Legends Collide in Lon Chaney Biopic, Man of a Thousand Faces

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Man of a Thousand Faces

I've been at this gig of reviewing movies for a while now; enough to call it a career. And it's always good when something pops up to remind you that this industry has been going on a lot longer than your little blip on the radar, and produced things of a caliber that 3D CGI multip-part franchise stunt casting will never attain.

Case in point: MAN OF A THOUSAND FACES. This two-hour biopic presents the life of Lon Chaney, an icon of the industry known for his commitment to parts, but moreso for his ability to portray any role, no matter how foreign or grotesque.

This JOSEPH PEVNEY film is shocking in many aspects, particularly to modern audiences. Chaney was born to deaf parents, and through the camera lens we are able to see just how much of a stigma that came with in the late 19th and early 20th century. So much so that when, in the film, Chaney introduces his pregnant wife, Cleva, to his parents for the first time, her reaction is one of revulsion -- which, in turn, is just as revolting to the audience of today. Her entire outlook on her pregnancy changes to one of not wanting the child because she won't become the mother to "some dumb thing" (referring here to the ability to speak). Her later near-fatal actions and her abandonment of Chaney and their son, Creighton, are central to this biopic, as we see Chaney rise up in Hollywood, beginning as a vaudeville stage clown to a set extra who used his makeup skills to get parts he otherwise didn't qualify for. This scene in particular deftly protrays just how much of a machine Hollywood sets were in the silent film industry.

As compelling as the life story of Lon Chaney is, MAN OF A THOUSAND FACES is made doubly so by the inimitable performance of JAMES CAGNEY in the title role. We watch Cagney age believably over the course of Chaney's life, and see the tremendous amount of physical acting that went into recreating the role. Modern audiences will come away with a new appreciation of two legends.

MAN OF A THOUSAND FACES also stars DOROTHY MALONE as Chaney's first wife, Cleva Creighton, and JANE GREER as his second wife, Hazel. And a face, if not a name, that audiences with MeTV will pick out is that of JIM BACKUS, who plays Chaney's lifelong friend and press agent, Clarence Locan, and JACK ALBERTSON as personal physician.

If you need dinosaurs, explosions, and choreographed fight scenes, you can find any of dozens any week of the year. But if you're looking for something impactful that will stick with you well beyond the initial watch, give this remastered version fo MAN OF A THOUSAND FACES a shot. The Arrow release includdes a reverseable cover insert featuring the newly commissioned artwork on one side, and the classic movie poster version on the other. The disc comes with a commentary track and a newly filmed feature on the life of Lon Chaney and the Hollywood industry at that time. There's also a wonderful insert booklet that details the facts of the film, making this release a real treasure for film buffs.

Grade: 
5.0 / 5.0