Wed 15 Jul 2009
THE UNHOLY THREE. MGM, 1925. Lon Chaney, Mae Busch, Matt Moore, Victor McLaglen, Harry Earles, Matthew Betz. Based on the novel by Clarence Aaron ‘Tod’ Robbins; director: Todd Browning. Shown at Cinevent 19, Columbus OH, May 1987.
There was, perhaps, one film at the convention in which acting, script; and direction combined in an often unforgettable combination: Todd Browning’s The Unholy Three, starring Lon Chaney, Victor MacLaglen, and, memorably, the fine midget actor, Harry Earles. This is the 1925 silent version.
Chaney plays a side-show ventriloquist (Professor Echo) who engineers a scam in which he, strongman Hercules (McLaglen), and Tweedledee (Earles) gain entry to homes of the rich who are clients of a pet store where the trio’s foil, Mae Busch, works. Chaney, disguised as Busch’s grandmother, and Earles as a year-old baby, make service calls to treat “ailing” parrots who, once they have left the store, cannot talk.
Earles is a malevolent presence who fully justifies W.C. Fields’ wariness toward children, and McLaglen, at moments, in makeup and hulking movements bears a striking resemblance to Karloff’s Frankenstein monster.
Eventually, a sentimental ending weakens the somber power of the best scenes, but this is still a striking film, with a vein of nastiness that gives it an acerbic edge sixty years after its production.