Cagney is simply magnificent
playing one of the most enigmatic
movie icons in Hollywood silent film
star Lon Chaney, whose brilliant
characterisations gave him his billing: Man Of A Thousand Faces... CASTING JAMES CAGNEY (Yankie Doodle Dandy, White Heat, Ragtime)
in the title role of this enthralling true story of the life of silent film
star Lon Chaney is sheer genius. Cagney puts everything he's got into the portrayal
of this gifted but tormented actor who wasn't always an easy person to
deal with especially for those who loved him.
Born in 1883, Lon Chaney captured the imagination of the world through his exceptional
talent at bringing to life a myriad of characters with incredibly expressive
faces, rising to the challenge of perfecting such transformative roles as Quasimodo
in The Hunchback Of Notre Dame and the phantom from the original film
of Phantom Of The Opera a talent that was to lead to him becoming
known as the 'Man Of A Thousand Faces'.
Behind the scenes, however, this long-suffering, gifted genius's life was filled
with the trials and tribulations that helped shape some of his ground-breaking
performances. Man Of A Thousand Faces is a masterpiece of filming with
brilliant characterisations and an emotive script based on the true story of
the gifted Chaney.
Due to a misunderstanding and Lon Chaney's own failure to explain to his pregnant
wife Cleva (Dorothy Malone: The Big Sleep, Written On The Wind) that
his parents had hearing and speech impairments, his marriage begins to fall
apart. As a child he had suffered the indignation of hearing insults hurled
at his unsuspecting parents and had suffered years of torment at one
stage hiding behind the pretence that he, too, was unable to hear or speak.
The sign language he used to communicate with his parents was the very key to
Chaney's early success as a stage clown which he developed, along with
a growing number of creative and expressive faces, to great acclaim. Also a
talented artist, Lon sketched every character in remarkable detail before taking
on each persona.
Even after the birth of their son Creighton (played at 21 by Roger Smith), things
are still difficult for Lon and Cleva. She finds success as a nightclub singer
and Lon takes Creighton to the theatre where he works, where the boy is looked
after by gentle chorus girl Hazel Bennet (Jane Greer: Out Of The Past, Against
As their marriage disintegrates further, Cleva falls for a married man but when
he rejects her she is driven to the depths of despair and she makes a dramatic
and terrible decision that is to end her singing career forever.
During the divorce hearing, Creighton is put into a foster home as neither of
his parents are deemed fit to look after him and so begins a long battle for
Chaney to provide a home for his son that ticks all the right boxes.
By a sheer stroke of luck it is suggested to Chaney that he goes to Hollywood
and he meets a lady called Gert (the wonderful Marjorie Rambeau) who takes him
under her wing, constantly reminding him that with his face he will never be
a matinee idol. But it is this face that puts Lon Chaney on the road to fame
and fortune and some sort of happiness. But he is haunted by the difficult relationship
with his son and tragedy is never far behind.
Man Of A Thousand Faces benefits from excellent performances from a stellar
Oscar-winning cast. Apart from the exceptional stars, creditable supporting
actors include Jim Backus as Clarence Locan; Robert J Evans as Irving Thalberg;
Celia Lovsky as Mrs Chaney; Jeanne Cagney as Carrie Chaney; Nolan Leary as Mr
Chaney; Jack Albertson as Dr J Wilson Shiels; Simon Scott as Carl Hastings;
Clarence Kolb as Himself; Danny Beck as Max Dill; Phil Van Zandt as George Loane
Tucker. Creighton is played at 4 years old by Dennis Rush, at 8 by Rickie Sorensen
and at 13 by Robert Lynden.
Director of Photography is Russell Metty; Screenplay is by R Wright Campbell,
Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts; Story is by Ralph Wheelwright; Music by Frank Skinner;
Music supervised by Joseph Gershenson; Produced by Robert Arthur; and Directed
by Joseph Pevney.
On August 27, 1930, the entire motion picture industry was brought to a halt
to pay tribute to the memory of one of its great actors and Lon Chaney was described
as an actor who "showed the world the souls of those people who were born different
from the rest".
The Academy Awards-nominated Man Of A Thousand Faces captures the dramatic
private life of a humble vaudeville clown who rose to become one of the biggest
stars the world has ever seen. Lon Chaney died in 1930 and the film is released
for the very first time on DVD in the UK on 26 January, 2009.
Man Of A Thousand Faces: Catalogue
No: EKA40274 | Barcode: 5060000402742 | RRP: £13.99 | Certificate: PG | Running
Time: 122 Minutes | Format: B&W.
"Man Of A Thousand Faces is a masterpiece of filming with brilliant characterisations
and an emotive script based on the true story of the gifted Lon Chaney"
Maggie Woods, MotorBar