The Unknown appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Given the film’s advanced age, I didn’t expect perfection from it, but the result nonetheless seemed problematic.
That said, sharpness generally worked pretty well. More than a few soft spots materialized, but these didn't dominate, so the majority of the film showed appropriate delineation.
Blacks seemed reasonably dark, and shadows felt clear enough. Contrast occasionally leaned a little bright but this wasn’t a real concern.
By far the biggest issue with The Unknown stemmed from its nearly incessant print flaws. Scratches abounded, and these became a persistent distraction along with tears and marks.
As noted, I can’t expect a nearly 100-year-old movie to look flawless, though the 1925 version of Ten Commandments came shockingly close, and Browning’s Mystic did better too. I hoped this 2023 presentation of The Unknown would look half as good, but instead, it offered a consistently flawed image that I gave a “C-“ solely due to its vintage.
In terms of audio, the Blu-ray came with a LPCM stereo track that solely presented Philip Carli’s new score. This offered no instrumentation beyond piano in an attempt to semi-replicate what audiences might’ve heard in 1927.
That said, the disc reproduced Carli’s score well, as the piano sounded pretty rich and full. Stereo spread appeared smooth and distinctive too, so the track suited the production.
A few extras accompany the film, and we get an audio commentary from film historian David J. Skal. He provides a running, screen-specific look at historical context, cast and crew, themes and interpretation, the shooting script, production issues and the movie’s legacy.
A veteran of the format, Skal always brings us good commentaries, and this one follows suit. Skal covers a fine array of topics and makes this an informative chat.
Sideshow Tod lasts 32 minutes, 14 seconds. It provides an interview with author Megan Abbott.
The program examines Tod Browning’s work, with an emphasis on the three movies in this “Sideshow Shockers” set. We don’t get a lot of background for the films, but Abbott offers some reasonably interesting perspective.
Finally, we get a booklet with photos, credits and an essay from Farran Smith Nehme. It finishes the package well.
With Hollywood legends both in front of and behind the camera, The Unknown promised a winner. Unfortunately, the film delivers little more than dull romance and silly contrivances. The Blu-ray brings erratic visuals as well as appropriate audio and a few bonus features. The Unknown deserves attention due to the personnel involved but it doesn’t become an interesting movie.
Note that this Criterion Blu-ray of The Unknown only appears as part of a three-film collection called “Tod Browning’s Sideshow Shockers”. In addition to Mystic, it also provides 1925’s The Mystic and 1932’s Freaks.