Combustible Celluloid
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With: Lon Chaney, Norman Kerry, Joan Crawford, Nick De Ruiz, John George, Frank Lanning
Written by: Tod Browning, Waldemar Young, Joseph Farnham, based, without credit on a novel by Mary Roberts Rinehart
Directed by: Tod Browning
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 49
Date: 06/04/1927

The Unknown (1927)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Farewell to Arms

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Tod Browning's astonishing 1927 masterpiece, The Unknown. In the latter film, the master of disguise Lon Chaney plays an armless knife-thrower in a circus. He falls in love with a young, sexy, gypsy girl Joan Crawford, but she, ironically, can't stand men's hands! Browning revels in the seedy circus life, as he would later in Freaks, and creates some incredible set pieces, from Chaney's knife-throwing act to a sinister, cavernous doctor's lab. To say any more would ruin the film's ungodly storyline and Browning's unflinching approach to it. This transfer includes a heartrending score by the Alloy Orchestra.

The Unknown is included in the excellent DVD set "The Lon Chaney Collection" (1921-28, Warner Home Video, $39.98). This spectacular two-disc collection pays tribute to the great actor with three Chaney features, plus a 2000 documentary about his life directed by Kevin Brownlow and narrated by Kenneth Branagh. The set includes the features The Ace of Hearts (1921), Laugh, Clown, Laugh (1929), commentary tracks by Chaney biographer Michael F. Blake, and Rick Schmidlin's 47-minute photo restoration of Chaney and Browning's lost 1927 film London After Midnight.

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