The Unknown. 1927. USA. Directed by Tod Browning. Screenplay by Browning, Waldemar Young. With Lon Chaney, Norman Kerry, Joan Crawford. Digital restoration courtesy of the George Eastman Museum from 35mm prints at GEM and the Národní filmovy archiv, with the support of The National Film Preservation Foundation. North American premiere. Silent. 66 min.
By common critical consent, The Unknown is the most perverse and fascinating of the 10 films Lon Chaney made with Tod Browning, a grim O. Henry–style tale about desire and sacrifice. Chaney is the Great Alonzo, a circus performer who appears as an “armless wonder” while hiding his arms beneath a tightly-wrapped corset, and Joan Crawford, in her first major role, is the young assistant with whom he is in love—and who, conveniently or not, has a morbid fear of being held in men’s arms.
Known since its rediscovery in the 1960s only in a shortened print found in the Cinematheque Francaise, The Unknown has now been restored to essentially its full length by the George Eastman Museum, with the missing shots and sequences—approximately 10 minutes of material—restored from a Czech export print in the collection of the National Film Archive in Prague. While they don’t alter the narrative, the newfound scenes add nuance, background, and context, enriching what is already one of the most bizarre films to come out of Hollywood.
Die große Liebe einer kleinen Tänzerin (The Great Love of a Little Dancer). 1924. Germany. Written and directed by Alfred Zeisler, Viktor Abel. With Powell-Schwiegerling Compagnie (Paul Schwiegerling). Digital restoration by DFF – Deutsches Filminstitut & Filmmuseum, with the support of the Förderprogramm Filmerbe. U.S. premiere. Silent; with English intertitles. 20 min.
Rebuked by the object of his desire, Dr. Larifari, a magician in a rival circus, puts a curse on dancer Esmeralda, who only has eyes for lion tamer Leonidas. Every man who now looks at her will have his head turned around. No special effects were needed for this twist: all the characters are puppets that the renowned Schwiegerling family crafted and operated. Walter Benjamin declared their marionette theater “more beautiful than anything you could imagine…a magician’s den.” The company’s artistry brings extra enchantment to this dark fable of jealousy, self-sacrifice, and dislodged appendages. The digital restoration by DFF – Deutsches Filminstitut & Filmmuseum is based on the film’s sole surviving tinted nitrate print, which is safeguarded in the DFF collection.