Plot: Professor Echo (Lon Chaney) is a master ventriloquist who plies his trade as part of a carnival, where he not only grifts the rubes he encounters, but he takes a twisted pride in that work. He is close with fellow circus performers Tweedledee (Harry Earles), Rosie (Lila Lee), and Hercules (Ivan Linow), often working in tandem to ensure as big of a haul as possible. But when one con goes sideways and Tweedledee kicks a child in the mouth, the carnival folk are run off and Echo has to formulate a new plan, which he does with little trouble. The carnies set up shop in a pet store, but they have no intention of going straight, instead they will use the shop as a front, with a plan to fleece wealthy clients for large sums of cash. But will they adapt to life outside the carnival or will their carny ways land them in hot water?
Entertainment Value: The Unholy Three is a remake of the 1925 film of the same name, but it brings a crucial new element to the table, sound. The original was a silent film and this remake opens up the world of spoken dialogue and sadly, would give us Lon Chaney’s lone performance in a sound picture. That alone is enough to make The Unholy Three worth a recommendation, but it also happens to be a rock solid movie and one that more than lives up to the original. The narrative stays mostly in line with the original, with some minor variations here and there, as well as a new spin on how the yarn would wrap up. The movie has some effective, dark humor that helps it stand out, as well as a general weirdness that flows through the post-carnival scenes, both shared traits with the original. The characters are borderline over the top at times, but are just reeled in enough to come off as psychos or darkly comic, which again, bolsters the overall eerie atmosphere that is often present. The pace is much more brisk in this remake, with a shorter run time and a quicker clip, but the story doesn’t suffer at all and the movie never feels hurried. In the end, The Unholy Three holds its own with the original and given that is has Lon Chaney’s final role and only talking performance, is more than recommended.
This would be a tragic landmark in Lon Chaney’s career, the storied actor’s final role and his lone appearance in a non silent picture. While many silent era stars failed to make a successful transition into talking movies, Chaney is quite good here and proves he would have prospered in the changing cinematic world. Of course, he still makes use of some of the theatrics from his silent efforts, but his voice work is on point and he has the right feel for the talkie atmosphere, no small feat. I was especially impressed by his sense of timing with the dialogue and the same can be said for most of the cast, as the rhythm of the verbal interactions is natural and effective. As expected, Chaney commands the screen and his persona transfers to the talkie realm in larger than life fashion, so he still radiates that strong screen presence here. Chaney even performs multiple voices in grand style for The Unholy Three, despite battling cancer and sadly, he would pass away in the same year the film was released. The cast here also includes Harry Earles, Lila Lee, John Miljan, and Elliott Nugent.