Friday, December 07, 2012

THE UNHOLY THREE (1925) - Tod Browning

Harry Earles as "Tweedledee"
You might recognize Harry Earles (above, with stogie) as the star in director Tod Browning's classic Freaks. In that film, he played the heartsick Hans, a sideshow performer who makes the mistake of falling for a lovely trapeze artist only interested in his sizeable inheritance. Hans eventually gets wise and plots revenge, which involves a nasty mutilation and a memorable tar and feathering. You do not mess with Hans. And I imagine, in real life, you did not F with Harry Earles.

In The Unholy Three, Earles plays another bad tempered sideshow performer ("Tweedledee") but, this time. He smokes cigars. He's prone to burglary. He doesn't think twice about cutting his partners ("Professor Echo" and "Hercules") out of their share of the jewels when the first opportunity arises. Oh yes, and he's known to kick young children in the face (the incident that ultimately gets him booted from the sideshow and into a life of crime). Earles might not be the star of the movie, but he is certainly the life of the party.

The simple plot involves Chaney dressing up as a grandmother and Earles as in infant to get into rich people's houses and grab their jewels. When an innocent man stands to be implicated for their crime, Chaney has a bout of moral-itis. Earles doesn't. There's a neat courtroom scene that involves Chaney's ventriloquism prowess to enact a side-of-mouth confession. This is the silent version, not the 1930 talkie remake which lists Earles in the credits simply as "Midget." I'm pretty sure Browning (who didn't direct the remake) would not approve of such a diminution of Earles' signature role. And I'm pretty sure if you addressed Earles as such, he'd kick you in the face.

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