Mon 24 Oct 2011
THE UNKNOWN. MGM, 1927. Lon Chaney, Norman Kerry, Joan Crawford, Nick De Ruiz, John George. Director: Tod Browning.
One of Lon Chaney’s most famous roles. He plays Alonzo, an armless circus performer, who loves Manon (Joan Crawford), daughter of the circus owner. Alonzo performs prodigious feats with his bare feet and is caressed fondly by Crawford, who cannot bear to be touched by “normal” men.
Eventually, Crawford is cured of her neurosis and is happily married to the strongman, who has devised an act where his arms are attached to two horses running in place on treadmills with the mechanism controlled by a single lever in the wings.
Alonzo, insane with jealousy, gains control .of the lever and, as a horrified Crawford watches, speeds up the treadmill, the horses straining at their ropes, so that…
But you didn’t think I was going to tell you how this one came out, did you?
There’s a strangulation, murder, a dwarf, a visit to a hospital operating room at midnight (this is, after all, only four years before Frankenstein), and Chaney’s menacing, brooding presence, like a tightly-wound spring that threatens to unwind at any time.