In this lurid Tod Browning melodrama, boasting a thoroughly creepy performance by Lon Chaney, Chaney plays Phroso, a limehouse magician who is thoroughly in love with his wife Anna (Jacquelin Gadsdon). Also in love with Phroso's wife is ivory-trader Crane (Lionel Barrymore).
After a performance, Anna tells Phroso that she is leaving him to go away with Crane to Africa. After Phroso confronts Crane, Crane kicks him down a second-floor landing, crippling him. Months later, Phroso, now known as Dead Legs Flint, is now seen to be paralyzed from the chest down, and he gets around by pulling himself forward by his hands.
He enters a church where he sees Annie has returned, but she is dead at the altar, leaving her child Maizie, whom Dead Legs assumes to be Crane's child, crying next to her. Hate consumes the soul of Dead Legs, and he swears vengeance on Crane. Years pass. Dead Legs is now lording it over a group of African savages as their god.
Maizie (Mary Nolan) has been installed at a brothel in Zanzibar and is now a broken-down alcoholic prostitute. Dead Legs conspires to steal some of Crane's ivory so Crane can appear before Dead Legs, and his revenge can be redeemed. He sends for Maizie and reveals her to Crane.
He plans on killing Crane and, due to an African tribal custom that says a man's daughter must be burned at the stake when he dies, have the savages have their way with Maizie. But when Crane arrives and he tells Dead Legs that Maizie is not his daughter but Dead Legs' daughter, Dead Legs is stupefied.
Crane leaves and is shot by the savages, his body returned to Dead Legs. Now the bloodthirsty savages want Maizie, so that she can be sacrificed at the stake. Dead Legs, as her father, must now conspire a way to save his daughter from certain death.