The Unknown ★★★

Farewell to Arms

Fun silent picture that begins with a titillating experience of watching Lon Chaney throw knives as an scantily clad Joan Crawford (who is quite the looker here). Browning so successfully sets up what feels like will be an early version of Freaks, including some smartly stilted dialogue and the language of melodrama (she will love know man that touches her with her hands…) that when the twist at the end of the first reel appears, it does come as a shock. I think from there, it’s a mostly smart picture complete with some interesting visual language, though not without its flaws (how Chaney gets away with the murder makes very little sense). If anything, I wish there was a little more meat to work with—played at 18 or 20 frames per second, this runs just over 50 minutes. There’s a lot of Freudian symbolism to be worked through, but I wish it didn’t feel all so simple.

TEAR ALERT: another silent film in which a close-up gives us an embodiment of a physical tear on a face. Perhaps I should write my dissertation on these phenomena.