Echo (Lon Chaney), Hercules (Ivan Linow) and Tweedle Dee (Harry Earles) work at a carnival sideshow. Echo is a ventriloquist, Hercules is the strong man and Tweedle Dee is the 20-inch tall, short person. One night Tweedle Dee causes a riot when he hits a kid. With the cops looking for them Echo decides that they need to find a different way to make a living. He talks the other two into joining him.
They call themselves the “Unholy Three”. Along with Echo’s girlfriend and pick pocket Rosie O’Grady they open a bird shop selling parrots to rich people. When a bird is delivered they case the place and later come back and rob the owners. At the bird shop Echo brings along his pet gorilla. Hercules is overbearing and likes to tease the gorilla. The gorilla holds a grudge.
To pass under the radar Echo wears a wig and an old lady’s outfit. With his knack for doing voices he pretends to be a grandmother and goes by the name of Mrs. O’Grady. Tweedle Dee pretends to be his grandson Willie, Hercules poses as his son-in-law and Rosie his granddaughter.
Echo hires Hector McDonald (Elliott Nugent) to help run the store. Hector falls in love with Rosie. Rosie begins to have feelings for Hector. Echo sees what’s going on and is not pleased. On Christmas Eve Hector brings over a Christmas tree. Echo and the guys had planned to rob a homeowner of a valuable ruby necklace but with Hector around Echo doesn’t want to leave.
Tweedle Dee and Hercules decide to go without him. Something goes wrong and the home owner is killed. When Detective Regan (Clarence Burton) starts investigating the pet shop, Echo decides it’s time to lay low. The guys plant the necklace on Hector and he is arrested for the theft and murder. Rosie, now in love with Hector, threatens to spill the beans so they kidnap her and hide out in a cabin in the woods. With everyone out of the picture there is no one to give Hector an alibi for the murder.
“The Unholy Three” was released in 1930 and was directed by Jack Conway. It is an American Pre-Code crime melodrama and was based on the novel “The Unholy Three” by Tod Robbins. It is also a sound remake of the 1925 film of the same name that was directed by Tod Browning.
The film stars Lon Chaney and Harry Earles who both reprise their roles from the 1925 film. This was also Lon Chaney’s last film and his only talkie. He died of throat cancer a month after the film’s release. Lon Chaney signed an affidavit declaring all the voices he performed in the movie were actually his own. Much ado was made of the fact that Chaney does talk in the film and he even does the voice the dummy during his ventriloquist act. That part of the film is blessedly short since Chaney is a really bad ventriloquist. He may have a thousand faces but when one of them is a talking ventriloquist, his lips move.
In the 1925 silent film Browning used a regular sized chimpanzee in forced prospective as a gorilla. In this film the ape is played by Charles Gemora wearing a gorilla suit. Why there was an ape in either of the movies is a really good question. I have no answer other than to use it as a tool toward the end.
Most of the movie is identical to the 1925 silent film except for the ending. An alternate ending had been done that followed the original film but the filmmakers decided to change it. Trying to decide which of the two films is better will only depend on one’s own preference. If you prefer silent films or are of fan of Browning’s work then you’ll be more apt to like the silent version more. Even so, the main difference between the two, other than the ending, is the talking.