The Unknown

By the time Tod Browning and Lon Chaney collaborated in the mid-1920s, the film colony in Hollywood had begun flirting with the psychoanalytic concepts of Sigmund Freud, at least in their popular form. “As transmuted into an American fad, Freud’s science verged on pseudoscience,” report Browning biographers David Skal and Elias Savada. “Twenties-style psychobabble thus overlapped with the quintessentially Browning milieu of faith healing and occult hucksterism.” These muddled concepts found furious expression in Browning’s original story for The Unknown, a lurid tale of frigidity and castration anxiety. Chaney stars as Alonzo the Armless, a double amputee who performs with a big-top show, and young Joan Crawford plays his beautiful assistant, Nanon, who suffers from a creeping phobia of men’s hands. “Men! The beasts!” she exclaims at one point. “God would show wisdom if he took the hands from all of them!” Clearly these two are a match made in heaven. Continue reading>>