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Friday, March 22, 2019

"The Unknown" (1927)

There's no other word to describe this disturbing silent film but 'twisted'. And you should expect nothing less from Tod Browning, the director of the infamous horror chiller "Freaks". This story is another set amongst the bodily deformed performers of a traveling circus. Lon "Man of a Thousand Faces" Chaney is an armless knife thrower and sharp shooter. His beautiful assistant, the girl on the receiving end of all those sharp knives, is a young Joan Crawford. She's the daughter of the circus owner and Chaney is obsessively in love with her. Problem is, so is the troupe's strongman, the musclebound mustachioed Norman Kerry. And this is where things get creepy. Really creepy. To describe any more of the plot would short-change the gobsmacking shocks that occur. Let's just say it's weird, it's gruesome, and there's not a little bit of demented humor sprinkled in to make you feel just a tad queasier about the proceedings. The big finish alone is one of those "Oh no, they're not going there, are they?" You'll watch through your hands, believe me. Chaney's performance here is like a man possessed. This is what lovelorn mania really looks like. And Crawford always credited this film as a big turning point in her career, one where she learned how to act in front of a camera. Call it macabre, call it sick, there's no denying it's unforgettable.

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