Mark your calendar: on Saturday, September 30th, the National Film Preservation Foundation and Silent Movie Day will join forces to present a special screening of Tod Browning’s macabre masterpiece The Unknown. Featuring Lon Chaney and Joan Crawford, the film screens the day after Silent Movie Day at nine Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas throughout the USA. Proceeds will support the NFPF’s preservation efforts.
The September 30th screenings take place at the following Alamo Drafthouse locations; tickets are available through the links:
Alamo South Lamar (Austin)
Alamo Wrigleyville (Chicago)
Alamo Sloans Lake (Denver)
Alamo 28 Liberty (Manhattan)
Alamo Stone Oak (San Antonio)
Alamo New Mission (San Francisco)
Directed by Tod Browning and released in 1927, The Unknown is one of ten films he made with Lon Chaney. Set in a Spanish circus, the film stars Chaney as Alonzo the Armless Wonder—a fraudulent fully-armed knife thrower in love with Joan Crawford’s Nanon. It takes Browning and Chaney’s proclivities for "freakish characterizations”, circuses, and body mutilation to heights labeled "gruesome and at times shocking" by the New York Times.
After its theatrical run the film disappeared and was thought lost for decades, until a print turned up in France. George Eastman Museum’s new restoration adds ten minutes of new material from a Czech export print found at the National Film Archive in Prague. The new running time is just a minute shorter than the original release, and new English intertitles have been created using the original cutting continuity. The added footage does not alter the story but gives it greater breathing room. The film will be accompanied by a new score composed and performed by Dr. Philip Carli.
Funding for the restoration was provided by a Roger Mayer Legacy Grant administered by the National Film Preservation Foundation. This new grant program is aimed at feature films that have recently entered the public domain; The Unknown is among the very first films preserved through this new program.
Founded in 2021 and registered with National Day Archives, Silent Movie Day is an annual celebration of silent movies that anyone can take part in. Please visit its website to learn more about silent film screenings near you.
If you are unable to attend a screening, keep in mind that George Eastman Museum's restoration of The Unknown, with the new score by Dr. Philip Carli, will be part of the Criterion Collection's Tod Browning's Sideshow Shockers alongside Freaks (1932) and The Mystic (1925), available on October 17th.