Man of a Thousand Faces (1957)

8.0 Overall Score
Story: 9/10
Acting: 8/10
Visuals: 8/10

Lon Chaney had an interesting life

Rather typical look and style for the period

Movie Info

Movie Name:  Man of a Thousand Faces

Studio:  Universal Pictures

Genre(s):  Drama

Release Date(s):  August 13, 1957

MPAA Rating:  Unrated


Now see here, hey, I’m the man of a thousand faces, hey…

Born of two deaf parents, Lon Chaney (James Cagney) sets out to make a life for himself on the stage.  When his marriage to Cleva (Dorothy Malone) ends with her attempted suicide during one of his performances, Lon Chaney tries to take his son and test the waters in Hollywood.  Chaney finds success on the silent screen and new love in a woman named Hazel (Jane Greer) while becoming an institution in films produced by Irving Thalberg (Robert Evans).  When Cleva returns, will Chaney’s relationship with his son Creighton (Roger Smith) be destroyed?

Man of a Thousand Faces was directed by Joseph Pevney and told the story of the famous film star Lon Chaney, and in turn that of the early life of his son Lon Chaney, Jr.  The movie was met with positive reviews and was nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.


Dad…this is going to cause me years of therapy

With Man of a Thousand Faces, it is easy to see why the biopic story has continued to be one of the stronger genres of film to this day.  Lon Chaney’s life was pretty interesting, though as with most films, novels, etc., the viewer has to use some discretion on what is true and what is amplified for the movie.  Chaney’s relationship with Cleva was rocky and she did publically attempt suicide but the built up of Chaney not telling her that his parents were deaf was not true.  Chaney also did not have an emotional death at home reuniting with his son (he died in a hospital) and the idea of Lon Chaney Jr. acting wasn’t that big of a deal because he didn’t really get into that until after his father was dead.

Lon Chaney’s life however is pretty rich and I really thought the deaf aspect the story was interesting.  The sign language was un-translated and it was an interesting idea that a person versed in sign language would be able to be expressive enough due to his background to make it big in films without sound.  In Chaney’s childhood, he would have been used to over exaggeration and other things to get his point across to his parents so a silent screen actor seems like a natural place for Chaney who also possessed keen make-up skills to make himself a success.


Mrs. Howell told me not to pick-up any strange scarred guys, but you are just so darn cute!

The shooting and style of the film is very much what you expect from a film from the period.  There is nothing spectacular or amazing, but the make-up is decent.  The surprising thing is that despite great make-up Lon Chaney’s original make-up was probably more impressive because it was done with a lot of wires, etc. to really bring out monsters like the Hunchback and the Phantom.  Here, James Cagney has a lot more help.

Man of a Thousand Faces is a pretty entertaining film especially for those interested in old Hollywood or fans of Chaney and his work.  The movie really does make you want to go back and watch some of his classics to see if you can see any of his childhood within the characters.  The movie does run a bit long, but it is hard to shorten an interesting life.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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