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Tod Browning is a pioneer in creating horror films that create ripples among the audience. All his films had peculiar and different themes that did not fit into the normal thread, yet he was successful in directing a full length horror that captivated the movie goers. The 'Un known' is a horror film that proves that inside every human brain there is a darker side that stoops to very low, and base tendencies, and that cannot be simply termed as animalistic, as it has the potential to imagine more cruel things. The major characters in the play have a peculiar identity of their own. These peculiar nature forms the base for the unnatural behavior they exhibit. For example, circus owner bullies others with his power and ownership. Hunky who is considered strong loves showing his vulnerable mind, Good looking Nanon is obsessed with fear. The theme of the story begins with the arrival of Browning who comes to Hollywood after working in the circus for fifteen years.
Alonzo, the circus freak has to use his feet to perform tricks during the circus show, as he is armless. In reality, he has arms but ties them and acts as if he is armless. In addition there is two thumbs in his right hand. The circus owner's daughter Nanon has an aversion towards men, she does not like to be touched by a man, so she finds Alonzo, the armless to be the best person to be friendly with. One day Nanon's father discovers Alonzo's secret and to silence the secret Alonzo kills him by strangling with his hands. However, Nanon accidentally watches this incident and in particular she notices the double thumb finger in the murder's hands. Being armless Alonzo is not suspected. He lives with Nanon for some days and finds out that he could never win her love with those arms; he makes a decision and leaves the place on the pretext of illness. Actually he visits a doctor and gets his arms amputated. During his absence Nanon overcomes her obsession and falls in love with the local circus strongman.
Alonzo returns without his arms. On seeing him Nanon, reveals about her love for the strongman. Alonzo is both shocked and shattered. In a particular performance, there was a scene where the strongman's arms are pulled with the help of horses. Alonzo secretly tries to kill strongman, but fails in his attempt as Nanon accidently falls from the platform and Alonzo volunteers to save her, but unfortunately gets knocked by the horse and is killed.
The actors who performed the specific roles were applauded for their unique qualities. Lon Chaney as Alonzo, the Armless got the major share of the credit as he did an excellent job of being armless yet capable of performing tricks. Next, Norman Kerry as Malabar the mighty was able to make his mark with his talent of exhibiting the subtle feelings of love and being loved. The other notable characters are; Joan Crawford as Nan on Zanzi ,Nick De Ruiz as Antonio Zanzi, Nanon's father, John George as Cojo, Alonzo's Assistant and Frank Lanning as Costra. The setting of the play revolved around the circus and the pros and cons the artists experience as they live through their lives. It also reveals the actual life and experiences of ordinary people who get obsessed with their emotions and go to any extreme to fulfill them.
Another well acclaimed film by Tod browning is "Freaks" here too the story revolves around the side show performers and his characters not unreal, he utilized real people who had real deformities. Also, his experience of a wandering life helped him to bring in the real life situation on to the films with ease. Cleopatra, a trapeze artist was loved by Hans. Frieda, Hans' fiancée warns him saying that Cleopatra's love is not true and she aims only the inheritance of Hans. In addition, Cleopatra has an love affair with Hercules, and on knowing that Hans is about to inherit money, Cleopatra and Hercules plan to grab the money by making Cleopatra marry Hans. However, even in the wedding reception, Cleopatra, mocks the other freaks. She goes to the extent of poisoning Hans, which was later revealed by the doctor to the astonishment of Hans. The freaks get angry on learning this and they attack Hercules and Cleopatra in a cruel manner. Hercules is castrated and Cleopatra was reduced to a side show artist performing as a Duck. Her lower half was permanently damaged and the muscles of her hands were reduced to appear like the webbed feet of a duck.
The movie's characters were real freaks who exhibited fine acting with great involvement. The notable characters are Wallace Ford as Phroso,Leila Hyams as Venus, Olga Baclanova as Cleopatra, Roscoe Ates as Roscoe, Henry victor as Hercules, Harry Earles as Hans, and Daisy Earles as Frieda. The third movie directed by Tod Browning is the Dracula, this ventures into the legends and magical world and supernatural elements. The film begins with the visit of Harker to Transylvania, where he will be meeting Count Dracula and explain to the count the particulars of his real estate purchase. As he travels, he notices the people's reaction and how they are afraid by Dracula's name. Harker becomes suspicious of the surroundings and tries to escape. Later,Harker's fiancée Mina whose friend Lucy becomes the target of Dracula. She dies later of the complications and is buried, however some doubt that she preyed upon children and her vampire nature has to be rested to save further incidents. Van Helsing succeeds in his effort and brings peace to all. This movie with the famous characters was well accepted. The setting of the movie was basically in the castle which functions as the headquarters of the vampire.
Tod Browning earned a reputed name in the film industry for the success of these three films. His achievements are considered to be those that paved way to bring out the hidden sadistic thoughts of human mind, and the complexities of the magical world and hidden secrets of the legends. In particular he was a great success in bringing out the darker side of human beings.
All his movies were able to make a mark at the theaters with the effective film making technique of the director. His short stint as an actor, and his experience in working in the circus shows rendered him useful information to be incorporated into his films. His company the universal production was well known for great films like 'Intolerance', The show', and Out side the law'. Even though Tod will be best remembered for his horror films we have to credit him for the romantic melodramas which he directed in the first half of his career. Another noticeable fact about his films are the range of performances he offered Chaney such as -a cripple, an armless circus performer, a gangster, etc.