Wednesday, August 11, 2021

The Unknown

I'm gonna find it difficult this week to see a better performance from Chaney.

Even though tomorrow we look at my personal favorite of his films, I really couldn't ask for better acting from him like ever in this picture. I think it was almost law, regardless of genre or story material, there had to be some love triangle scenario in the silent era, it pretty much is at the forefront of every Lon Chaney film I've seen in my life. So we follow a circus troupe, specifically Alonzo an armless trickshot, Nanon the ring leader's daughter, and Malabar the strong man as romance buds and tragedy is right around the corner. What fascinates me about this film is there actually is no complete print of this movie, which is kind of the shameful reality of it all when it comes to silent cinema. The full runtime was an hour and three minutes, the only surviving print is 50 minutes so you lose about 13 minutes and yet not once does the film seem like it's missing anything. It's a concise, easily understandable, and still engaging story that can be watched in the time of a modern television drama's runtime. Quite a few horror connections in this film, it was directed by Tod Browning who directed two previously reviewed films here on the show, Freaks and the 1931 Dracula. Speaking of Dracula, Bela Lugosi is in a very brief cameo near the beginning of the film. Norman Kerry returns as Malabar, two years after Phantom Of The Opera with Chaney so the trend continues for returning cast members from that film. And Joan Crawford stars as the romantic lead Nanon, who had a long and illustrious career in Hollywood with notable horror examples being in Rod Serling's Night Gallery, and the cult classic Whatever Happened To Baby Jane. Apparently Joan fully commited to acting after watching Chaney perform, and it does go to show what a truly unbelievable figure he was in that time and palce in the world. You get so much great acting out of him in this movie, and I can pin it down to the big emotional breakdown scene he has near the end. Good God, I felt everything in that scene. If people ever wondered or wanted reason why critics and fans praise Lon Chaney's acting ability despite the lack of sound, this is immediately the film I am pointing to. It even has a more cathartic and final ending, cause there is a point where the film could have faded to black, The End, done and over, with actually a pretty solid Rod Serling feel to it now that I think about it, but it gives you that little bit more of an emotional finale which I think works wonderfully. I think it's a great film, cannot even believe it could pop up in the public domain in a few years time, MGM get on top of your movie history, seriously everybody needs to pay more attention to films of the silent and early sound era from the studios that made them to the audiences who still watch them. I dare even say they are more important than cinema breaking films like Star Wars, Citizen Kane, or any blockbuster franchise going on now. We cannot let these films slip into obscurity and out of history, not for anything. 4 stars, 8.5/10, it's been a good week and we still got one more.

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