Murderers -- Drama, Thieves -- Drama, Circus -- Drama, Circus performers -- Drama, People with disabilities -- Drama, Rinehart, Mary Roberts, 1876-1958. K -- Film and video adaptations, Knife throwing -- Drama

The Unknown

(The unknown), (Alonzo the Armless)

Live Music/Judith Rosenberg on piano


A circus performer has his arms amputated to satisfy his lover’s strange desires in Tod Browning’s shocking tale of madness and love, one of Lon Chaney’s greatest performances and still one of the strangest films that Hollywood has ever produced. On the run from the police, a disabled crook takes refuge in the circus and becomes a knife thrower, and soon falls for the charms of a scantily clad carnival girl (Joan Crawford, in an early role), who cannot stand the touch of men. A novel solution is soon discovered, but desire and love, it seems, are fickle creatures. Embraced by the Surrealists as a testament to mad love and irrational desire, The Unknown was thought lost for years until Langlois discovered a 35mm print in the Cinémathèque. (Langlois later joked that one of the reasons it took so long to find was that they had too many prints in the collection labeled “Unknown.”)

—Jason Sanders


  • English
Print Info
  • 35mm

CineFiles is an online database of BAMPFA's extensive collection of documentation covering world cinema, past and present.

View The unknown documents  

Tod Browning : l'Insolite (booklet), Musée d'Orsay, Elias Savada, 2000

The unknown (review), Village Voice, Gary Dauphin, 1997

The unknown (program note), Turner Broadcasting System, Inc., 1996

Up in arms (review), Philadelphia Weekly, Michael Wakely, 1996

The macabre vision of Tod Browning (program note), San Francisco Cinematheque, 1988

The unknown (program note), Mill Valley Film Festival, Jon Mirsalis, 1983

The unknown (program note), Los Angeles International Film Exposition, George Pratt, 1980

Film preservation: George Eastman House motion picture study collection (program note), The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1971

The unknown (program note), Pacific Film Archive

Lon Chaney and Joan Crawford in The Unknown (still)

Displaying 10 of 13 publicly available documents.

View all The unknown documentation on CineFiles.