Armagideon Time

In the beginning there was The Unholy Three, a 1925 silent thriller directed by Tod Browning and starring Lon Chaney as the leader of a trio of circus performers gone bad. Chaney played a rogue ventriloquist and master of disguise, Harry Earles played a little person able to pass as small child, and Victor McLagen was the thuggish strongman.

Even if you’ve never seen the original film or its 1930 remake, odds are that you’ve experienced it in some form or another. Alongside (and occasionally co-mingled with) The Old Dark House, The Unholy Three cast a long and influential shadow over 20th Century pop culture as its premise, tropes, and giant pet gorilla have been borrowed by everything from Three Stooges shorts to Hanna-Barbera “mystery teen” cartoons to episodes of the Monkees.

It also spawned its own funnybook knockoff in the form of the less than thrilling Purple Trio

…who haunted the back pages of Smash Comics during the early 1940s.

Unlike their cinematic inspirations, the similarly MO’ed members of Purple Trio were of a heroic bent. Warren (a magician or ventriloquist depending on the story), Rocky (an acrobat or strongman depending on the story) and Tiny (a “singing midget” in every story) were a group of unemployed vaudevillians with a penchant for primary colored suits (no purple, oddly enough) and impromptu pugilism.

Their unending quest for a local residency or regional circuit gig was regularly interrupted by some manner of malfeasance in need of sorting out, typically in a manner which required the application of their special talents.

And that’s it, really. Apart from the obvious and derivative callback to the original Browning/Chaney vehicle, there’s nothing about the Purple Trio’s surprisingly long run that stands out among or rises above the level of Golden Age fisticuffs-driven page-filler. There have been no fan shrines, no Roy Thomas revisitations and no grimdark reboots for the franchise, just seventy-five years of musty silence….

…and that’s probably for the best, really.

6 Responses to “Nobody’s Favorites: Below the Borscht Belt”

  1. SJB

    Not everything is a classic…proof

  2. sallyp

    But oh, how I do love Victor McLagen.

  3. Mark

    Now awaiting the day when they resurface as a pile of scattered limbs in a Geoff Johns comic.

  4. Pedro de Pacas

    “Loose lips fund ships.”

    You deserve some kind of Internet award for that.

  5. Touch-and-go Bullethead

    A question that has long nagged at me: Did those dozens of comic book and comic strip writers who presented ventriloquism as a literal projection of the voice actually think that was how it worked, or were they lazily taking advantage of their readers’s presumed ignorance?

    Well, okay, that one is fairly easy to guess.

  6. Snark Shark

    “and giant pet gorilla have been borrowed by everything from Three Stooges shorts”

    and an episode of the Addams Family!

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