Loose biography of actor Lon Chaney. Growing up with deaf parents, he learns what it is like to be different. As an actor, he puts that knowledge (together with lots of make-up and talent) ... See full summary »
Loose biography of actor Lon Chaney. Growing up with deaf parents, he learns what it is like to be different. As an actor, he puts that knowledge (together with lots of make-up and talent) to use playing a variety of strange, unusual characters, adopting their characteristics so thoroughly as to be called the Man of a Thousand Faces. Written by
Ken Yousten <firstname.lastname@example.org>
MAN OF A THOUSAND FACES is one of Hollywood's better films about Hollywood! Produced by Universal International in 1957 it recounts the life and times of one of the silent screens most formidable icons - Lon Chaney. From an excellent Oscar nominated screenplay by R.Wright Cambell, Ben Roberts and Ivan Goff it was skillfully directed by Joseph Pevney. Peveny, himself a useful supporting player in such movies as "Body And Soul" (1947) and Fox's "Street With No Name (1948) directed some of Universal's biggest productions i.e. "Away All Boats" (1956), "Tammy & The Bachelor" (1957) and one of Erroll Flynn's last efforts "Istanbul" (1957). Playing the leading role in this marvellous biopic is James Cagney who gives an outstanding measured performance as Lon Chaney the strange tortured character actor of silent pictures who, ironically, died from throat cancer with the advent of the talkies.
Crisply photographed in black & white Cinemascope by the great Russell Metty ("Touch Of Evil") the picture conveys a strong sense of time and place. Expertly evoked is Vaudeville in the early part of the 20th Century where Chaney began as a song and dance man (Cagney delighting us with his special brand of hoofing) and early Hollywood where he became an extra at Universal Studios. Then with the help of his make-up box and his uncanny facility to alter his appearance - sometimes resulting in great pain - he soon became known as The Man Of A 1000 Faces.
Notable reconstructions of Chaney's creations are quite brilliantly achieved in the picture. Cagney excels as the cripple being cured in a reworking of Chaney's famous scene from "The Miracle Man" (1919)and the phantom being unmasked in "Phantom Of The Opera" (1925). But especially noteworthy is a re-staging of Chaney's "The Hunchback Of Notre Dame" (1923). Here Cagney is totally unrecognizable as he replicates Chaney's interpretation of Quasimodo being whipped on the punishment wheel in the village square. It is an intense moment in the picture and a remarkable achievement for Cagney the consummate actor! Little wonder that the great Orson Welles in the seventies declared that the screen's greatest actor was James Cagney!
Others in the cast of this splendid film are Dorothy Malone giving an excellent performance as the singer and Chaney's first wife Cleva Creighton, Jane Greer as his second wife, Jim Backus as his press agent and Robert Evens as the boy wonder of the motion picture business Irving Thalberg.
The picture also boasts a terrific music score by the underrated and now wholly forgotten film composer Frank Skinner (1897/1968). Skinner was composer in residence at Universal for many years and composed the music for some of their most prestigious productions such as "Tap Roots" (1948), "Magnificent Obsession" (1954), "Madame X" (1965) and "Shenandoah" (1965). "Man Of A 1000 Faces" was, however, his finest achievement! A soundtrack album of his music from the film - issued at the time of the picture's release - is now a much sought after recording!
A wonderful movie on DVD presented in a sharp black & white widescreen format that every collector will want to own if only for Cagney's amazing performance. His Lon Chaney is just as powerful and just as memorable as his George M. Cohan, Cody Jarret or Marty "The Gimp" Snyder!
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