Still, about 500 years ago, Tasmanian devils became extinct on the Australian continent, probably due to dingoes and humans. If they were permitted to vanish entirely, it would profoundly affect the island’s ecology. The flesh-eating marsupials keep the cat and fox population in check. No more devils would mean a spike in the number of those predators, which would spell the extinction of more than a dozen other species, including some, and insects. And as scavengers, devils also remove sick and dead animals from the landscape.
For censorship reasons, in the film, their age was increased to 16. Much of the content of the novel appears in the film, with several passages of text recounted by the film’s protagonist Debbie (Nell Schofield) in a voice-over narration. The film closely follows the story and character trajectory of the novel. Some of the novel’s characters are composites in the film. The tone of the novel is generally darker than that of the film, and in the novel, Debbie and her best friend Sue, who join the surfer gang, are shown to be much more willing participants in activities than they are in the film. Some of the darker moments of the book have been removed or softened for the film. The film adds a comedy beach brawl between the surfers and the lifeguards not present in the novel.
Lette complained that “the film sanitized the plot by omitting central references to miscarriage and abortion. The movie depicts a culture in which gang rape is incidental, mindless violence is amusing and hard drug use is fatal, but it was unable to address the consequences of the brutal sexual economy in which the girls must exist.”
Much of the obscure surfer slang of the novel were omitted from the film. The novel features some discussion about television series Number 96. One passage of the novel that mentions the title is recounted by the film’s protagonist in a voice-over narration, but because the series had ended by the time of the 1981 film the series title is replaced by the generic term “television”.
Television writer Margaret Kelly was working at a writing workshop at a suburban theatre where she met Kathy Lette and Gabrielle Carey, who had written a number of unpublished stories about growing up in the surfing beaches of southern Sydney. Kelly showed the stories to producer and writer Joan Long, and optioned the film rights. Carey and Lette went on to write a column in The Sun-Herald as The Salami Sisters and the stories were published under the title Puberty Blues.
I bought it [the novel] while I was waiting for a bus in North Sydney. I went to get a chocolate or something and I saw a pile of these things sitting on the counter. I thought I’d buy one and read it on the bus going home. It was remarkable, a very well-expressed book. And the girls were only fifteen. It was a sort of insight into the way of life of those kids, which was a revelation to me… Kathy Lette was a real livewire and so was the other girl, Gabrielle Carey.
The lead roles were cast after an extensive selection process. The lead actor in the film, Nell Schofield, said “It’s a very honest and realistic movie. It touches on this and it touches on that. I really like it. It’s subtle and doesn’t preach: ‘This is the way of life.'” Schofield felt that “Different sections of the audience will perceive different levels. The parents who go and see it will come out and either believe it or it will give them a bit of a jolt. They’ll start looking at their kids a different way and try to bridge the generation gap.” She added “The film is feminist in a way. I think it is also a comment on peer group pressure, male chauvinism in teenage groups, school and parent hassles.”
Schofield found the surfing scenes easy because she was an avid surfer in real life. “Like Debbie, I wanted to be a surfie chick. But once I was, I wanted out before it got too heavy. I hated the alcohol and the drug scene. I saw so many kids fall down on the ground after taking drugs.” Of making the film Schofield said “We didn’t expect any glitter, and we didn’t get any. It was hard work.”
Puberty Blues grossed $3,918,000 at the box office in Australia.
Puberty Blues was first released on home video in the early 1980s. It made its debut on DVD with a new print by Umbrella Entertainment in 2003. The DVD is compatible with all region codes and includes special features such as the trailer, interviews with Nell Schofield and Bruce Beresford, trivia, and biographies.
In 2013, Umbrella Entertainment released the film on Blu-ray.
The film was remade in 1930 as a talkie directed by Sam Conway. Chaney and Earles repeated their performances as Professor Echo and Tweedledee.
The Unholy Three (1925 film) L to R: Victor McLaglen, Harry Earles, Mae Busch, Lon Chaney.
Three performers leave a sideshow after Tweedledee (Harry Earles), a midget performer, assaults a young heckler and sparks a melee. The three join together in an “unholy” plan to become wealthy. Prof. Echo, the ventriloquist, assumes the role of Mrs. O’Grady, a kindly old grandmother, who runs a pet shop, while Tweedledee plays her grandchild. Hercules (Victor McLaglen), the strongman, works in the shop along with the unsuspecting Hector McDonald (Matt Moore). Echo’s girlfriend, pickpocket Rosie O’Grady (Mae Busch), pretends to be his granddaughter.
Using what they learn from delivering pets, the trio later commit burglaries, with their wealthy buyers as victims. On Christmas Eve, John Arlington (an uncredited Charles Wellesley) telephones to complain that the “talking” parrot (aided by Echo’s ventriloquism) he bought will not speak. When “Granny” O’Grady visits him to coax the bird into performing, “she” takes along grandson “Little Willie”. While there, they learn that a valuable ruby necklace is in the house. They decide to steal it that night. As Echo is too busy, the other two grow impatient and decide to go ahead without him.
The next day, Echo is furious to read in the newspaper that Arlington was killed and his three-year-old daughter badly injured in the robbery. Hercules shows no remorse whatsoever, relating how Arlington pleaded for his life. When a police investigator shows up at the shop, the trio become fearful and decide to frame Hector, hiding the jewelry in his room.
Meanwhile, Hector proposes to Rosie. She turns him down, but he overhears her crying after he leaves. To his joy, she confesses she loves him, but was ashamed of her shady past. When the police take him away, Rosie tells the trio that she will exonerate him, forcing them to abduct her and flee to a mountain cabin. Echo takes along his large pet ape (who terrifies Hercules).
In the spring, Hector is brought to trial. Rosie pleads with Echo to save Hector, promising to stay with him if he does. After Echo leaves for the city, Tweedledee overhears Hercules asking Rosie to run away with him (and the loot). Tweedledee releases the ape. Hercules kills Tweedledee right before the ape gets him.
At the trial, Echo agonizes over what to do, but finally rushes forward and confesses all. Both he and Hector are set free. When Rosie goes to Echo to keep her promise, he lies and says he was only kidding. He tells her to go to Hector. Echo returns to the sideshow, giving his spiel to the customers: “That’s all there is to life, friends, … a little laughter … a little tear.”
Lon Chaney as Prof. Echo, a.k.a. Mrs. O’Grady or “Granny”
In 1924, Universal’s vice-president Irving Thalberg departed to join Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios as production manager. Director Tod Browning followed him to M-G-M after producing a number of unimpressive independent films.
At M-G-M he proposed adapting author Tod Robbins’ The Unholy Three and Thalberg accommodated Browning by purchasing the rights and enlisting Lon Chaney to play the lead; Chaney may have requested that Browning direct, having worked with him effectively in 1921 on Universal’s Outside the Law starring Priscilla Dean.
With The Unholy Three, Thalberg, Browning and Chaney established a highly creative and profitable collaborative trio that produced seven more films at M-G-M, marking the zenith of both Browning’s and Chaney’s careers.
Browning arrived at M-G-M well-versed in the techniques of “trick photography.” The “ape” that dispatches the strongman Hector (Victor McLaglen) was actually a three-foot-tall chimpanzee who was made to appear gigantic with camera trickery and perspective shots. When Echo removes the ape from his cage, the shot shows Echo (with his back turned to the camera) unlocking the cage and walking the ape to the truck. The ape appears to be roughly the same size as Echo. This effect was achieved by having Harry Earles (who played “Tweedledee” in the film) play Echo for these brief shots, and then cutting to Chaney, making it seem as though the ape is gigantic. (In the 1930 remake, the ape was played by Charles Gemora.)
Release and reception
The Unholy Three
The Unholy Three enjoyed tremendous success, adding luster to Chaney’s reputation as “The Man of a Thousand Faces” and revealing Browning’s as a remarkable film stylist.
On August 15, 1925 The Billboard published a list of five short reviews for the movie. This featured such critics as Mordaunt Hall (Times), George Gerhard (Evening World), Richard Watts Jr. (Herald-Tribune), and W.R. (World).
The movie was such a success upon its debut that at its release at the New York Capitol Theater, it maintained a strong audience attendance for at least two weeks. Major Edward Bowes, who was the managing director at the time, took steps to ensure everyone who didn’t get to see the movie the first week of its viewing would get to by extending the movie’s stay. An article written about this event noted the movie as “acclaimed as the best crook drama on the screen and one of the most entertaining motion pictures ever made”, which speaks, along with its apparent popularity, for the movie’s quality.
Sherwood of Life magazine praised the movie for its photography and providing a more psychological horror film rather than relying on movie effects to scare its audience. Noted by Sherwood is how the film was shot great attention given to scenes as individual pieces rather than as parts of one greater project, causing continuity errors. This is explained by the writer as an acceptable outcome considering the overall quality. The review is concluded with Sherwood declaring The Unholy Three to be “the best picture of its kind since The Miracle Man.”
The Unholy Three was released for the first time on DVD by Warner Bros. Digital Distribution on October 26, 2010. The company would later re-release the film as a part of its 6-disc Lon Chaney: The Warner Archive Classics Collection on November 22, 2011, and on June 23, 2015.
On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 83% based on 6 reviews, with a weighted average rating of 6.8/10. Author and film critic Leonard Maltin gave the film two and a half out of four stars. Although Maltin noted that the film contained aspects that were less satisfactory, he commended its strong basic idea and Chaney’s performance.
As is common of a Tod Browning film, circus life and unusual bodies play a central role in this movie along with great use of trompe-l’œil optical illusion. Trompe-l’œil is exercised and played with as the illusion of Dr. Echo as “Mrs. O’Grady” and Tweedledee as “Little Willie”. The main plot of the movie revolves around the character’s abilities to pass themselves off convincingly as something they are not, an illusion the movie peels back and reasserts for both the other characters and for the audience themselves. Contrary to the usual use of this effect, Browning makes it a point to disillusion the audience and display the workings of the illusion to create a different sort of viewing stimulation.
In most Browning films, his opinion of the deformed and different becomes evident. The Unholy Three‘s plot plays directly with another of Browning’s favorite topics, dealing with identity, doubles, dual roles, and deformity. This film is unique in that the character Tweedledee is the only one of this group of that is played by a deformed character and is malicious in nature.
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