In 2011 Warner Brothers has finally released a series of Lon Chaney films on DVD. Of these, the 1925 Unholy Three, directed by Tod Browning, is of considerable interest. The Tod Browning/Lon Chaney collaborations The Unknown (1927) and a photo still reconstruction of the legendary, lost London After Midnight (1927) were released a few years ago on a box set highlighting the actor. Before that, Image Entertainment released the first two films Browning made with Chaney, The Wicked Darling (1919) and Outside the Law (1920). Their The Big City (1928) also seems to be forever lost, which leaves four neglected films: Where East is East (1929), West of Zanzibar (1928), The Road to Mandalay (1926, in truncated and badly deteriorated form), and The Blackbird (1926). Hopefully, the release of The Unholy Three is a sign that the studio will release the remaining films of the strangest collaboration between director and actor in cinema history.
Among the new Lon Chaney DVD releases is the 1930 sound remake of The Unholy Three with Jack Conway directing Chaney and a mostly different cast. The only point of interest in the latter film is the novelty of hearing Chaney’s voice. As in the silent film, the actor took on various disguises, this time allowing 1930 audiences to potentially envision the famed “Man of a Thousand Faces” as, additionally, the “Man of a Thousand Voices.” It was not to be. Chaney died shortly after filming and the resulting one and only film to feature the actor’s voice does not realize that potential. Chaney, dying of throat cancer, is hoarse throughout the film. To make matters worse, actor Harry Earles was far more magnetic and compelling in silent films. His thick German accent in the sound remake is an epic distraction.
Lon Chaney’s style of acting was so ingrained in the silent film style of emoting that he was understandably reluctant about making the transition to sound. Knowing Browning to be equally uneasy with sound, Chaney unwisely requested the pedestrian Conway to direct. Under Conway, who had no feel or vision for the strange, the remaining cast in the sound remake are sanitized, hack versions of the far more eccentric and genuine cast in Browning’s silent film.
The original, silent Unholy Three (1925) catapulted Browning into star director status. Continue reading TOD BROWNING’S THE UNHOLY THREE (1925)