Sunday, October 11, 2009

Eight arms to hold you

TCM has selected a pair of movies starring Lon Chaney for its Silent Sunday Night feature. The first of these is The Unknown, starting just after midnight tonight.

Chaney stars as a circus knife-thrower who doesn't have any arms; instead he uses his feet. The young woman at whom he throws the knife is a very young Joan Crawford, who was about 19 at the time. She's not bad-looking here; at least, she looks good enough to have all of the "regular" men in the circus wanting to paw her. Unfortunately for them, she's got a thing about their dirty arms and minds, and can't bear to be held by men, which makes Chaney a natural protector for her -- if not a love interest. Indeed, Chaney falls in love with her, but it's a more or less unrequited love.

That's not the only problem for Chaney, though. He's got what's best called a dark secret that should remain a secret until it's revealed in the movie. Suffice it to say that Chaney is willing to go to pretty shocking lengths in order to win Crawford's love. But wouldn't you know that those lengths are all for naught, as Crawford is able to overcome her fear of being held in a man's arms, falling for the circus strongman. This enrages Chaney, who vows to take revenge....

If you haven't seen The Unknown, it's a pretty shocking movie, and one that holds up well over 80 years. It's the sort of movie that proves that you don't need large amounts blood and gore to frighten and unnerve people. But then, Tod Browning, who directed the movie, was a master of doing precisely this during the silent era, and the beginning of the sound era. The Unknown isn't quite as shocking as, say, Freaks (which will be airing at 6:00 AM ET this coming Saturday), but it's still a pretty darn good movie. And if you want to introduce silent films to people who only think of the slapstick comedy of the silent era, a movie like The Unknown isn't a bad place to start.

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