The Man of A Thousand Faces
Hollywood's posthumous feting of legendary silent film chameleon Lon
Chaney is a mixed bag.
It's unfortunate, because the man behind the
memorable grotesqueries in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Phantom of the Opera
and more lived a life tailor-made for the screen. The son of deaf-mute
parents, Chaney was an expressive talent and master of make-up effects
who saw success and tragedy accompany his ascent from vaudeville clown
to screen legend, including turbulent, dramatic marriages (his first
wife poisoned herself onstage, destroying her vocal chords and singing
career), the brief loss of his beloved son to the foster care system
and an early death from lung cancer at age 47. These bittersweet events
are the bulk of The Man of a Thousand Faces,
spotlighted and at
times stretched factually for ripe, scenery-chewing melodrama rather
than the iconic film work that made Chaney a star. It makes for
entertaining soap opera but ultimately a flawed portrait of an artist.
Star James Cagney's performance allows this to ride unnoticed, though.
Despite bearing no physical resemblance to Chaney, Cagney is a marvel
to watch, sporting vaudevillian clowning skills that exhibit his true
range as an actor. The real disappointment with The Man of a Thousand Faces
lies with the DVD packaging itself. Zero bonus features are included.
Given the rampant fictions and the short shrift given to Chaney's
cinematic output in the film, featurettes or an expert commentary track
filling in the gaps would have allowed for a more complete (and
accurate) picture. Grade: C