Review: Man of a Thousand Faces
Blu-ray: Man of a Thousand Faces (1957)
The problem with a lot of ‘true life’ stories in film is that they are invariably NOT true. My very cursory knowledge of Lon Chaney is that only the main points of this biopic are ‘real’. But it really doesn’t matter, mainly because the star of this film is the great James Cagney, who of course plays…James Cagney doing a bit of a Lon Chaney.
The story follows Chaney (James Cagney) who’s working in vaudeville with his wife Cleva (a decidedly glowing Dorothy Malone). Cleva announces that she is pregnant and pressures Lon to visit his parents who she has never met. This is because both Chaneys parents and deaf and can’t talk, and he knows his highly strung wife will freak out when she meets them. He’s right and on meeting them Cleva reacts with disgust and tells Lon she doesn’t want the baby in case he too is a deaf mute and she doesn’t want to be the mother of a ‘dumb thing’.
The child is born (he grows up to be Lon Chaney Jnr – The Wolfman) and can hear.
The film is more or less a Douglas Sirk-type melodrama, with affairs and wooden legs and all sorts of heart-wrenching turmoil. Cleava disappears after taking poison onstage (this really happened, though not onstage) and Lon has his young son taken off him by the court.
Again this is somewhat untrue as Chaney Jnr was removed but was placed in a boarding school. The films story does revolve around the placement of this child and I wondered how Chaney Jnr viewed this film and his father in real life.
The film ends with a dying Chaney Snr passing his makeup box to Chaney Jnr, when at the time Lon was married with 2 small children and working in a butchers to make ends meet.
However, leaving the true story aside, this is a very enjoyable film made so by a wonderful Cagney.
The talk by Kim Newman in the special features is very enjoyable, especially as it eschews the dry and academic viewpoint which so often makes me want to reach for the fast forward button in some extras. This is entertaining, informative, and delivered with passion by somebody who is obviously having a great time chatting about something he loves, rather than doing it as just a work assignment.
SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS
- Brand new restoration from the original negative by Arrow Films
- High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
- Uncompressed Mono 1.0 PCM audio soundtrack
- Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
- New audio commentary by film scholar Tim Lucas
- The Man Behind a Thousand Faces, a newly filmed look at Lon Chaney and his legacy by the critic Kim Newman
- Image gallery
- Original trailer
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys
FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Fully Illustrated booklet with a newly commisioned essay by Vic Pratt of the BFI
Man of a Thousand Faces is released on 28th October 2019.
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