The Unknown (1927) (SPOILERS)

If you're a fan of the Man with a Thousand Faces, you may well love this bizarre tale about the everyday loves and lives of a circus community.

Personally, I'm not, and this "tragedy" is another showcase for one of cinema's more egocentric screen personalities. Lon Chaney may have been a lovely man in real life - I've no idea - but he really only does one-man shows. He can turn on any emotion you like at the throw of a knife (he doesn't drop hats - I can't recall his being hatless in any scene) - and tears flow with sorrow and anger, happiness and hysteria. If the camera loves him, it's because everyone else barely gets a look-in. No-one else's emotions matter, and we are somehow  expected to feel sorry only for this criminally insane character.

It turns out that, contrary to the contemporary belief that Chaney could contort his body in all directions ("See how he lights a fag and smokes it with his feet!") he actually had a body-double to do the footwork.

This type of body-horror story - in this case, Man selflessly mutilates his body to attain the Love of his Life, only to discover that she doesn't love him - is not unfamiliar to modern audiences who've had any experience of Cronenberg or, for that matter, the work of The Unknown's Tod Browning (Dracula, Freaks). But perhaps this would have been a ghastly novelty in 1927. However, what shocks there are are entirely narrative: everything is left to the imagination: there is no gore (though both modern and contemporary critics misleadingly suggest there is, describing it as 'gruesome') but the basic idea is pretty repellent, if not altogether absurd.

Perhaps there had been a better film back in the day, but the version I saw on Freevee via Amazon Prime Video was only 47 minutes long and felt badly hacked about, with some narrative gaps and a peculiar gauze sheen across many images. The worst example was the seamless move from the scene where Alonzo discovers Nanon is to marry his rival and is contorted with jealousy, rage and self-pity into a banal discussion about Nanon and Malabar's latest stunt - though Chaney's facial expressions as he plots his revenge were worthy of a horse-collar and entry into a Cumbrian gurning competition.

And the "Red Button" moment at the climax is absurd. The circus hand in charge of The Lever That Will Prevent Accidental Death readily deserts his post at Alonzo's trivial request to fetch Nanon's cloak. (If only Chaney had remembered to wear a moustache, he could have twirled it villainously with his toes).

Critics love this movie, but the premise of the story is both so improbable and so unpleasant, and the execution so poor, with the exception of Chaney's performance (if you like his sort of thing) that I can't see why I needed to see it.

Fun fact: the version I saw had a soundtrack written by John Cale in 1994.

It didn't improve the movie.

* The email will not be published on the website.