Saturday, February 11, 2017

Fear "The Unknown"

By Steve Evans

A 23-year-old Joan Crawford stares down the immortal Lon Chaney in The Unknown (1927). Marvelous rainy-day film directed by horror specialist Tod Browning, who made 10 films with Chaney and transitioned into talkies with Dracula (1931) and the legendary Freaks (1932), an oft-misunderstood film greeted with such outrage on initial release that it effectively ended his career.

Here, Chaney plays an armless knife thrower in a Spanish carnival, in love with the owner's daughter. Except he's actually hiding his arms, wrapped tightly beneath his shirt, because he's a criminal fugitive who can be identified by the double-thumb on his left hand. Murders, double-crosses and a shocking (for its day) twist ending make The Unknown one of the great surviving silent films. The performances are uniformly astounding, with the consensus being this is Chaney's best work for Browning. It's certainly his most twisted.

The Unknown was considered a lost film until 1968 when a print was found in the archives of the Cinémathèque Française in Paris. The delay in discovery was because the print had been stored among hundreds of other film canisters labeled "L'inconnu" ("Unknown" in French).

I'm thinking of bringing back the gypsy look.

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