Saturday, June 11, 2011

A Little Experiment: Part 2

I did it. I rewatched Man with a Thousand Faces (1957), fulfilling the plans of my past post. It is rather strange, viewing something from my youth, at the dawning of my interest in old films. And what can I say about this second viewing experience?

Well, for one thing, I now know what it must feel for a baseball fan to watch The Pride of the Yankees or  Fear Strikes Out: plenty of (mostly fictional) elaboration on the personal life of the real-life protagonist, and not enough visualization of what made them great. Now, sometimes that it understandable. Lord knows how much more I could stand to watch Anthony Perkins play ball like a girl when portraying Jimmy Piersall.

But I digress. I am not here to discuss baseball biopics, but an actor biopic, specifically of the legendary  Lon Chaney Sr. And boy, is this a whopper. It begins with Chaney's youth, raised by deaf-mute parents.

He works in Vaudville with his wife (Dorothy Malone), who is unlikable because she:

1. Has a paranoid fear of their unborn child (and future Wolf Man) being born deaf

2. Puts her singing career before her family

Because she is such a bad mother, Chaney divorces her, and gets a relatively steady job getting extra work and bit parts in the picture business. He gets married to a wonderful woman (Jane Greer), and his carer takes off after his work as a fake cripple in The Miracle Man.

I guess that I should point  out that Cagney was about 56 when he made this film, 9 years older than Chaney was when he died. While age differences between actors and their real-life counterparts are far from unusual, in this case it is especially jarring.

There are reenactments of scenes from such classic Cagney films as The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Phantom of the Opera, and Laugh Clown Laugh. This would cool, if they got the frickin' reenactments right! But I could let those pass by, were it not for one thing...The make-up.

Good Lord, the make-up. Or should, I say, the really crude rubber masks that bare no resemblance to Chaney's original classic designs. I know that Cagney's face was rounder than Chaney's, so that they would not look similar, but still...the horror, the horror.

My memories of the film were pretty close, considering it had been about 10 years since I last saw it. I don't why certain parts stuck out so much. It wasn't because I considered it a particularly great film at the time, and I still don't, but there must have been something that intrigued me. At the time I first watched it, I must have already known about Chaney and his make-up creations. It is quite possibly my first bio-pic.
Overall, I thought that it was an okay, if disappointing film.

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