Tuesday 29 September 2009

The Uneasy Three (1925)

Director: Leo McCarey
Star: Charley Chase
Basing its title on the Lon Chaney/Tod Browning feature of 1925 called The Unholy Three, this is a Charley Chase comedy short for Hal Roach Studios that spoofed the Browning formula: crooks seeking expensive jewels but seeing the error of their ways in the finale. It only really resembles The Unholy Three in two other ways, in the fact that there are three crooks and that Bull Montana, an unlikely screen name for an Italian actor, actually looks a little like Chaney. That certainly doesn't hurt proceedings.

The valuable jewellery here is the famous Kadir brooch, which Mrs Van Courtland has brought back from Europe as a gift for her daughter's birthday. It's a gaudy thing but naturally it's priceless so Mrs Courtland hires a private detective to take care of it. You'd have thought the best way to protect it was to keep it away from a silent comedy short but Mrs Courtland hasn't thought that far ahead, so she has to contend instead with inept crook Charley Chase, whose show this is, however much Bull Montana's antics with a toddler attempt to outstage him to we viewers watching from a child safe future era.

He has help of course, given that he leads the Uneasy Three, not just Bull Montana but the lovely Katherine Grant too as his moll. Grant, Miss Los Angeles of 1922, managed to pack in 49 shorts in a surprisingly brief five year career, and I've seen a surprising number: not just Chase shorts like Innocent Husbands, The Caretaker's Daughter and What Price Goofy? but also solo Stan Laurel pictures like Oranges and Lemons. Montana made surprisingly few films for the silent era, a mere 84 over a full two decades, but he had a habit of making it into the big ones, things like Treasure Island, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and The Lost World.

Anyway, the crooked crew start casing the joint only to be chased off by the private dick, played by the prolific Fred Kelsey, but as luck would have it, they literally run into another car, which conveniently contains the Metropolitan Trio on their way to entertain at the Courtland's party. This is a 22 minute short, after all, and we don't have much time to build up stories. Needless to say, they commit an early version of identity theft to get into the house, only to flounder round like any self respecting inept crooks trying to find the brooch. Their chief adversary isn't Kelsey but an uncredited toddler who apparently swallows the brooch and steals a number of scenes. I could swear I recognise it too but I can't place the face.

Chase was never a huge star but he was a star nonetheless and it's easy to see why. He was a capable comedian, one who could always raise a chuckle if not amaze us and leave us in stitches like the big three slapstick comedians of the era. His best silent comedies, such as Mighty Like a Moose, are well worth seeing, and most were made for capable director Leo McCarey, who went on to a top notch career in the sound era. Inevitably with such a prolific schedule of filmmaking, there are as many duds as hits but he's always worth watching. This one falls in the middle, not a dud and not a hit but not a bad way to spend twenty minutes of your time.


L. F. Chaney said...

It's been so long, I'd completely forgotten about this picture!

Would you please be so kind as to allow me to republish your fine story in my MySpace blog? Of course, you will be cited as the author and your web address will be included.

Thank you very much for reviving a long-forgotten memory. I actually played as an extra in one of Mr. Chase's early two-reelers, but the title escapes me now and I'm not even sure that it's still in existence.

Ah, well. It's nice to see that someone cares about us old pioneers. Thank you, again.


L. C.

Hal C. F. Astell said...

How could I miss a comment on my blog from Lon Chaney? I did see this but completely forgot it was there. My apologies!

Absolutely, please feel free to republish this review on your MySpace. There are other Lon Chaney reviews here too and ditto for them. Please keep my name there, of course, with a link back to this site.