THE SILENT TREATMENT: Lon Chaney in "The Unholy Three"


Through unparalleled makeup craftsmanship, physical endurance and skilled pantomime, Lon Chaney, Sr. shocked silent audiences with an endless variety of transformations that earned him the nickname “The Man of 1,000 Faces.” Through his sensitivity, Chaney lent his monsters what Eugene O’Neill called “the transfiguring nobility of tragedy [in] seemingly the most ignoble, debased lives.” In the loopy, yet highly devious The Unholy Three, Chaney plays a ventriloquist who, hungry for cash, leads a midget and a strongman in a serial robbery scheme involving the selling of parrots. When unsuspecting customers buy a bird, Chaney (disguised as a grandmother!) throws his voice — and when the bird doesn’t talk in the customer’s home, the Unholy Three arrive to refund the customer, and to case the joint. In addition to the usual stellar turn by Chaney, little person Harry Earles (The Wizard of Oz, Freaks) is particularly unsettling in the role of an adult posing as a baby in a carriage. This very successful picture was remade only five years later, as Chaney’s only talkie before his death in 1930. Live musical accompaniment by resident Cinefamily organist Cliff Retallick!
Dir. Tod Browning, 1925, 35mm, 86 min. (Archival 35mm print courtesy of the George Eastman House)

Watch an excerpt from “The Unholy Three”!
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