In MAN OF A THOUSAND FACES, James Cagney's fine performance as silent film icon and master makeup artist Lon Chaney battles with a melodramatic plot that is often tedious and repetitive. Would that the powers that be had devoted more time to the amazing innovations in makeup and characterization Lon Chaney was responsible for, and less time to the "Chaney wants his son back / Chaney's first wife is trouble" storyline. For, although Cagney is rarely at fault in the the film, it is in the scenes where he recreates Chaney's old vaudeville routines and classic movies scenes that the actor truly shines.
Although the film's storyline is mostly true, it still plays like a standard Hollywood bio-pic where a star's first spouse is a nightmare and second spouse is the soul of niceness, goodness and love. The film includes typically corny scenes where one character will absent-mindedly say something, and another character realizes he has the new ad slogan for his star ("A thousand faces? That's it! Lon Chaney: The Man of A Thousand Faces!"). Nobody is really at fault here except the scriptwriter. Cagney is superb, as is Dorothy Malone as his first wife, Jane Greer as his second and Jim Backus as his press agent. It's just the material that lets them down.
Worth watching for Cagney fans for his beautiful performance and the spot-on recreations of some famous silent movie scenes. If that means slogging through the soggy plotline, so be it. ½James Cagney Humphrey Bogart The Stuff You Gotta Watch Home Page