The Unknown (1927)



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Movie Info

Another typically morbid Chaney film has him working as a circus freak and trying to win the heart of his assistant. Alas, she does not want him so he must kill the object of her intentions.


Critic Reviews for The Unknown

All Critics (6)

Tod Browning's rousing, cruel joke on the mutilated artiste and the frigid muse

Oct 26, 2010 | Full Review…

It may not be Browning's best silent film, but it is certainly his most fascinatingly perverse -- and that's saying something in the world of Tod Browning.

Oct 18, 2006 | Rating: 4.5/5 | Full Review…

[An] astonishing masterpiece.

Aug 12, 2006 | Full Review…

Not a second of its brief 50-minute running time is wasted.

Dec 6, 2005 | Rating: 5/5 | Full Review…

It was the last of the great silent films, as just 4 months later the first talkie opened: The Jazz Singer.

May 24, 2003 | Rating: A | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for The Unknown


While very short at just 50 minutes, this film packs an emotional punch and is macabre in a way that is unique to the genre of horror movies. I won't spoil the big moments, but the tone is set from the beginning as we find ourselves at the circus performance with an armless man (Lon Chaney) hurling knives and firing a rifle at his partner (a young Joan Crawford). As we later see Chaney (and a real-life armless double) manipulate objects and do things like smoke with this feet, we're reminded of the film director Tod Browning would make five years later, 'Freaks'. Chaney's performance throughout the film is brilliant, and he dramatically captures angst, jealousy, and pain. John George turns in a strong performance as the little person in the circus who is Chaney's friend, and the two of them create a striking pair. While the overall tone of the movie is deliciously creepy, the romance Joan Crawford warms up to with a circus strong-man (Norman Kerry) is sweet, and Browning uses a piece of gauze over the camera lens to create an idyllic, dreamy feel to some of their scenes. The uncredited score that was used on the TCM showing was also fantastic. Great film, especially for 1927.

Antonius Block
Antonius Block

Super Reviewer


A brilliant love story, I loved it, I just wish it were a bit longer, but other than that, it's perfect. It's a love story about obsession, lies, and murder. And the climactic scene towards the end was riveting. And Lon Cheney is fantastic as a 'one armed' man. I highly recommend this movie.

Aj V
Aj V

Super Reviewer

wow. tod browning was one twisted fuck. this is like a precursor to freaks, with joan crawford when she was still cute and a standout performance by lon chaney. one of the stranger films you'll ever see

Stella Dallas
Stella Dallas

Super Reviewer

"I did what you told me, Alonzo. I took her in my arms." Okay, no need to rub it in, Malabar! Hmm, how can I describe this one without spoiling the plot? Leaving out the twisted elements, which quite honestly have to be seen to be believed, it's a love triangle set against a circus backdrop, in which Alonzo the Armless (Lon Chaney) and Malabar the Mighty compete for the affection of Nanon (Joan Crawford), the ringmaster's daughter. Since Nanon cannot stand to be pawed by men, Alonzo appears to be winning this contest hands down, if you'll pardon the pun. However, he has a guilty secret... Let's just say this is a serious cautionary tale about the perils of resorting to surgery to attract a mate. I think this is actually my favourite of the Tod Browning movies I've seen so far because, great as they are, Dracula and Freaks are very primitive talkies, whereas The Unknown is a sophisticated late silent. As a circus revenge movie, it also has one of the things Freaks lacks: a great star performance. Alonzo the Armless kicks ass! Ta, R :P

Stephen M
Stephen M

Super Reviewer

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