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The Unholy Three is a silent film released in 1925. It was based of a book of the same name by Tod Robbins and starred Lon Chaney in the leading role. It was such a hit that it was remade as a talkie in 1930, with Lon Chaney once again in the lead role. The remake was Lon Chaney's first sound film, and, unfortunatly, his only, as he died from throat cancer only weeks after the movie was complete. The two versions are almost identical to each other, except for the ending.

The story opens in a traveling carnival where a midget named Tweedledee (Harry Earles) a strongman named Hercules and a ventriloquist named Echo (Lon Chaney) are preforming their acts, assited by Rosie O'Grady, who picks the pockets of the rubes who see their shows. After the Midget starts a fight with a guest, Echo decides that they all should 'fade out' and aim for bigger prizes.

Cut to a corner pet store, headed by the darling Granny O'Grady, and her grandchildren, Herc, Rosie and baby Willie, and assisted by Hector. They sell parrots to guests and are about as adorable as can be. Until of course, they're alone. They are, of course, Echo, Hercules and Tweedledee, using the pet store as an excuse to get into rich people's homes before coming back at night to rob the place. Hector, their shop boy, has no idea of their secret identities and is falling in love with Rosie. One night, as they plan to rob a wealthy lady, Granny O'Grady notices Hector getting a little too friendly with Rosie and decides to stay home to keep and eye on them. Herc and the Midget rob the house as planned--but killing a man in the process. The Unholy Three, as they are now called, leaves town, but not before planting the stolen necklace on Hector, framing him for the crime. Hector is arrested for murder, shortly after he asks Rosie to marry him, but she refuses, ashamed of herself.

The Unholy Three plan to let Hector take the fall, but Rosie, aware that Echo is in love with her, pleads with him to exonerate Hector by confirming his alibi of being with Granny the night of the robbery. In exchange, she promises herslef to him. Echo agrees to the plan.

Meanwhile, Hecules offers Rosie a chance to take the loot and run off with him. Tweedledee overhears this and releases Echo's pet ape. Hercules strangles the Midget, and the ape kills Herc in return.

Here, the two versions differ. In the 1925 version, Echo goes to the trial and, by thowing his voice, makes Hector tell about the Unholy Three. Echo then confesses to being one of them, but with the actual purpotraters dead, he is let off the hook. He returns to his veltriloquist act, and Rosie shows up, true to her word. Echo, seeing Rosie loves Hector, lets her off as well, and the movie ends with Echo and his dummie bidding Rosie a sad goodbye.

In the 1930 version, 'Granny O'Grady' takes the stand in Hector's defense, but trips up and revelas herself as Echo. Echo is sentenced to one to five years in prison, and Rosie and Hector bid him farewell at the train station. Rosie, again, is true to her word and offers to wait for Echo, but once again, Echo releases her, realizing she loves Hector. The movie ends with him on the train to prison, and Lon Chaney smiling and waving at the camera while saying 'I'll send you a postal card.' If only he did.

These Films Contain Examples Of:

  • Actor Allusion: Echo the ventriloquist is introduced by the barker as 'The Man of a Hundred Voices". Lon Chaney who was known as "The Man of a Thousand Faces."
  • Added Alliterative Appeal: The barker at the beginning introduces all his acts like this. 'The Marvelous Mastodonic model of masculinity!'
  • Affably Evil: Half of the time he interacts with Rosie, Echo acts like this; the other half, he acts like an abusive jerk toward her.
  • Anti-Hero: Echo, Type V until the end where he drops the "anti" entirely.
  • Ascended Extra: In the original novel, Tweedledee was the leader of the Three and Hector was the main character. In the movies, Echo takes over both roles.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Both versions, although the silent film's is a little more upbeat than the talkie's.
  • Canon Foreigner: Rosie and the gorilla.
  • The Cast Showoff: Lon Chaney, the man of a thousand faces, learned basic ventriloquism for this movie, and did five different voices: his own as Echo, Granny, a dummie, a parrot and a girl in the crowd.
  • Covers Always Lie: One of the Film Posters for the 1925 version makes it seem as though the titular 3 consists of Echo, Rosie, and Hector instead of Echo, Tweedledee, and Hercules.
  • Creator Thumbprint: Tod Browning often made movies about creepy circuses, carnivals and freak shows. Also, this wouldn't be the last time Browning brought one of Tod Robbins's stories to the big screen.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Echo's pet ape. In the sound version, Echo even says to Hercules ' You do that one more time and he'll tare you to peices" Guess how Hercules dies...
  • Demoted to Extra: Tweedledee and Hector, due to Echo being made into an Ascended Extra.
  • Dogged Nice Guy: Hector.
  • Depraved Dwarf: Tweedledee plays this trope to a T.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Echo seems to be adverse to the idea of murder, and yells at Herc and the Midge for making fun of the dead man's final moments.
  • Frame-Up: on poor Hector
  • Greed: The motive behind the Three leaving the carnival and turning to a life of crime (noteworthy because greed was, at best, merely a secondary motive in the original book).
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Echo lets Rosie be with Hector in both versions.
  • Karma Houdini: Echo in the silent version.
  • Love Redeems:
    • Echo's love for Rosie allows him to save Hector AND let Rosie go.
    • Rosie's falling for Hector makes her voluntarily give up her life of crime.
  • The Napoleon: The Midget. He's easily the most vicious and evil member of the Unholy Three.
  • Sole Survivor: In both versions, Echo is the only one of the three who is still alive by the end.
  • Spanner in the Works: Hercules and Tweedledee, who couldn't pull off a simple burglary right. If it wasn't for them, nobody would have died and Echo's scheme wouldn't have gone nearly so badly, if it'd gone bad at all.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Echo. He drowned at the very end of the novel.
  • Title Drop:

 Tweedledee: 'I like it. It's...unholy!'

Echo: That's us! The Unholy Three!

  • Took a Level In Jerkass: Echo. In the book, he was a well-meaning, albeit completely-insane, person who was basically forced by the other two into committing crimes. In the movies, he's abusive, selfish, has a Hair-Trigger Temper, knows perfectly well what he's doing, and is anything but well-meaning, although he gets better by the end.
  • Took a Level In Kindness: In the book, Hector is something of a sarcastic wiseguy with a bit of an ego. In the movies (especially the 1925 version), he's sincere, kind-hearted, and utterly-guileless
  • Verbal Tic: Everyone in this movie seems to say 'sure' a lot.
  • Villain Protagonist
  • Wig, Dress, Accent: Echo as Granny.

The Original Novel Contains Examples Of:

  • Antagonist Title: Due to Hector replacing the Three as the protagonist after chapter 4.
  • Anti-Hero: Hector, Type II. Echo is a Type I.
  • Asshole Victim: Hector's Uncle.
  • Companion Cube: Echo's dummy.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Tweedledee.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Hector. Deconstructed in that something he said as a joke winds up making Dorothy believe - for a time - that he tried to kill her little brother.
  • Decoy Protagonist: The Unholy Three themselves. Hector is the main character from 5th chapter onward.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Dorothy's father.
  • Despair Event Horizon: The incident with Tweedledee's dog-driven chariot.
  • Digging Yourself Deeper: Hector, when he grants interviews after his arrest. He's so confident that the witnesses testimonies will acquit him that he plays up his guilt in the meantime so that his notoriety will make people want to buy his short stories. When he realizes that the witnesses have vanished, this leads to a rather epic Oh Crap.
  • Disproportionate Retribution
  • Dramatic Irony: The majority of this book is an example of the first main use.
  • Evil Genius: Tweedledee, the "Brain" of the three.
  • Fallen Hero: Tweedledee's back-story.
  • Foreshadowing: Hector's joke. Doubles as Tempting Fate.
  • Freudian Excuse: Tweedledee.
  • Imaginary Friend: Echo copes with the spectres he sees by giving them voices and personalties. That way, they don't seem as scary.
  • Kill'Em All: All three title characters are dead by the end of the novel; in the movie, Echo manages to survive.
  • Lemony Narrator
  • The Napoleon: Tweedledee, just like in the movies.
  • Non-Action Big Bad: Tweedledee. When you have someone like Hercules, there's no need to get your own hands dirty.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Only the barest details are given in Hercules' and Tweedledee's execution scene, but they're arguably enough for the reader to figure out all the left-out details for themselves.
  • Oh Crap
  • Pride: Tweedledee; he keeps a detailed account of his murders so that, long after he's gone, future generations will read it and marvel at what he was capable of; this winds up getting him arrested, and later executed, when the police get their hands on it and realize that he was the real killer. In the end, he sort of gets what he wants because Hector - out of apparent pity - decides to publish the diary and share Tweedledee's tragic story with the rest of the world.
  • Purple Prose: Both the book itself and the newspaper article that Hector reads near the end.
  • Serial Killer
  • Sole Survivor: Rather cruelly subverted with Echo. He outlives the other two, but - due to his own carelessness (and his madness) - drowns in the second-to-last chapter.
  • Spanner in the Works: In a complete inversion of the movie adaptations, Echo is this to Tweedledee and Hercules rather than the other way around.
  • Supporting Protagonist: Hector may be our POV character, but Tweedledee and Echo are the ones who actually drive the plot.
  • Through the Eyes of Madness: Echo's POV chapter near the end.
  • Token Good Teammate: Echo. Unlike his movie counterpart, Echo objects to the idea of committing crimes and only complies because the other two basically force him. Eventually, his conscience wins out over his survival instinct and he brings them to justice.
  • Villain Protagonist: Subverted. Tweedledee is the main character at first, but then the POV switches to Hector after chapter 4 and - for the most part - stays with him. And since Hector can't really qualify as a villain, the trope ceases being applicable altogether.
  • Who's Laughing Now?: The Three's motive for becoming criminals with the exception of Echo.
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