The Man of A Thousand Faces (Universal Studios)

BY Phil Morehart | Posted 07/23/2008 The Man of A Thousand Faces

BY Phil Morehart | Posted 07/23/2008

The Man of A Thousand Faces

1957, Unrated

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

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