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(Review originally written at 26 September 2007)

This is a beautifully crafted movie with a great and original story that on the one hand is really sweet but at the same time also quite horrifying and disgusting.

You can say that this movie was a predecessor- and more light version for Tod Browning's later movie classic "Freak", which just like this movie was also set at the circus and features deformed people and other outcasts in the main roles. It sort of features the same concept and underlying themes.

It's an interesting and above all very original love story that mainly focuses on a fugitive murderer (Lon Chaney), who has taken refugee in the circus as an 'armless' knife thrower, who falls in love with another young circus girl (Joan Crawford) but has strong competition from the circus strongman Malabar (Norman Kerry). It's interesting that it tells the story from the viewpoint of the 'evil' character of the movie. It's of course however way more than just an evil character. You learn to sympathize for him and sort of understands his motives and feelings, which of course is also due to Lon Chaney's performance. It makes this a real powerful and effective movie, with also a great ending.

Without spoiling anything, the movie features a great plot twist pretty early on in the movie, which forms the rest of the movie and introduces the more sinister and dark aspects of the movie. It's story is well structured and build-up, even though it's the sort of story film-makers now won't get away with because of the simplicity and romanticized aspects of the movie.

Lon Chaney once more absolutely shines in his role. This perhaps is one of his biggest roles out of his career, since he basically is present in every sequence of the movie. The perfectly captures the emotions of the character as well as its evil. I also really liked Norman Kerry in this movie. He has the looks of Errol Flynn and the more athletic body of Douglas Fairbanks. It was also nice to see Joan Crawford in a still very early role for her.

All in all, another great and fairly unknown movie from Tod Browning, featuring Lon Chaney in another great movie role.

9/10

About Frank Veenstra

Watches movies...writes about them...and that's it for now.
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