“Star Of The Month (July 2021)” Featuring James Cagney in… Man Of A Thousand Faces (1957)

As we continue on with our Star Of The Month celebration for James Cagney, we’ve got his 1957 film Man Of A Thousand Faces!

Coming Up Shorts! with… Pink Panic (1967)

(available on Blu-ray and DVD as part of The Pink Panther Cartoon Collection: Volume 2 (1966-1968) from Kino Lorber)

(Length: 6 minutes, 1 second)

Coming out of a storm, the Pink Panther tries to spend the night at a haunted hotel in a ghost town. This one is a fun Halloween-type cartoon, as the Panther tries to deal with a ghostly sheet and a skeleton. The fun at first stems from the Panther not realizing the sheet is a ghost (and the various things he does to it in the process), before the ghostly shenanigans come through. I know I enjoy it all the way through, and it’s definitely a fun one to revisit here and there!

And Now For The Main Feature…

As a kid, young Lon Chaney constantly gets into fights with other kids when they make fun of his deaf parents. As a grown adult, Lon (James Cagney) is successful as a clown on the vaudeville stage. However, his wife, Cleva Creighton Chaney (Dorothy Malone), struggles as a singer alongside him. When she is fired at one theatre, Lon decides to leave, too. She convinces him to accept another offer (without her) after she tells him she is pregnant. On the way to his new job, she pushes to meet his family. However, she is shocked to find out about his parents being deaf, and, worried that their future child might also be deaf, declares she doesn’t want this baby (but decides to have it anyway). They continue on to San Francisco, where Lon gets work at the theatre, but his relationship with Cleva is increasingly strained, as she resents being stuck in a home far from the city. When their son Creighton is born, they worry about whether he can hear or not. After a while, they see proof that Creighton can hear, and they are relieved (but their relationship doesn’t improve). After several years, Creighton spends a lot of time with Lon at the theatre, and dancer Hazel Bennett (Jane Greer) helps watch him for Lon. With Creighton spending so much time at the theatre, Cleva decides to go back to work as a singer. Lon is reluctant to let her do so, but he goes along with it. That is, until Creighton gets a little sick at the theatre, and, angry at her not being there to mother their son, he gets her fired. In revenge, she comes to the theatre and drinks poison on stage. She survives, although with a more limited ability to speak, but her actions have effectively blacklisted Lon now, too. When she disappears from the hospital, that is enough for Lon to decide to keep her out of both his and Creighton’s lives. He gets a divorce, but, in the process, the judge deems him an unfit father, and makes Creighton a ward of the court (at least, until Lon can provide a better home). At the suggestion of press agent Clarence Locan (Jim Backus), Lon decides to go to Hollywood. There, he gets a lot of work as an extra, due to his talents with makeup. After a while, his performances gain some attention, and he is given a chance at better parts. Lon is reluctant to share his personal life with the press, and Clarence is able to use that to spin him off as a “man of mystery.” However, his newfound success is still not quite enough for the courts to let him have his son back. Seeing Lon’s frustration, Clarence convinces Hazel to come see him. Given that they both have feelings for each other, they decide to get married, which is enough for the courts to believe that Creighton can come home to be with his father. But trouble is brewing as time goes on, as Lon told Creighton that his mother had died. When he is older, Cleva starts coming back around to see him (although she doesn’t reveal who she is to him). Lon tries to tell her to go away, but she refuses. Eventually, Creighton finds out from Hazel that his mother is still alive, and, after he and his father fight, he goes to stay with her. Can the two reconcile, or will they be forever separated because of Lon’s lies?

Writer Ralph Wheelright had put together an idea for a movie based on the life of actor Lon Chaney. When his friend James Cagney learned of it, he hoped to do the film, as he himself had been a fan of Lon Chaney when he was younger. The film was made at Universal-International, the studio where Chaney had made some of his best-known films like the 1923 The Hunchback Of Notre Dame and the 1925 The Phantom Of The Opera. To fill the part of Universal’s production manager for the time period, Irving Thalberg (and obtain the rights to use his name), they turned to Thalberg’s widow, Norma Shearer, for help. She suggested Robert Evans, whom she thought resembled her late husband (and, ironically enough, Robert Evans would later go on to be the production chief at Paramount Studios in the 1970s). The film proved to be a hit for Universal, with several of the performances (Cagney’s in particular) being praised highly.

Now, I will readily admit that I have no experience with any of Lon Chaney’s films (just a few with his son, like some of the Abbott and Costellos and a few appearances as the Wolfman). My main reason for wanting to see this film was James Cagney himself, and he did not disappoint! I really liked his performance, as a man who grew up fighting for his family, when others looked down on them. We can see that as well (at first) with his wife Cleva, as he tries to stick by her when nobody wants to hire her. Which makes her betrayal when she meets his family all the more heartbreaking, as he finds himself fighting her, too, even after their son is born able to hear and speak. But, everything he does is for his close family (he doesn’t always do the right thing, but he tries). To me, James Cagney does a great job with all this, and makes the movie an easy watch!

Obviously, being a biopic, this movie is certainly not without its fictionalized moments. Considering this is a film about Lon Chaney, one of the worst is the fact that the real Lon used makeup and other things to work with his own face, while Cagney is, at times, very obviously wearing a mask (like for the Hunchback Of Notre Dame and Phantom Of The Opera stuff). And maybe the stuff with his first wife was played up a bit (in a very melodramatic fashion) to make her into more of a villain. Still, I found this film fascinating (and, of course, we get James Cagney’s real-life sister, Jeanne Cagney, playing his onscreen sister, just as she did in the classic Yankee Doodle Dandy). We even get to see James Cagney do a little dancing (which I hadn’t expect going into this movie)! Overall, this movie was well-acted by everyone, and it was a very unexpected pleasure to see this one! I certainly would recommend it without hesitation!

What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2019) with… Man Of A Thousand Faces (1957)

This movie is available on Blu-ray from Arrow Films, featuring a 2K scan from the 35mm camera negative. This transfer looks quite good, with pretty good clarity. The picture has been cleaned up of all dirt and debris. There is a commentary by film scholar Tim Lucas, and a twenty minute featurette on Lon Chaney. Overall, this movie has been given a good release here, and it comes recommended as the best way to see this film!

Film Length: 2 hours, 2 minutes

My Rating: 9/10

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List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Mister Roberts (1955)James CagneyNever Steal Anything Small (1959)

Top 10 Disc Releases Of 2019

Here’s the list you have been waiting for, on what I think are some of the best releases for 2019, giving new life to old classics and forgotten gems!  Again, my thoughts are coming ONLY from what I have been able to see myself. I do NOT receive screeners of any kind (nor, quite frankly, would I want to), these are all movies I myself bought. These are chosen from among the 2019 releases I have seen, as of 11/27/2019.  And if any of these appeal to you, be sure to click on the movie titles to go to Amazon!

  1. Swing Time (1936) (Criterion Collection, Blu-ray and DVD, My Rating: 10/10)
    • Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers star in their sixth film together, with him playing a dancer and a gambler, who falls for a dance teacher. The transfer on the new Blu-ray may not be pristine, but the movie looks better than I’ve seen it previously, and just makes all the wonderful dances just look that much better! Full review here.
  2. Footlight Parade (1933) (Warner Archive Collection, Blu-ray, My Rating: 10/10)
    • James Cagney and Joan Blondell star in this classic Busby Berkeley musical, about a man trying to create prologues for movie theaters. The Blu-ray restoration shines, and is never more evident than with Busby Berkeley’s wonderful musical numbers! Full review here.
  3. The Thin Man (1934) (Warner Archive Collection, Blu-ray, My Rating: 10/10)
    • The classic screwball mystery featuring William Powell and Myrna Loy. A fun mystery, but the real enjoyment is in watching the relationship of the two main stars and their antics. While this movie hasn’t looked great in a long time, the recent Warner Archive Blu-ray has brought this film back to life! Easily one of the best film restorations of the year! Full review here.
  4. The Major And The Minor (1942) (Arrow Films, Blu-ray, My Rating: 10/10)
    • Ginger Rogers stars in this Billy Wilder-directed comedy about a woman posing as a 12-year-old girl as she tries to get home, and is delayed by an army major at a military academy. A wonderful comedy, and one that looks so much better in the new Blu-ray release from Arrow films! Full review here.
  5. Summer Stock (1950) (Warner Archive Collection, Blu-ray, My Rating: 10/10)
    • Judy Garland’s last film at MGM, and her third film teaming her up with Gene Kelly as a pair who put on a show in her family’s barn! While not a perfect film due to stuff going on behind the scenes, the new Blu-ray release shows off the look of the 3-strip Technicolor, and makes the movie seem just that much better! Full review here.
  6. Jezebel (1938) (Warner Archive Collection, Blu-ray, My Rating: 10/10)
    • Bette Davis stars in one of her Oscar winning roles as the vain Southern belle Julie Marsden, as she goes against tradition and chases after Henry Fonda’s Pres Dillard in 1850s New Orleans. For this release, Warner Archives did a lot or work to restore it when it hasn’t looked good in a long time, and their work has really paid off with a fantastic restoration that makes this release easy to recommend! Full review here.
  7. The Kid Brother (1927) (Criterion Collection, Blu-ray and DVD, My Rating: 10/10)
    • In this Harold Lloyd silent comedy, he stars as the son of the town sheriff, who must now deal with the problems that arise when he signs some permits in place of his father allowing a traveling medicine show to perform in town. With this release boasting a new restoration of the movie that looks fantastic in high definition, outside of a few scratches here and there, but some fun bonus features, including two of Harold’s earlier shorts, I can’t help but recommend this set! Full review here.
  8. Notorious (1946) (Criterion Collection, Blu-ray and DVD, My Rating: 9/10)
    • Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant star in this Alfred Hitchcock film about the daughter of a Nazi conspirator who tries to help an American agent take don some Nazis living in South America. With a new restoration for the second go-round on Blu-ray, this movie looks fantastic, and is definitely the way to go for this movie! Full review here.
  9. Road To Singapore (1940) (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray, My Rating: 9/10)
    • The first film in the Road series, with Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour as the two men escape impending marriages as they make their way towards Singapore. The transfer on Kino’s new Blu-ray release looks fantastic, and is easily the best way to see this movie! Full review here.
  10. Detour (1945) (Criterion Collection, Blu-ray and DVD, My Rating: 9/10)
    • In this classic noir starring Tom Neal and Ann Savage, he is a pianist hitchhiking his way across the country when he accidentally kills the man he is traveling with and is forced to take over his identity. Due to being in the public domain, this movie has lloked terrible for a long time, but this recent restoration looks fantastic! Certainly the best way to see this wonderful movie! Full review here.

Honorable mentions: Road To Zanzibar (1941) (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray), Road To Morocco (1942) (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray), Stand-In (1937) (Classicflix, Blu-ray and DVD)

Honestly, though, it’s hard not to say that this has been a fantastic year of releases! A lot of the labels have really been upping their game this year when it comes to releases of many classic and obscure older movies. My own opinion is that the Warner Archive Collection has come out the best of everybody. After a couple years of mainly focusing on titles made in 1954 and later on Blu-ray (with the occasional pre-1954 title here and there), WAC has dug into their library to release a number of classic titles from the forties this year, and released a few from the thirties, the first time in four years the decade has been represented on Blu-ray from them, and all three titles were well worth it! Plus, in digging into Summer Stock, they have released their first new-to-Blu-ray pre-1954 MGM musical (marking the first time since Warner Home Video stopped releasing catalog titles on blu after 2015 that era of musicals has been represented on the format from Warner’s library). They even released a few movies on DVD I’ve long been waiting for on the format (although I haven’t quite managed to get my hands on them yet). Honestly, the only complaint I have with their releases is that they only released two new-to-blu musicals this year (since that is one of my favorite genres), but otherwise they have had a great year!

And of course, they’re not the only ones with a good year, either! Kino Lorber has been digging into the Universal library through their licensing deal with them, releasing a number of great films (plus a few obscure ones), with 2020 looking to bring even more! Criterion has had many good releases through their licenses with all the studios, plus some classic silent comedies making their debut with new restorations! And while Classicflix has had to pull back on how much they have been releasing, they still continue to maintain their high levels of quality in their releases, making it easy to try their films (most of which, I hadn’t even heard of before they announced them). And labels like Shout Factory and Arrow Films have both been delving into a number of Universal-owned classics, the first time either label’s Blu-ray releases have appealed to me! All in all, a great year of releases (and not enough time/money to keep up with all of them)! I can only hope 2020 looks this good!

Previous years:


What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2019) with… The Major And The Minor (1942)

Now we have another delightful comedy, the classic 1942 film The Major And The Minor starring Ginger Rogers and Ray Milland.

After being in New YorkCity for a year and not getting anyplace in work, Susan Applegate (Ginger Rogers) decides to return home by train to Stevenson, Iowa. However, the money she had saved for the trip was not enough, due to a recent rate increase. After watching a mother and her two children buy tickets, she decides to try making herself look younger so she could buy a half-fare ticket. She manages to get the ticket, but the train conductors are suspicious of her. When they catch her smoking and give chase, she avoids them by ducking into the drawing room of Major Philip Kirby (Ray Milland). Due to his “bum eye,” he perceives her as the little girl she is pretending to be, and offers her a berth for the night. The next morning, some flooding delays the train, and Philip’s fiancee Pamela Hill (Rita Johnson), along with her father (and Philip’s commanding officer) Colonel Oliver Slater Hill (Edward Fielding), come to get him. They find Susan (or “Su-Su” as she is calling herself) in Philip’s compartment, and leave in a huff. Philip, realizing he is in trouble, convinces Su-Su to come with him to the Wallace Military Institute to help him out. He gets out of trouble, and Su-Su is offered a room with Pamela’s younger sister, Lucy (Diana Lynn). Lucy quickly figures out Susan is older than she is pretending to be, and enlists her help. Philip has just returned from Washington, where he had been trying to get back into active service instead of just teaching the young cadets at the Institute, but, behind his back, Pamela had been trying to prevent him getting into active service. Lucy wants to help him out. After dealing with the young cadets, Susan is able to impersonate Pamela on the switchboard for one of her friends with a husband who is high-up in the military. At the school dance, Philip receives word that he had gotten his transfer. Susan plans to reveal herself to him after the dance, but Pamela had discovered the truth, and blackmails Susan into leaving without telling Philip anything.

The Major And The Minor was the first American film directed by Billy Wilder. He, along with his co-writer Charles Brackett, had written a number of movies together, but he had yearned to direct some of his movies, especially since some of the stuff he had written got vetoed by some of the actors and directors he had worked with. Finally given a chance, he decided to do a movie that would have some commercial appeal, so that it wouldn’t be his last. Ginger Rogers was who he wanted for the part, and she liked both the script and the idea of him as a director. For her, the story was a familiar concept, as she had lived that way when she was younger, trying to make herself appear a little younger when traveling with her mother so that she could get half-fare tickets due to lack of funds (although, admittedly, that was probably when she was still young enough that she could actually pull it off).

Now, I know that this movie is not for everyone. As much as the movie relies on the idea that a woman in her mid-20s (the character’s age, not Ginger’s, as she was about 30 at this time) could pass for a 12-year-old, it does strain credibility. Although, to be fair, the train conductors are suspicious from the start, Diana Lynn’s Lucy figures it out quickly, and Rita Johnson’s Pamela and her father assume her to be an adult woman until they are given context by Ray Milland’s Philip. Of course, the young cadets are another problem, considering most of them would (and SHOULD) get in trouble, especially in today’s “Me too” culture. It’s hard to know how to feel about Major Kirby, considering we do see him develop an attraction to the “12-year-old” Su-Su, but at the same time, we do see how it also bothers him a bit (heck, in some ways, their relationship almost reminds me of Mulan and Shang from the animated Disney film).

In spite of those issues, I really enjoy this movie. For me, it is worth watching for Ginger Rogers alone (and I would be hard-pressed to try the 1955 remake You’re Never Too Young with Jerry Lewis in Ginger’s role). This movie does have many fun moments, whether they be when she is buying her ticket at the train station, or dealing with the train conductors, or trying to deal with the cadets on the switchboard. And while I’m not fond of the cadets trying to put the move on her, it is funny to see her use the same strategy on Major Kirby at the end of the movie. This is definitely a movie of another time, when things were more innocent and kids could potentially be safer when traveling alone, or somebody else could be more helpful without being dangerous. I always enjoy watching this movie, and I would easily recommend trying it out (at least, if you can get past some of the issues I mentioned before)!

This movie is now available on Blu-ray from Arrow Films and previously released on DVD by Universal Studios. The Blu-ray release from Arrow looks fantastic, in my opinion. Sure, there are maybe a few scratches here and there, but otherwise the transfer is as good as I could hope for! So far, this is my first disc from Arrow, and if their other releases look this good (as I’ve heard), then I look forward to more from this label!

Film Length: 1 hour, 40 minutes

My Rating: 10/10

*ranked #4 in Top 10 Disc Releases Of 2019

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Roxie Hart (1942)Ginger RogersOnce Upon A Honeymoon (1942)

Robert Benchley – I Married A Witch (1942)

As an Amazon Affiliate, this site gets a small percentage for every purchase made upon using one of the Amazon links, even if it’s not the movie I linked to (and it’s at no extra cost to you). If you like what I’m doing with the blog, please consider using them so that I can continue to do more!