgeon into amputating them, all in a bid to ensure Nanon’s affections.
However, the plot thickens as Nanon overcomes her phobia and falls in love with Malabar, the circus strongman. Upon returning armless, Alonzo is devastated to learn of Nanon’s engagement to Malabar.
- Lon Chaney as Alonzo the Armless
- Norman Kerry as Malabar the Mighty
- Joan Crawford as Nanon Zanzi
- Nick De Ruiz as Antonio Zanzi
- John George as Cojo the dwarf
- Frank Lanning as Costra
Joan Crawford cited The Unknown (1927) as a pivotal point in her career, where she learned the art of acting in front of a camera from Lon Chaney.
The film’s story was loosely based on Tod Browning’s real-life circus experiences.
The only known surviving prints of the film are missing about 14 minutes of footage, mainly depicting Alonzo’s criminal career .
“Viewers would do well to seek it out if only as an act of appreciation of Browning, Chaney, or Crawford. The picture, in its current form, is missing some of its original exposition, but what a fantastic relic it is. However, it’s far from a museum piece. It feels fiercely alive even after all these years.”