Remakes have become something of an epidemic in Hollywood in the last decade or so. Remakes, rehashes, sequels to long forgotten franchises, reboots, it has become depressingly apparent that Hollywood has run out of ambition. I'm not going to say they've run out of originality or fresh stories, those things are out there if those who run Hollywood would care to look. No, the simple fact is that they have run out of ambition. They don't care to look for the fresh stories, they seem to be content to rehash old things and hope that name recognition alone is enough to put butts in seats. It has worked thus far, or else I don't think they would still be doing it, but I don't expect it to last too much longer. The remake is tired, it's old, and pretty much every audience everywhere is sick of it. That said, sometimes a remake is a good thing.
There are only two reasons to ever remake a film. 1. The film is so old that it has been all but forgotten by modern audiences and 2. You have something new to bring to the table. You only really need to satisfy one of the two reasons, but if you can manage to satisfy both of these criteria, you have a movie that is almost screaming for a remake. The following movie meets both criteria.
The Unknown was a silent film made in 1927. It starred Lon Cheney, Sr and was directed by Tod Browning, who wold go on to direct the Bela Lugosi Dracula film in 1931. This film was made by two of the period's biggest names in the horror movie genre, and it shows. I'm not big on silent films. Some of them are enjoyable, but as a rule I don't really want to spend the entire movie reading everything. I don't generally like foreign language films for the same reason. I prefer foreign language films dubbed in English. That said, sometimes a movie so good and so compelling comes along and engages you in such a way that you forget it's a silent film, or that it's in another language.
I first stumbled across this film a lot of years ago really late one night. I don't remember exactly what had caught my attention as I was flipping the channels that caused me to pause for a moment, but within minutes I was engrossed. I had caught the movie very near the beginning, and it didn't take me long to figure out what was going on. The Unknown is the story of Alonzo the Armless, who is a killer on the run and hiding out in a circus freak show, disguised as a man with no arms who does everything with his feet. He throws knives and does trick shots with a rifle, all with his feet. He keeps his arms tied to his sides with a sort of girdle and then wears his clothes over that. He gets in and out of his arm brace with the help of a midget, who is the only one who knows his secret. He disguises himself as a man with no arms because he has a double thumb on one hand, and this would identify him as the murderer the police are searching for.
Alonzo's partner in his act is a woman named Nanon, whom Alonzo is deeply smitten with. The circus strongman is also in love with Nanon, but she has a phobia of man's arms, and she feels a kinship with Alonzo because of this. Nanon kisses Alonzo, and his midget friend warns him that if he allows Nanon to get that close to him, she is sure to discover that Alonzo has arms. Since he killed Nanon's father, and she saw the murder committed by a man with a double thumb on one hand, this would be problematic. So Alonzo decides to make the ultimate sacrifice for Nanon's love and has his arms amputated. I am not going to go any further into the plot of this film, because it gets really good from this point, and I really would encourage anyone to seek this film out and watch it. It's one of those movies that, when you get to the end, you're just in awe at the cinematic masterpiece that has just danced across your eyes.
Most people in the modern audience have never heard of this movie. I know movies, and I had never heard of it until I stumbled upon it accidentally. It could also bring something new to the table by being filmed with sound, which would make it appeal to a new audience, an audience who, like me, is reluctant to watch a silent film. The Unknown tells a truly remarkable story, it really makes you feel for the characters, and it is everything a great movie ought to be, and I would really like to see this film remade for a modern audience. This would actually be a great fit for a director like Christopher Nolan, because it really is more of a psychological thriller than it is a straight up horror movie. Of course, I don't thin the chances of getting a really good remake of this film are very high, mostly because I don't think Hollywood even remembers that it exists. Which is a shame. It hasn't even been added to the Library of Congress National Film Registry, and that is a tragedy.