Intertitle of the Week: Santa’s Little Helper
Fingers crossed. “Let’s hope it’s a good one / Without any fear.”
Frame-grabbed this a while ago and forget what it’s from, but at a guess, I’d say Tod Browning’s THE UNHOLY THREE, perhaps the greatest silent film on the theme of ventriloquism. Why weren’t there more? I blame the talkies.
Apart from Lon Chaney Snr. in drag as Mrs Grady, old lady, the film also boasts little man Harry Earles disguised as a baby. Earles’ fearsome scowl makes it a memorable characterisation: this cigar-chomping tot could easily lick Baby Herman from WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT? The idea that a cute little “diddums” might suddenly turn into a hard-boiled career criminal as soon as the adults’ backs are turned is an alarming and compelling one. This is because it’s what really happens.
In the sound remake (Chaney’s only talkie), Earle’s very aggressive, German-accented delivery enhances the part even more.
In FREAKS, Earles gives his best-known perf, as Hans, the hapless circus midget persecuted by Cleopatra the trapeze artist, who marries him for his money (Wait — he has money, and he still exhibits himself for a living?) Able to play babies, criminals, unlucky romantics and a singing munchkin, Earles had a pretty impressive range, considering he was about four foot tall and, going by normal aesthetic criteria, a rubbish actor. But Robert DeNiro couldn’t do what he did, and with such apparent ease.
Earles lived to be 83, by which time he had to be fed with the aid of a microscope. Treated for a chest infection, the little trouper perished when the antibiotic attacked him instead of the virus.