Tuesday, November 11, 2003

The Unholy Three (1925)
The Unholy Three (1930)

I've wanted to see the Lon Chaney silent pic The Unholy Three for some time now, so when I ran across it playing on TCM, followed by its sound remake, I figured it was time for some compare 'n' contrast. Surprisingly, the latter version ends up on top. The silent film, honestly, has Lon Chaney's excellent performance going for it and not much else; Tod Browning's direction is static and unexciting, the love-triangle subplot is soggy and the ending is just silly. It doesn't really hang together. The sound version has its own problems, of course (for instance, the role of Hector has been filled by a large block of wood, and midget Harry Earles, bless his squeaky German-accented heart, just wasn't made for sound roles), but the script has been slightly rejiggered to cover some holes (the ape thing, for example) and tighten the pace so that the love plot doesn't completely overwhelm the last third of the film. The last scene's far more believable, as well. And Lon? Well, let's just say it's a damn shame he died shortly after this was completed -- he's got a wonderful, expressive voice that only enhances his bodily movements. He woulda been great in the film noir period.

Silent version: C+
Sound version: B