Synopsis by Hal Erickson
As a group, the silent-movie collaborations between director Tod Browning and star Lon Chaney hardly represent the best work of either man, though each film definitely has its moments. One of the best, and weirdest, of the batch is The Unknown. Chaney plays a carnival performer known as the "Armless Wonder," who performs near-miraculous stunts with his bare feet. In fact, he is in possession of both his arms, but keeps them strapped to his side to maintain the illusion of being limbless. Chaney's beautiful assistant Joan Crawford has a pathological fear of being touched by any man. This leads Chaney to believe that he is attractive to Crawford so long as his keeps his arms hidden. Halfway through the film, Chaney murders the circus manager--a crime witnessed by Crawford, who was only able to glimpse Chaney's distinctively mutated thumb. To cover up his crime, and to make himself the perfect mate for Crawford, Chaney blackmails a doctor into amputating his arms. Upon returning to the carnival, the now-genuinely armless Chaney learns to his horror that Crawford has overcome her aberration of being touched, thanks to handsome circus strong man Norman Kerry. Enraged, Chaney plots to kill Kerry in a horrible fashion...but guess who ends up seriously dead?
circus-performer, carnival, disfigurement, knife-thrower, amputation, beauty [physical], bizarre, circus, deformity, freak, handicap, love, phobia, sacrifice, sideshow, jealousy, murder, unrequited