Hooptober 4.0: 1 Tod Browning film
There has to be an easier way to case houses than dressing up in drag and opening a phony pet store.
The Unholy Three isn’t a horror movie, but it is a warm up for one- Browning’s later film, Freaks. Both showcase sideshow talents as they love, murder, plot grand criminal schemes and yearn for companionship. While The Unholy Three might seem more of a straightforward heist narrative, there’s always another nutty twist around the corner, up to and including a rampaging ape attack. Unusually for Browning, it’s even filmed well (although praise for that probably goes to cinematographer David Kesson.)
Anyone who’s seen Phantom of the Opera knows Lon Chaney could contort his face like a pro, but beneath all the theatrics he really can act. As the most sympathetic of the sideshow criminals, Echo the ventriloquist, he makes us believe that this is not a man to cross while at the same time pitying his lonely state and wishing him the best. Not to spoil the ending, but it gives us a glimpse of how heartrending the aforementioned Phantom of the Opera could have been if it had gone with the original, less vindictive ending.
Remember when I said he was a ventriloquist? That brings up a funny point about this story- it’s a very hard one to tell in silent film. I haven’t seen the talkie remake, but there’s something almost surreal about a story that relies so heavily upon what a character can do with his voice where the audience never gets to hear it. Did the irony dawn on anyone at the time, or is it simply there in retrospect?
On this and many other matters, I don’t know. When it comes to Todd Browning, issues of irony are never clear.