Man of a Thousand Faces (1957): James Cagney Shines as Lon Chaney

James Cagney is well cast as film icon Lon Chaney in Man of a Thousand Faces, Joseph Pevney’s compelling if also inaccurate biopic of the famous silent movie star; too bad that the tale whitewashes issues of Chaney’s career and personal life.

Grade: B (*** out of *****)

Man of a Thousand Faces
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Theatrical release poster

The tale begins as Chaney, the son of two deaf parents, gets successful in vaudeville as a juggler, mime, and quick-change artist.

Chaney meets Cleva Creighton (Dorothy Malone) and hires her as his assistant. They fall in love and marry, but when Chaney reveals that his parents are deaf mutes, she recoils.

When she gives birth to a son, she refuses to look at him, thinking their child will also be deaf.

Cleva reveals unstable personality as Chaney’s vaudeville success increases. When Chaney becomes a vaudeville star, Cleva walks out on both Chaney and her son.

Chaney’s son is sent to a home, as he has no money to support him. To get his son back, Chaney travels to Hollywood and takes every bit role available, using his gift for creative disguises.

Chaney gets respect for his talents and becomes more popular. Along the way, he meets Hazel Bennett (Jane Greer) and they fall in love and marry. But his happiness is shattered when Cleva comes back into his life and demands back their son.

You can spot Robert Evans who would become a great producer, playing producer Irving Thalberg, a piece of casting recommended by Thalberg’’s widow, Norma Shearer.

The cast also includes Marjorie Rambeau, Jim Backus, Jeanne Cagney, and Jack Albertson.

Oscar Nominations: 1

Story and Screenplay (Original): Ralph Wheelwright (story), R. Wright Campbell, Ivan Goff, and Ben Roberts (screenplay).

Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context:

The original Writing Oscar went to George Wells for Minnelli’s comedy, Designing Woman.

Credits:

Directed by Joseph Pevney
Produced by Robert Arthur
Written by R. Wright Campbell, Ivan Goff, Ben Roberts, Ralph Wheelwright
Music by Frank Skinner
Cinematography Russell Metty
Edited by Ted Kent

Production and distribution company: Universal-International

Release date: August 13, 1957

Running time: 122 min.
Box office $2.4 million (US)