Man of a Thousand Faces (1957) Review

Director: Joseph Pevney

Genre(s): Biography, Drama

Runtime: 122 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

In 1957, a film was released where James Cagney played Lon Chaney. I repeat: James Cagney played Lon Chaney. One of the greatest actors in history playing another one of the greatest actors in history? This is not a drill! How could you not be amped for this picture? The movie in question is a biopic of film actor Lon Chaney (James Cagney, as I’ve said twice before), documenting his journey from Hollywood extra to seemingly shape-shifting mega-star.

Okay, this flick really isn’t as good as it sounds. Many of Lon Chaney’s more interesting screen roles are basically glossed over in order to give the audience some drama. Man of a Thousand Faces never misses an opportunity to wring out as much melodrama from the proceedings as humanly possible. The sequence where Chaney’s wife, Cleva Creighton Chaney (Dorothy Malone), reacts histrionically to meeting her husband’s parents (played by Celia Lovsky and Nolan Leary) is almost unbearable.

On the bright side, this production does a interesting job of foreshadowing some of the roles Lon Chaney would have throughout his career. For examples, there’s a legless man (reminding one of The Penalty [1920]), a Chinese man (Mr. Wu [1927]), Chaney in drag as an old lady (The Unholy Three [1925] and The Unholy Three [1930]), and Chaney as a clown (He Who Gets Slapped [1924] and Laugh, Clown, Laugh [1928]). There are also some cool glimpses behind-the-scenes at early Hollywood filmmaking.

Oh yeah, Jim Backus also shows up as Clarence Locan, Lon Chaney’s agent. That’s right, Mr. Howell is in this flick! Overall, Man of a Thousand Faces is pretty disappointing most of the time, focusing more on Chaney’s personal life than his onscreen antics. Fans of James Cagney and/or Lon Chaney may find some value in watching it once (or even twice), but if you’re not in either of those actors’ fan clubs, you should probably choose something else for movie night.

My rating is 6 outta 10.

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