Three sideshow performers leave their lives of captivity and become "The Unholy Three." Echo the ventriloquist assumes the role of a kindly old grandmother who runs a bird shop. Tweedledee, the "twenty inch man," becomes her grandbaby, and Hercules is their assistant. Soon an incredible crime wave is launched from their little store. Written by
David Ezell <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I had an afternoon free so I decided to watch the two versions of this Lon Chaney classic back to back, beginning with this one -- Tod Browning's silent original. It's the story of a crooked carnival ventriloquist (Lon Chaney) who teams up with the midget (Harry Earles) and strong man (Victor McLaglen ) for a series of robberies. Chaney dresses as an old woman and Earles plays a baby to perfect their scheme. In many ways this was a precursor to the popular Little Rascals/Our Gang short subject FREE EATS, where a couple of gangsters act as parents to a couple of little people dressed as infants, mistakenly referred to as "fidgets".
Whether it's the silent version or sound remake, I thought this was a wildly entertaining story either way, though it's difficult to fairly judge one film or the other when they're viewed together so closely like this. There are pros and cons to both movies for me. The strength of Browning's silent version was that in many ways it felt much more stylish and better crafted, possibly with better production values... but I found I preferred Lila Lee as Rosie O'Grady (from the sound version) to the silent actress here, Mae Busch. The 1925 original perhaps feels a little too long, which is the only thing which kept it from being perfect for me. I wouldn't be surprised, though, if most fans prefer the silent film simply because it was directed by Tod Browning. My advice is to see them both! ***1/2 out of ****
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