False Faces (1932) Poster


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This is an odd one among Lowell Sherman's films...
calvinnme21 April 2013
... either those he directed or starred in or in this case both. Lowell Sherman plays Dr. Silas Brenton, an M.D. who we are told by his superior is a talented doctor, but who has no scruples whatsoever. He's been extracting extra money from his patients' relatives claiming he'll give them extra special treatment. He's quickly caught and discharged. Silas leaves town, moves to Chicago, and decides to set up shop as a plastic surgeon, even though he has no training in that field. He employs a publicist, played by David Landau, to make sure that all of the wealthy people in town know about him. He forgets all about the girlfriend he had back in New York, doesn't answer her telegrams, and takes up with a cutie that he hired as his secretary, that is, when he is not romancing some wealthy patient's daughter in hopes of marrying into real wealth and respectability.

The movie spins an interesting tale, and Sherman's directing and acting are top rate as usual, but you can't help but be struck by the fact that the script gives Silas Brenton no redeeming or humanizing characteristics at all, and that Brenton has no exit strategy from the fraud he is perpetrating and has got to know will eventually be discovered. He starts out doing "false face lifts" - not really doing anything - and telling patients they need to wait six months to see results, but then moves on to bigger and more dangerous surgeries he's got to know he's unqualified to perform. I'll let you track down a copy of this film and see how it plays out.

Berton Churchill plays Dr. J.B. Parker, Brenton's partner as "consulting physician" who, unlike Brenton, seems to know when Brenton has carried things too far. Lila Lee plays Silas' girlfriend from New York who is torn between loving this guy and knowing that he has to be stopped and brought to justice.

Look out for the interesting nightclub scene towards the middle of the film. The M.C. comes out and introduces celebrities in the audience. Among them is Ken Maynard, a western star of the 20's and 30's who, ironically, suffered a professional implosion of his own making just like the fictional Dr. Brenton.
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wfasu3 June 2003
Warning: Spoilers
SPOILER ALERT As Dr. Silas Benton, Lowell Sherman is a sardonic, skirt-chasing sawbones, who works in a big city charity hospital. His infatuation with nurse Georgia Rand (Lila Lee) is the talk of the doctor's lounge. Benton is kicked out of the hospital when the chief surgeon discovers he has accepted an illegal fifty-dollar fee for an operation on a patient (I know, I know. Just remember this is 1932.) After moving to Chicago the doc sets himself up as a plastic surgeon, a specialty in which he is neither qualified nor experienced. He hires a private detective with connections as his publicity agent. In no time at all, Benton's office has standing room only. He interviews several young ladies for the position of his private secretary. One of the applicants is pretty Elsie Fryer (Peggy Shannon) who flirts, smokes, drinks, is twenty-five and single - In short, all the qualifications Benton is looking for in an employee. He hires her on the spot. Elsie is eye-candy for the discriminating male and within a month she is upgraded to be his personal paramour. Benton continues to enjoy the good life until he meets Mrs. Finn (Nance O'Neil), a wealthy dowager who has bowed legs and wants them straightened. Nance O'Neil was fifty-eight years old when she took on the role that was to be her swan song in the movies. Her appearance is brief, but she makes the most of it. The lines she speaks contain all the subtle nuances of an accomplished stage actress, which of course whe was. Dr. Benton operates on her and botches the surgery. Poor Mrs. Finn must have both legs amputated to save her life. Benton is put on trial for malpractice and elects to act as his own attorney. His eloquent and tearful summation sways the jury and he is acquitted. In the final court room scene Benton approaches Mrs. Finn in her wheel chair. Bending over her he asks, "Dear Mrs. Finn, is there anything I can do for you? Anything at all?" With that said Mrs. Finn removes a revolver from under her robe and shoots him dead. A fitting end for a scoundrel and a charlatan.

Her husband, upon returning from a fishing trip in 1941, discovered the body of Peggy Shannon, former Zigfeld Follies beauty, in their North Hollywood apartment. She had died while sitting at the kitchen table. Her death was attributed to acute alcoholism. On her tombstone were chiseled the words, "That Red-Headed girl, Peggy Shannon." Ninteen days after this event, her husband took his own life at the same kitchen table. He left a note declaring his love for Peggy William Schley-Ulrich
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Tight Little Drama About Plastic Surgery
kidboots7 June 2015
Warning: Spoilers
One year Peggy Shannon was a new face and getting the star build-up, the next she was scrambling around among the independents, the story circulating that she'd become temperamental. Most of her Paramount films were frankly Bs, quickly put together and rushed into release. Her first film away from Paramount may be one of her best - "False Faces", a searing drama about a quack plastic surgeon. Lowell Sherman who specialized in sophisticated cads starred and also directed. Of course on poverty row not a lot of time was spent on characterization - but her role was a bit different: she was Elsie Fryer, a pretty receptionist who is a more than willing helper for Dr. Silas Brenton just starting out in private surgery.

Brenton (Sherman) is as crooked as they come. To his long suffering girlfriend Georgia (lovely Lila Lee) he has convinced her that he has had to leave the hospital as a victim of persecution but in reality when he has been found to be extorting money from the relatives of a charity patient, that is the last straw for the hospital board!!

An off the cuff remark made about the ugliness of some people's faces leads Brenton into the murky world of plastic surgery. Even though it is a field that he is unfamiliar with his huge ego leads him to take chances and risks. He starts with an ageing star and refuses her offers of payment, yet in the papers the next day he has splashed her name all over the front page. In another instance two "sister singers" are involved in a minor car collusion but when Silas gets through with the reporters it sounds as though his surgery has helped them back from the brink. Things aren't all smooth sailing - a society matron, Mrs. Day, comes to him for some corrective eye surgery, his dodgy methods leave her paralysed!! He does find time for his other hobby - romancing pretty girls and he proves the same low life that he is in surgery practices!! Sweet Georgia is out of sight, out of mind, Elsie has served him so far but attractive Florence Day (Geneva Mitchell) he sees as a step up to high society and she is blind to his shoddy practises. But when he decides to perform surgery on a woman with bow legs..... suddenly he finds himself facing a malpractice suit. Nance O'Neil, the noted stage actress was not too proud to accept the role of distraught Mrs. Finn and make the court room scene her own.

Ken Maynard, a popular Western star who was doing a series for World Wide at the time, made a guest appearance in the night club scene. Joyce Compton and Miriam Seegar also had parts.

Very recommended.
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The Con Goes On
boblipton27 October 2017
Lowell Sherman is a doctor and surgeon in New York City who gets kicked out -- quietly -- for taking money at a free hospital for promising extras for his patients. He heads out to Chicago, where he sets up, despite no training, as a plastic surgeon. Doctors are not permitted to advertise -- he gets his name in the paper anyway, he lectures nationwide on the radio, he writes a column in the newspaper. Women come flocking to him and it isn't until the real doctors come down on him that he is arrested for malpractice.

The audience at the Museum of Modern Art didn't care much for this movie, because .... well, I thought it was better than most of they did. About eighty years ago, one of my grandfathers opened a butter-and-eggs store. Every morning, the housewives would come in and ask if there was anything special. After a while he put a crate of eggs under the counter and when asked, would produce these. "Double-candled," he would explain. For these, instead of a dime a dozen, he got twelve cents. More recently, I was speaking for a niece about a problem, and noted that not all problems have solutions. "That's pessimistic!" she chided me. I shrugged.

Lowell Sherman's black-hearted Pre-Code scoundrel -- his specialty in the movies at least since Griffith's WAY DOWN EAST -- knows that people believe they can have what they want, and that anyone who tells them they can't is, like all the other doctors in this movie, who decry Sherman's methods, in a conspiracy to deprive them of their just deserts. It's not just medicine; look at cosmetics, or perfumes, or even politics -- if I may bring up the subject -- in which far too many people will believe anyone of expertise who promises them what they want, even if it makes no sense, and blame its unavailability on some malign conspiracy, that the spellbinder will deliver.

Well, best not to get into politics here, given that the people at the Museum would never fall for that line -- just some other. Sherman is good in his role as the stinker, Berton Churchill is fine as his more cautious accomplice and there are plenty of Pre-Code ladies doing things that they could only do for a few years before the Code clamped down.
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