2009 September 17 • Thursday
In Tod Browning's The Unholy Three Lon Chaney stars as Professor Echo, a ventriloquist who teams up with two of his fellow circus sideshow performers (strong man, small man) to rob rich people's homes.
They find their targets by setting up a shop to sell parrots. Rich folks come in looking for a parrot and Chaney, in drag pretending to be an old lady, uses his ventriloquism skills to make the parrots "speak" so well that the customer just has to have one.
They deliver the parrots, check out the prospects and raid the customer's mansion at night.
It all goes horribly wrong, of course, and there are some great, sleazy pre-Code thrills, including a giant ape that goes berzerk. (It's actually a normal-sized ape cleverly filmed with miniatures and with the small man dressed as Chaney to create the illusion of a giant ape.)
Great movie! It's a silent film, though, and making a silent film about a ventriloquist presents a certain challenge, especially when ventriloquism is crucial to the story. Browning—or somebody—found a solution to this problem, perhaps by glancing at the comics section of a newspaper.
People so often discuss comics in cinematic terms that it's nice to see a comics technique used in a movie.