The Unknown is one of ~50 silent films on the list, and it feels like one of the most modern-feeling silent films that I have seen so far. Maybe that is because this is a very short film, clocking in at less than an hour. Therefore The Unknown feels more like an episode of one of those old-style Twilight Zone anthology horror anthologies.
The Unknown is one of Tod Browning’s three films on the 1001 Movies list. It is also the last one that I needed to see (having already seen Dracula and Freaks) as well as my fourth Tod Browning (despite being incredibly weird, The Devil Doll is not on the list).
Now, of the four Browning movies this is probably my favourite of them. It has a lot of the good parts of Freaks (love, murder, circus freaks etc) but it has a greater sense of focus and the great Lon Chaney as the lead. Also of note is the appearance of Joan Crawford in one of her first silent leading roles. It’s weird looking at her in this and knowing that in 35 years time she will be playing opposite Bette Davis in What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?
It’s a great story about what a man would do for love/lust and anonymity. I mean, imagine a criminal pretending to be an armless man in a circus so he is able to burgle houses and not be under suspicion (due to having a weird double thumb on his left hand). Now imagine being so in lust with the man-fearing daughter of the circus owner that you get your arms amputated only to have her get over her fears. Sounds very Twilight Zone right? Now add in a strange death and you’ve got The Unknown.
It’s an interesting watch – go here to see for yourself.