director Tod Browning
A few years back, I caught The Unknown at the Silent Film Festival at the Castro Theatre. This time, I caught it on TMC.
At only 50 minutes of running time (apparently some early sequences have been lost to the ages), it’s a concise piece of Freudian bizarreness and sideshow freaks and madness.
A girl with a pathological fear of men’s hands (Joan Crawford) and the armless knife throwing sharpshooter who loves her (Lon Chaney) would be weird enough. But Chaney is hiding his arms beneath a girdle, and his strange double-thumbed hand, as well as his murderous rage against the world and passionate love of Crawford. He goes as far as having his arms actually amputated, so that she can love him truly armless, and also not recognize him as the murderer of her father. Oh, but capricious love! She falls for the strong man, overcoming her fear. So Chaney is left with only the option of killing the man in an accident that would rip the arms off of the strong man!
Wow, it’s even crazier when you spell it out. And all in those nice, tight 50 minutes. Brilliant stuff from Tod Browning.