As part of a circus sideshow are a strong man, Hercules (Victor McLaglen), a ventriloquist, Professor Echo (Lon Chaney Sr.) and a midget, Tweedledee (Harry Earles). In the crowd is a young pickpocket, Rosie O’Grady (Mae Busch). She shares the results of her work with Echo. During one performance a fight breaks out when Tweedledee is harassed by some of the patrons. Echo decides that they need to come up with a different racket that will get them more money. He convinces Hercules and Tweedledee to join him. They leave the circus and start their own enterprise. They call themselves the unholy three.
They open up a bird shop selling parrots. Echo dresses up as a little old lady and calls himself Mrs. O’Grady. Tweedledee poses as baby Willie, Mrs. O’Grady’s grandson. Hercules is the son-in-law. Rosie poses as Mrs. O’Grady’s granddaughter. Also in the shop is a hired salesman, Hector McDonald (Matt Moore). When rich customers come in looking for birds Echo, using his ventriloquist skills, pretends to make the parrots talk. The wealthy customers buy what they think is a talking parrot. Once they get home the birds are silent. The unhappy customer calls the shop complaining about their birds. Echo, with Tweedledee in a baby carriage goes over to the customer’s homes and case the place. Sometime later the unholy three break into the mansions and rob them.
Lately Echo believes that Rosie has been spending too much attention on Hector. On Christmas Eve the unholy three have planned on burglarizing the home of John Arlington (Charles Wellesley). Hector comes over with a Christmas tree for baby Willie. As Rosie and Hector are setting up the tree Echo, dressed as Mrs. O’Grady decides to hang around and keep an eye on the two. Hector tells Mrs. O’Grady that he plans on asking Rosie to marry him but he is going to wait until tomorrow.
Tweedledee and Hercules get tired of waiting in the kitchen and head over to the Arlington place leaving Echo behind. Without Echo there Hercules ends up murdering Mr. Arlington. Echo is furious with Hercules, especially when the police detectives start asking questions about Mrs. O’Grady being at the mansion the day before. Tweedledee suggests they frame Hector for the crime since he was the one who delivered the bird to Arlington when he bought it. But Rosie has fallen in love with Hector and when she finds out about the frame-up plans on making sure Hector is not blamed for a crime he didn’t commit. The unholy three need to take drastic measures to keep themselves out of trouble.
“The Unholy Three” was released in 1925 and was directed by Tod Browning. It is a silent crime melodrama and is based on the novel “The Unholy Three” written by Tod Robbins. The film was remade in 1930 as a talkie, this time directed by Sam Conway. Lon Chaney and Harry Earles reprise their roles as Professor Echo and Tweedledee. The 1930 version would be Chaney’s only talking picture and his last film.
This was Harry Earles first film. Originally there was a scene where Tweedledee kills the Arlington daughter during the botched robbery. Tod Browning cut the scene believing it would be too much for audiences to take. The ape in the movie is actually a regular sized chimpanzee. It appears larger in the movie due to trick photography using forced perspective and using Harry Earles as Chaney’s double in areas where the ape and Echo are in the same shot.
I really enjoyed this film. It was a lot more engrossing than I expected. There is a decent amount of suspense and a few tearjerker moments. Chaney’s character ends up being a better soul than at first. The courtroom scene is a little ridiculous but necessary for Chaney’s character to evolve.