Man of a Thousand Faces (1957)

Man of a Thousand Faces is an opportunity for James Cagney, a screen legend in his own right, to pay tribute to one of cinema’s greatest icons, the irreplaceable silent cinema legend Lon Chaney.

For all his talent and success, Chaney’s life was plagued by heartache. This movie covers every step of the actor’s career, from vaudeville to Hollywood with all of the dark parts in between.

Arrow Video has brought this to blu ray for the first time and the results are amazing. This film looks gorgeous in high definition.

Director Joseph Pevney also got his start in vaudeville as a boy soprano before finding his way to the theater. He had a short career as a film actor before directing nearly 80 features and plenty of TV. He tied Marc Daniels for directing the largest number of Star Trek episodes, including “The Devil in the Dark, “Arena”, “The City on the Edge of Forever”, “Amok Time”, “Journey to Babel” and “The Trouble with Tribbles.”

Lon Chaney (Cagney) is a vaudeville actor looking for success, which means working for the famous comedy dup Kolb and Dill (Clarence Kolb plays himself in this, while Danny Beck plays his partner Max Dill). When his wife Cleva (Dorothy Malone, Constance MacKenzie from Peyton Place) is pregnant, she asks him to meet his family. He’s reluctant to do so as his mother and father are both deaf and mute. He was probably right to do so, as Cleva overreacts, worried that her child will be a freak.

The good news is that Creighton is born and is normal, but Lon’s and Cleva’s marriage doesn’t survive. She’s back in the theater life and sleeping with a patron unbeknownst to Chaney, who keeps leaving his son in the care of his platonic friend Hazel Hastings (Jane Greer, Vivian Smythe Niles from Twin Peaks), who has her own issues with her ex-husband, who has grown bitter due to losing his legs. Cleva discovers Lon consoling Hazel and runs away. Days later, our protagonist is on stage in clown makeup when his wife enters and drinks a bottle of acid in front of the entire audience.

The scandal destroys Lon’s career in vaudeville with the state taking young Creighton away from him. That’s when he goes to Hollywood and begins working with Clarence Locan (Jim Backus).

Even though Lon starts as just an extra, his work ethic makes him a featured player in short order. He’s then cast in The Miracle Man as a man who is dramatically able to walk again.

Despite the success of his career, Lon faces a rough life. Sure, Hazel comes back and marries him, leading to Creighton being able to move back, but his ex-wife also comes back, seeking to reunite with the son who believes that she is dead.

By 1930, Lon has lost his son and is suffering from cancer on the set of The Unholy Three. Of course, this being a Hollywood version of his life, he reconciles with his son and returns home to die, giving his son his makeup case, allowing him to become an actor.

There are a lot of great stories behind the actors in this film. For example, Marjorie Rambeau plays Gert, a woman who helps Chaney when he first gets to Hollywood. Rambeau started her showbiz career in Nome, Alaska, where her mother had taken her after a divorce. There, she dressed Marjorie as a boy to keep away drunken grown men as she played the banjo and sang in saloons. She made her Broadway debut in 1913 and was already a star within two years. Dorothy Parker was so moved by seeing her that she wrote this poem: “If all the tears you shed so lavishly / Were gathered, as they left each brimming eye. / And were collected in a crystal sea, / The envious ocean would curl up and dry— / So awful in its mightiness, that lake, / So fathomless, that clear and salty deep. / For, oh, it seems your gentle heart must break, / To see you weep.”

Additionally, Rambeau was so famous that restaurants often courted her to eat at their establishments. One such place was Reuben’s Restaurant and Delicatessen in New York City, which Rambeau attended late one night after a performance. The place was nearly out of food, so the sandwich they concocted for her was a mix of different ingredients that came to be known as the Rueben.

Man of a Thousand Faces was her final film role.

Creighton — later Lon Chaney Jr. — was played by Roger Smith, who starred on 77 Sunset Strip. He’d go on to become the manager for his wife Ann-Margaret, as well as writing and producing the Joe Namath movie C.C. and Company.

The studio doctor, Dr. J. Wilson Shields, was played by Jack Albertson, who of course would later play Grandpa Joe in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and co-star with Freddie Prinze on Chico and the Man. He’s also William G. Dobbs, the man behind everything in the astounding 1981 horror film Dead and Buried.

There’s also a comedy pie fight scene that features the last surviving member of the Keystone Kops, Hank Mann, as well as Australian vaudevillian Snub Pollard.

Finally, studio mogul Irving Thalberg was played by a man who would do very much the same in his second career, shaping much of the Hollywood of the 1970’s. That’s Robert Evans, selected by Thalberg’s widow, actress Norma Shearer.

To be fair, not all of this movie is 100% accurate. Much of the movie was sanitized and fictionalized. While it’s true that Lon Chaney didn’t want his son to be an actor, the truth is that Creighton was working at an L.A. water heater company at the time of his father’s death. After that company failed, he started acting under his real name. He didn’t take on the name Lon Chaney Jr. until 1935’s A Scream In the Night.

Chaney was ashamed of taking on that name and was mostly a supporting actor until 1941’s The Wolfman, the movie that changed his career forever, with roles in horror franchises like Inner Sanctum movies and having the distinction of being the only actor to play every one of the Universal monsters: the Wolf Man, Frankenstein’s Monster, the Mummy and Count Dracula.

After watching this movie and learning about his life, it’s easy to see why Chaney drank for his entire life. However, there are differentiating stories about what he was really like.

Chaney was beloved and consider sweet by many, as he often befriended and protected young actors and older ones who were down on their luck. For example, William Farnum had once been the biggest silent actor in all of Hollywood. By The Mummy’s Curse in 1944, he was a down on his luck bit player. However, Chaney demanded that Farnum be given his own chair and be treated with respect — or else he’d quit the movie.

However, he nearly murdered actor Frank Reicher on the set of The Mummy’s Ghost and broke a vase over director Robert Siodmak’s head (either during the making of Son of Dracula or Cobra Woman). Robert Stack would write later than the only monsters at Universal were the drunken team of Chaney and Broderick Crawford, who would often tear the studio to bits.

Back to the film — while Lon Sr. is shown dying at home, he really died in the hospital. And the makeup in this film differs greatly from the actual work Chaney did, that was based on using a minimum of makeup, while the pieces in Man of a Thousand Faces use full latex appliances from Bud Westmore*, who also created the Creature from the Black Lagoon and the makeup for Barbie.

The extras on this disc include new audio commentary by film scholar Tim Lucas as well as The Man Behind a Thousand Faces, a newly filmed look at Lon Chaney and his legacy by the critic Kim Newman. Plus, Arrow has included the original poster artwork and new art from Graham Humphreys.

You can get this from Arrow Video.

DISCLAIMER: We were sent this movie for review by Arrow Video. That has no impact on our thoughts.

*Thanks to Craig Edwards, who let me know “Bud Westmore had almost nothing to do with the design or creation of Creature from the Black Lagoon. That honor goes to Milicent Patrick.”

2019 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge Day 11 Option 2: I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957)

DAY 11. THE OLD WAY. Watch a classic from 1959 or before.

Herman Cohen started his climb up the show business ladder from the lowest rung, working as a gofer and usher at Detroit’s Dexter Theater at the tender age of 12. By 18, he’d be the manager. His career would take him from being the sales manager for Columbia’s Detroit region to their Hollywood publicity department and finally making his own films.

His greatest success came in the 1950’s with this film — which he wrote and produced for American International — which earned $2 million dollars on a $100,000 budget (approximately $18 million on a $900,000 budget when adjusted for today’s inflation). He was also behind the films CrazeTrog and Berserk!

Back in 1957, when this film was made, the idea of a teenager becoming a monster was shocking to audiences. Producer Samuel Z. Arkoff claimed that he received plenty of guff for exploiting this idea. In fact, this is the first of many I Was a Teenage movies, but it certainly wouldn’t be the last.

It’s also the first role for Michael Landon, who would go on to enjoy a long and fruitful Hollywood career with three landmark series on his resume: BonanzaLittle House on the Prarie and Highway to Heaven. When I was a kid, I was often afraid of the photo of the werewolf in this movie and my mother would say, “It’s just Michael Landon. You shouldn’t be afraid.” Also, as a youngster, if I ever went to another kid’s home and they were fans of Little House on the Prarie’s adventures of the Ingalls family, I’d instantly judge them as boring and want to go home.

Here he plays Tony Rivers, a troubled teenager to say the least. Unlike most 1950’s fare that portrays its protagonist as noble, we’re shown that Tony is a rough character right from the beginning. He doesn’t just rail against authority, he hates everyone. And he’s not all that forthright about it. In a fistfight with another classmate, he goes so far as to throw dirt in the man’s face and try to kill him with a shovel instead of just using his fists. His love of violence and hatred for his fellow man stands in dramatic contrast to his pretty boy looks.

Barney Phillips, who was also Sergeant Ed Jacobs on Dragnet, plays Detective Donovan, a cop who feels bad for Tony and tries to intervene on his behalf several times. After all, Tony grew up without a mom and his dad’s probably a drunk.

Yvonne Lime, who would move on from acting to becoming a noted philanthropist with her husband, plays his girlfriend Arlene. While her parents don’t seem to enjoy the cut of Tony’d jib, she’s in pure love with him, believing in him no matter what.

That said, the real horror starts at a haunted house party. After an extended dance sequence where Vic and his girl sing along to a record — amazingly, this is announced as a big deal and I can’t imagine attending a party where the highlight is some guy playing bongos and lipsynching to a 45 — Tony flips out and nearly kills the man for surprising him from behind. I mean, everyone was pranking one another to an inordinate degree and only Tony tried to outright murder Vic. Look — I hated Vic after a minute, so I get it, Tony. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to have to spend time with him on an extended basis.

Don’t believe me? Just watch these antics and tell me you don’t wish you could go full lycanthrope and strike them all down.

However, Tony’s rage ends up knocking down his girlfriend, so he volunteers to meet with hypnotist Dr. Alfred Brandon. He’s played by Whit Bissell, who would play a psychologist in not only this film, but in its follow-up, I Was a Teenage Frankenstein. He also had the same occupation in Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

This being the 50’s, the doctor has to be a quack. He’s really only interested in experimenting on Tony, regressing him to his most primal state.

After another party at the haunted house — this is made a major point yet we never see a single ghost — Tony drives Arlene home and Frank, one of their friends, is mauled and killed. As the cops debate the autopsy, Pepi the janitor (Vladimir Sokoloff, a Russian actor playing a Carpathian, so this isn’t whitewashing as much as its Hollywood not really even knowing at this point what ethnicity is. In fact, Sokoloff would play 35 different nationalities in his career, including people from Greece, China, Spain, Mexico and so many more) tells them all the truth: these are the marks of a werewolf!

Tony feels like there’s something wrong with himself, but the principal is so happy with his progress that she’s recommending him to State College. One would assume that the marks on his permanent record have been removed.

As he leaves her office, he notices Theresa practicing her gymnastics. This drives his teenage hormones into overdrive and he responds by going full werewolf and killing her, which is about the best translation for toxic masculinity that 1957 can muster. Just seeing the comely form of Dawn Richard (Playboy Playmate of the Month for May 1957) as she stretches out is all it takes. That said — her sexuality had to be somewhat shocking for the puritanical Baby Boom era. Therefore, she had to be destroyed.

Tony’s recognized by his jacket and goes on the run. He calls Arlene for help and she can only listen, unable to reply. And a visit to Dr. Brandon only leads to the man using our protagonist and filming his transformation, at which point Tony kills everyone. The cops are forced to gun him down — silver bullets are unnecessary when you have good old fashioned American steel — and that’s all she wrote.

One of those cops — they opine that man shouldn’t mess in the affairs of God — is Guy Williams, who would soon be swashbuckling in Zorro and sailing through the galaxy in Lost In Space.

Less than four months after the release of this film, AIP would release two movies that are pretty much the same story: I Was a Teenage Frankenstein and Blood of Dracula, which is even more of a remake, just with a female lead and doctor. It’s such a paint by numbers recreation that there’s even another dance number thrown in, references to Carpathia, dialogue lifted nearly line by line and an observer who knows that it’s a vampire when no one else will believe them.

I watched this movie on the very same day I rewatched An American Werewolf In London and it’s stunning to see the different ways that they interpret not only being a werewolf, but the transformation itself. Instead of the pain that 1981’s Rick Baker effects depict, all we see here is a slow dissolve of Tony getting a furry face. But it works — for so often, this was how American audiences saw werewolves.

Night of the Demon (1957)

Night of the Demon was a movie that scared the hell out of me when I was a kid. That iconic shot of the demon from the end was always in books about horror and issues of Famous Monsters. I’d always hide my eyes from it while still being fascinated.

Little did I know that the issue of the demon being in the film was a major point of argument between producer Hal E. Chester versus director Jacques Tourneur (I Walked with a Zombie, Cat People) and writer Charles Bennett (The 39 Steps) on the other. Chester ended up jamming in the special effects monster over the objections of the writer, the director, and lead actor Dana Andrews.

Even worse, 12 minutes were removed from the British version of this film and it was renamed to Curse of the Demon. Tourneur later said, “The scenes where you see the demon were shot without me…the audience should never have been completely certain of having seen the demon.” Bennett, also about the changes to the script, said “If [Chester] walked up my driveway right now, I’d shoot him dead.”

Based on the M.R. James story “Casting the Runes,” the story begins with Dr. Julian Karswell being visited late in the night by a rival who begs him to remove the curse he’s placed. After learning that the patchment he gave the man was destroyed, Karswell rushes the man from his house just as a giant demon materializes in the trees, a shocking effect even today. The professor tries to escape but his car crashes into powerlines and he’s electrocuted.

Dr. John Holden (Dana Andrews, Airport 1975) arrives in England to attend the convention where the dead professor had intended to expose Karswell and his Satanic cult. Holden believes that there’s no such thing as the supernatural while the dead professor’s niece (Peggy Cummins, Gun Crazy) believes the opposite.

Later, when a windstorm destroys a party, Karswell takes the blame and Holden mocks him. The older man grows angry and predicts Holden’s death within three days. Soon, the same parchment of protection is found by our hero and he slowly becomes convinced that the demon is on his trail as well.

The end of the film, where the demon changes his target from Holden to Karswell, is harrowing. As he runs up the train tracks, the demon manifests itself and chases the magician. When his corpse is discovered, the police believe that it was a train dragging him, not the demon.

Holden goes to inspect the body, but the professor’s niece tells him that that sometimes, “it’s better not to know.” He walks away with her.

In the movie The ‘Burbs, Ray finds a book called The Theory and Practice of Demonology in the basement of the Klopeks. Its author? None other than the villain of this film, Julian Karswell. It’s also mentioned in “Science Fiction Double Feature” in the Rocky Horror Picture Show: “Dana Andrews said prunes gave him the runes, but passing them used lots of skills.”

According to BrightMidNight on the Sinister Screen, “This movie is a true Satanic classic because it exposes the devil worshiper for what he is. Anytime you have to rely on someone or something else to help you to be a success in life, you’re diminishing your own self-worth. People who do this are basically saying, “I’m not good enough to get these things on my own; I need some kind of outside force.””

They go on to say: “Satanists viewing this movie should understand that YOU are in charge of your own destiny — and no one else. Asking some devil or some imaginary demon for favors only causes problems in the end. Satanism strives on individualism. The Satanist is his or her own God. There is no need to ask other entities for help.”