Friday, February 11, 2011

Trio of Terror!

Today’s Vertically Challenged Villainous feature takes us back to a simpler time, one when color was foreign and sound preserved with scratchiness. What’s black and white and 20” tall? Tweedledee from The Unholy Three!

Quick Plot: A morally corrupt sideshow collapses under a police raid when the main little person attraction kicks a wily kid. Tweedledee (whom folks will easily recognize as the sad sack star of Freaks) buddies up with Echo, the ventriloquist (Lon Chaney’s only talkie role), Rosie the pickpocket and Hercules the strong man to escape and start a new con as the owners of a high-end pet shop.

Dressing Tweedledee up like a baby (whose cigar smoking habits calls to mind Who Framed Roger Rabbit?) and Echo like a kindly grandmother, the quartet (title be damned) squeezes some jewels out of their wealthy clientele. Problems pop up when Hector, their innocent cashier, falls in love for Betty Boop--I mean, Rosie, right around the same time 2/3rds of our stars (the tall and short one) shoot a man during a robbery gone wrong. Hector is wrongly accused of murder, leading to a trial, tears, and neckless apeman running wild.
The Unholy Three is a fairly infamous little oddity, based on a silent Tod Browning film made just five years earlier. Director Jack Conway approaches the material with some interesting ideas, having an awful lot of fun with the macabre nature of a dirty-talking little person in a nightgown buddying around with a ventriloquist in drag. The film doesn’t delve into any of the more disturbing territory of something like Freaks, but as a crime drama made at the dawn of talking cinema, it’s certainly something to behold.

Plus, there’s a killer ape. If you have even the slightest tinge of taste, that’s delicious.

High Points
The relationship between Rosie and Echo is actually quite touching, one filled with both abuse and affection that ends on a surprisingly sweet note
This movie features both a nasty little person AND a ventriloquist’s dummy, which would be awesome enough except The Unholy Three is amazing enough to give us THE NASTY LITTLE PERSON WITH THE VENTRILOQUIST’S DUMMY SINGING ON HIS KNEES!
Low Points
Part of it is the sound quality of my burned discboughtoffthestreets while the other part is the fact that poor little Harry Earles isn’t the best enunciator, but I’d be lying if I said I understood more than 13% of the dialogue that went on in this film

Lessons Learned
Thinking over a Maltese cat is better than thinking under an elephant
In the 1930s, there was no future in manicuring parrots. It’s a trade still waiting for its day to come
When your coworkers continuously go into the next room, lock the door, and laugh maniacally, you really should start skimming those want ads

The Unholy Three is not available for rental or purchase, but it’s easy to find streaming on Google Video and sites of the like. At barely an hour long, it’s an interesting enough watch for those who enjoy bizarre little surprises from the 1930s. Would you throw your creepy blonde-haired dummies at me if I said how much I’d love to see a tasteless remake?

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