Archive for the ‘Drama’ Category

Movie Reviews 409 – Memories of Murder (2003)

October 4, 2019

Between the years 1986 and 1991 the South Korean city of Hwaseong experienced that country’s first serial killer. The series of 10 rapes and murders galvanized and terrorized the citizens. Memories of Murder is a dramatization of the investigation as told from the point of view of the two prime detectives who worked on the case.

Detective Park (Song Kang-ho) is the first one the scene when a body is found wedged under ditch crossing in a field. A bumbling cop, he is prone to quickly jumping to incorrect conclusions while eager to be in the spotlight as the case advances. The discovery of a second victim brings detective Seo (Kim Sang-kyung) from Seoul to help with the investigation. Methodical and quiet spoken he not only sheds light on new evidence but the fact that there has already been a third victim who hasn’t even been found yet. But the third victim is not the last in what becomes an interminable case.

Park and his willing partner and sidekick Cho resort to coercion and beating confessions, leaving Seo to mock their tactics and disprove their findings, which only ratchets up the tension between the two as the case wears on. While some clues including a rather strange modus operandi becomes evident, even crafty traps fail to capture the assailant. The key lies with a most unusual suspect, a retarded young boy who is being ‘trained’ by Park to provide a believable confession.

While the mystery itself if riveting enough, the complex relationships between the officers and the impact of the stress they are put under is just as much a part of the drama. Seo is the perfectionist unaccustomed to dealing with failure especially on such and important case while Park suffers from anxiety and his own ineffectiveness coupled with wife’s worries for him. But as time goes on a mutual respect develops but not without lingering effects from the prolonged investigation.

Despite the somber circumstances being portrayed, the film also includes a number of strangely comical scenes when it comes to Park and Jo’s antics such as one in which he discerns that since no evident non-victim hair was found on the bodies the perpetrator must be hairless. While I enjoyed this comedy as I watched the film I had no idea that this was based on true events. It was only while watching the DVD special features did I learn that the serial killings were not only real, but not solved at the time of filming, which makes the comic aspect somewhat morbid. Ironically, as did a bit more digging into the story I learned that the crime was solved only this past year.

Writer-director Joon-ho Bong would call again on actor Song Kang-ho to star in The Host shortly after this outing with equally entertaining results.

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Movie Reviews 408 – Laura (1944)

September 28, 2019

I’ve been saving this one for quite a while as I’ve been plowing through tons for Film Noir this past year. While I can’t say Laura is my favorite – that’s still a toss up between All About Eve, Double Indemnity and Leave Her to Heaven – it clearly ranks as one of the best murder mysteries of the the era, which, being the heyday of the genre, makes it one of the best period.

There are so many unique aspects to the plot that I hardly know where to begin. From the very beginning voice over, we know that Laura (Gene Tierney at the top of her game and beauty) has been murdered and detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) is already working on the case. The prime suspects are the two men who were very much in love with Laura and fighting for her affections. In one corner we have the cultured and respected Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb), a newspaper gossip columnist. Older than Laura but appealing from an intellectual point of view he has steered and looked after her for years. His nemesis for her heart is the brash young philanderer Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price) whom Laura has had an on again, off again, engagement. But these two contenders loath one another beyond the battle for Laura’s love.

This is no mere whodunnit. While this begins as some love triangle gone too far, the triangle (such as it could be given that the love interest is dead) becomes a square as detective McPherson is clearly falling in love with the object of his inquest.  But the mystery goes one step further when Laura suddenly walks back into her apartment, oblivious to her own headline making murder. Aside from figuring out whose body was really found, Laura must now contend with the exposed events and revelations that have surfaced since her departure. And the victim now becomes a suspect in what was assumed to be her own murder.

Directed by Hollywood rebel Otto Preminger – while he gave us a litany of great films, for myself he will always be foremost remembered as the POW commandant in Stalag 17 – this film is brimming with delightful eccentricities. McPherson’s incessant need to pull out one of those old child toy dexterity puzzles (where you have a number of balls rolling across a flat cardboard with a few shallow holes and by gingerly tilting the toy the player tries to seat each ball into one of the holes). Then you have Lydecker doing all of his writing sitting naked in his bathtub with his typewriter on a platform. While I cannot be sure this could only have been an allusion to famed screenwriter Dalton Trumbo who had that habit in real life. (While your at it. do yourself a favor and watch Bryan Cranston’s Oscar winning performance in Trumbo.)

The performances are superb with Webb at his best, and a reminder that Price was a distinguished mainstream actor long before he became synonymous with horror. Although you would never know it Tierney was well on her way to mental instability that would soon end her career while filming this.

Film Noir at it’s best.

Movie Reviews 405 – Seven Days in May (1963)

August 29, 2019

These are trying times when the president of the United States makes foreign policy changes on a whim, backs them up with preposterous untruths and delivers them incoherently on social media. More troubling is the evident pandering to a brutal Soviet dictator willing to openly exterminate any democratic challengers, and one who for all intents and purposes manipulated the election that delivered the US presidency via social media manipulation.

But what do you do? There are legal means that are not only available, but that have been used before to remove a president, if not by enacting impeachment, having them leave the post voluntarily before the inevitable (I’m looking at you “Tricky Dicky”!). But impeachment takes time and just like any other legal case require a substantial burden of proof. What happens when such a powerful figure puts the country and the world in actual danger and you don’t have the luxury of time to stop the threat?

Director John Frankenheimer’s Seven Days in May, based on the best selling novel by Charles W. Bailey II and Fletcher Knebel, came at the height of the cold war’s nuclear proliferation and pits a maniacal general with White House ambitions against a president about to sign a controversial disarmament treaty.

With mere days to go before the agreement is in place and believing that the erosion of the country’s nuclear deterrent will be followed by an inevitable Russian invasion, Air Force general Scott (Burt Lancaster) secretly aligns all the brass of the other defence agencies to stage a coup by assassinating the President (Fredric March). One of his aides, Colonel “Jiggs” Casey (Kirk Douglas) comes across some bizarre coded messages that appear to be innocent petty betting between Scott and all the other generals on the upcoming Preakness Stakes horse race which he laughs off at first. But when he brings up the betting eyebrows begin to raise and he subsequently learns that a newly created unit, ECOMCON, is non-existent as far as official channels are concerned. While he cannot prove beyond a doubt Scott and the generals plans for an overthrow, he presents his findings to the President and his aide (Martin Balsam) and hope that they believe him.

While I have seen Frankenheimer’s The Manchurian Candidate, another film political thriller wherein the position of the President is manipulated by foreign influence, this was my first screening of this film, but certainly not my last. Scripted by none other than the brilliant Rod Serling the film wastes little time on such things as gauging who is on one side or the other and whether or not the threat is real. Instead it builds intense suspense on uncovering all the facets of the staging of the coup and how the treat can dealt with, which is hardly a simple matter. The only slightly ineffective plot device (a red herring really) was the inclusion of Scott’s mistress (Ava Gardner) being dragged into the affair. But even that angle, while unconvincing, is masterfully scripted by Serling (or perhaps the novel’s authors). The point of patriotism is front and center, especially by the fact that Casey himself disagrees with the President’s stance on the treaty.

Eerily John F. Kennedy, a fan of Frankenheimer’s Candidate and this novel, accommodated the filming of segments in front of the actual White House, only to be assassinated himself and never lived to see the film. If that weren’t enough, I have this film on a Burt Lancaster box set which includes three other films, one being Executive Action, a film with a plot about carrying out the JFK assassination.

Fantastic film with a stellar cast even beyond those I’ve mentioned. Now I’m not in any way condoning this plot as a means to get rid of a certain clown currently occupying the oval office but at least it’ll take your mind off the sad state of affairs for two hours.

Movie Reviews 403 – Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)

August 2, 2019

“Gotta have the leads”

That cryptic phrase is the essence of Glengarry Glen Ross, the film scripted by and based on David Mamet’s Pulitzer Prize winning play. The ‘leads’ in this case are a coveted list of potential customers for a group of desperate real estate salesmen working in a branch office of a firm that has just cold-heartedly announced the least successful salesman that month will be shown out the door.

With the exception of Richard Roma (Al Pacino), who is on track to win a coveted Cadillac for best salesman that month, all the others in the office are already just barely clinging on when their office manager Williamson (Kevin Spacey) calls a surprise meeting to set the stage for Blake (Alec Baldwin), a hard nosed VP ‘from downtown’ to unleash the news that they have one week ‘get on the board’ with fresh sales. But before the meeting is over Blake taunts the men with a stack of prime new “Glengarry” leads that will only go to ‘closers’. Leads that the men desperately need.

The wretched salesmen include Shelley “The Machine” Levene (Jack Lemmon), once a high flying pitch man now pitifully recalling former glory days when in reality he can’t even afford the measly hundred dollars he bribes Williamson for a few of the new leads. Moss (Ed Harris) is the one with a chip on his shoulder constantly threatening to jump ship and join a competing firm. The only associate he can even have a non-combative discussion with is George (Alan Arkin) only because George is so low on self esteem and confidence himself most of his words are merely echoing what others say.

It’s all about the leads. The leads the men are handed are obsolete and hopeless, and they know it. Moss tempts George with a late night break-in to snatch the new leads which they can then sell to the competition. Shelley, tries to bribe Williamson for just a few new leads to get some sales back into the game. And while all this is happening, Roma slowly, masterfully works over a barfly (Jonathan Pryce) over drinks to land a sale, right under the noses of all the others.

The stellar cast is only outdone by the intricate, crisp dialogue in Mamet’s script. We have Blake’s expletive laced tirade against the salesforce which includes him bringing out an actual set of brass balls to embolden the men. Roma’s pitch is much more subtle with Pacino rambling nonsensically as he slowly but surely lures his mark. The one common thread spewed by each and every salesman are the litany of lies, deceit, maneuvering, foot-in-the-door tactics they unleash on potential prospects. It is both a delight and eye opening to hear the pitches coming from every conceivable angle for that almighty redeeming sale.

Come morning the men arrive at the office to find out that there has been a break in and, surprise, they leads have been stolen. Did Moss follow through on his plan to con George into breaking in? Did “The Machine” have more than mere luck with a huge overnight sale he flaunts in Willamson’s face? The already high strung office explodes with yet more bickering, threats and distress.

I never get tired of this drama. A jewel just as precious as those sacrosanct leads.

Movie Reviews 401 – October Sky (1999)

July 20, 2019

My fascination with space and rockets started long ago. I consider myself privileged to have grown up in one of the most exciting eras of space exploration. Born just two years after JFK’s famous declaration in 1961 to land a man on the moon before the end of the decade, I grew up at a time when Mercury, Gemini and early Apollo missions regularly made the nightly news. It was a time when the public at large suddenly joined us science fiction fans in reveling every facet of the ‘Space Race’. Magazines, TV shows, movies, were brimming with men in silvery space suits and blasting away in shiny rockets. And I savored every minute of it, culminating in the remarkable landing on the moon fifty years ago this week.

The space race began with the surprise launch of Sputnik, a basketball sized satellite by the Soviet Union in October of 1957, shocking nations and the world. With the reasoning that it would not be long before those few pounds of beaconing metal would be replaced by nuclear warheads the race for domination in space was on. But while heads of state were immersed in the warfare implications, a large number of the population became fascinated by other aspects formerly relegated to fantasy and science fiction now that there were within reach.

October Sky captures the story of one such boy whose fascination turned into a drive to build rockets. An endeavor requiring solving not only technical challenges, but mocking, ridicule and one particular personal obstacle.

Raised in a West Virginia coal mining town Homer Hickam’s (Jake Gyllenhaal) Sputnik experience ignited his imagination which soon led him to igniting propellants in crude model rockets. The film is based on Homer’s book Rocket Boys (October Sky being an anagram) which recounts his fascination with rockets and with the help of three other boys became successful flyers culminating in eventual triumph winning a national science fair. A large part of the film concentrates on his strained relationship with his father (Chris Cooper) a senior coal miner who doggedly pushes Homer to join him in the mines instead of pursuing what he considers a mere frivolous hobby. One of the few supporters urging Homer on is his science teacher (Laura Dern) who surprisingly must battle even with the school principal who shares Homer’s father’s sentiments.

The drama is punctuated by the downfall of the local coal industry – a fact that Homer’s father refuses to acknowledge – a hardline strike, an accident within the mines that puts Homer in a precarious position as principal earner for the family, a fire in a nearby town that is blamed on one of the boy’s errant rockets and the teacher dealing with health issues. If that weren’t enough they even manage to wrangle in a bit of a love interest for the clueless Homer.

While I’m sure many consider October Sky a great film on its own merits, my interests are even more personal than being a mere space enthusiast. While it may not be apparent to my readers here, I’ve been an avid rocketeer for many years. Certified for High Power (Tripoli Level 2 for those curious), I have hundreds of flights logged with rockets ranging from mere ounces using miniscule Micro-Maxx motors, flying a 15 pound rocket on a 1679.4 Newton-seconds K class motor, and putting a 9 pound rocket over a mile high hitting a speed over 650 Mph (0.86 Mach). And that doesn’t even count the 50 pound replica Gemini Titan we launched as a local rocket club team effort. What the Rocket Boys did all those years ago has become fairly common and supported with the availability of a myriad of kits, parts, support electronics, commercial motor and tons of documentation. But knowing how even with all that every launch remains a challenge with an endless list of things that can go wrong every rocketeer would surely tip their hat to these boys who had to figure it all out on their own and build it all from scratch.

Movie Reviews 398 – Wait Until Dark (1967)

June 28, 2019

The idea of finding yourself suddenly blinded for life can be a pretty terrifying ordeal. But in Wait Until Dark that ordeal becomes orders of magnitude more horrifying when a group of people take advantage of that blindness in a coordinated, deceitful, psychological attack.

Susy Hendrix (Audrey Hepburn) is still coming to grips with her recent blindness after a car accident but seems to be making progress as she navigates her Manhattan ground floor apartment. To help her out she has her loving husband Sam (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) and Gloria the neighbor’s little girl for errands. Little does she know that that blindness will be more than a hindrance to overcome. It will lay the groundwork for a torturous ordeal.

The movie begins with a cache of heroin smuggled in a hand carried doll by Lisa (Samantha Jones) on a plane from Montreal to New York. As Lisa makes her way off the plane she suddenly thrusts the doll in Sam’s hand having just met him on the plane. She makes up some excuse, telling him she will contact him soon to retrieve it. Befuddled, Sam brings the doll home and just as soon forgets about it. Some time later when their apartment is empty two con men, Mike (Richard Crenna) and Carlino (Jack Weston) break into the apartment expecting to meet Lisa. Instead they find Lisa’s body and her gloating killer, one Harry Roat (Alan Arkin). Roat, in fact purposefully lured the two con men to the apartment. Roat makes no bones about killing Lisa, but with Mike and Carlino now having implicated themselves with fingerprints all over, they are forced to help Roat in his quest to find that doll. Mike and Carlino then learn that the apartment they are in is the home of the blind Suzy and she is the last link to that doll.

Roat has already hatched an elaborate plan in which Mike plays one of Sam’s old friends and Carlino plays a cop while Suzy is slowly terrorized by all three men. Roat assumes a few roles in the ruse, even playing a crazed father and son team. Suzy remembers Sam having brought the doll home but cannot find it as Roat gets more impatient and slowly ratchets up pressure. Making matters worse Suzy is led to believe that Sam is having an affair when therefore she relies on Mike to help her deal with the situation. It begins with pressure from Carlito’s supposed investigation of the murdered woman, while other strangers come into the act being played out. But none of the men counted on little Gloria who becomes Suzy eyes and ears.

This role was the antithesis of light romantic comedy fare we were accustomed to from Hepburn but one she more than convincingly delivers in an Oscar nominating performance. The more versatile Arkin as the heavy is oddly something between a beatnik and bully but the normally sedate Arkin is horrifically intense especially the final moments.

Watch this one in utterly dark room if you can (or dare). In a brilliant move the last few minutes has the screen go completely black allowing the audience to enter the world of the blind and understand Suzy’s dread and become as helpless as she is.

Movie Reviews 395 – When a Stranger Calls (1979)

June 8, 2019

I clearly remember the chilling tag line from the TV trailer ad. “Have you checked the children?” Without context, it is a benign question and bears no terror. But as we learn in When a Stranger Calls when told to a lone babysitter, late at night from an anonymous caller, it is a chilling omen of ill tidings.

Jill Johnson (Carol Kane) is the babysitter who first receives the repeating calls, which progresses from ignoring it as a wrong number, mistaking it as a prank from a friend, becoming concerned enough to put in call to police to finally realizing that the caller is watching her every move. When she learns the calls were traced to the house itself, Jill runs to the door to be shocked not by the killer but by season cop John Clifford (Charles Durning).

But this is curdling sequence all that takes place in the first fifteen minutes or so. We learn that, yes, the children were already far gone by the time those phone calls were made and all Clifford and his team can do is console the sitter and family.

We cut to seven years later and hear how the perpetrator that night was Curt Duncan (Tony Beckley) a lone English sailor, but that he has now escaped. Clifford has retired from the force and is now a private investigator and upon hearing of the escape, the father of the murdered children that night hires him to find Duncan. But Clifford is way ahead on this one. So troubling was the case that he has decided that should he get his hands on Duncan he intends to end the problem once and for all.

Working with information provided by a sympathetic force commander who was also present that night, Clifford learns that Duncan is prowling around a particular neighborhood and has had an odd encounter with a woman he met in bar (Colleen Dewhurst). With that information he enlists her help to nab Duncan but soon finds out that Duncan has not finished with Jill, now socialite and mother of her own. And once a again, Duncan is dialling up a storm.

The problem with this film is that once it has spent it’s dread in those first few minutes it becomes a mediocre police drama. I actually liked the touch that an actor with the middle age physique of Durning was used instead of the stereotypical young and fit cop but that same realism also shatters the credibility when Durning engages in prolonged chase scenes with Duncan. Even some of best parts of this film are really rethreads. The ‘inside the house caller’ schtick was effective in 1974’s Black Christmas. The psycho killer was already masterfully done in Manhunter (the first true Hannibal Lecter film) and … well Psycho. Even the vigilante cop routine had already been cemented long prior by Dirty Harry.

Sorry to say that I don’t share the love of this film that others have plied on it to the point that even a remake was cobbled together in 2006. So my advice on how to deal with this stranger calling is simply to hang up.

Movie Reviews 394 – Rashomon (1950)

May 31, 2019

When Rashomon premiered outside Japan in 1950 the world was introduced not only to the great director Akira Kurosawa but also to one of the country’s most distinguished actors, Toshiro Mifune.

The tale of a couple travelling through a forest who meet Tajōmaru, a bandit (Mifune) who ends up raping the woman plays like a case study of human values, or the lack thereof. The narrative is presented as flashbacks while the story is told to a stranger from a village woodcutter who remains dumbfounded by what was proffered during the trial of the events.

The fundamental of the events are not in question. The bandit did rape the woman (Machiko Kyō), and in the end the husband (Masayuki Mori), a Samurai, was murdered. But exactly who murdered the husband and why remains to be determined. The trial recounts the events as told by the bandit, the woman, and even her dead husband (as told through a medium).

Tajōmaru boastingly confesses to the rape after luring the husband away and tying him to a tree, but says that the woman, defensive at first, soon became a more than willing participant in the act. The bandit then simply wanted to free her husband but at the woman’s instance to kill the husband, opted for a duel in which he won fairly and with honour.

The woman’s version has her returning to her husband only to see his accusatory eyes. After pleading with him to then kill her with a dagger, she fainted only to awaken and find the dagger embedded in her dead husband.

The Samurai’s version has Tajōmaru asking the woman to depart with him and to just let her husband free. But he then shockingly hears her tell Tajōmaru to kill her husband. Tajōmaru refuses her ghastly request (which actually has the husband regain respect for the bandit). Angered by the bandit’s refusal to do her bidding she runs away leaving the Samurai to then take his own life.

The woodcutter gives all three accounts to the stranger and a priest as they are holed up the in ruins of a city gate (Rashōmon) as they await the end of a torrential rainfall. But he then surprises them with yet another account, his own, as hidden witness to the events. But he was unwilling become involved and testify at the trial. His version, an amalgam of the other three, is just bad as the others in terms of righteousness.

And this is the crux of the tale. Regardless of whose point of view is the truthful version of events, the one common factor with all is that in the end none of the characters are untainted. It is this pitiful realization that make the woodcutter despondent. But the film ends on an even more surprising note once the tale is told and one last distasteful event addresses the question of whether humanity’s redemption is possible.

Kurosawa’s flair for novel storytelling technique’s is already evident in this, one of his earliest films. While we see and hear all the trial testimony, the judge or panel is neither heard nor seen, merely implied. His knack for creative framing and shooting stances was already well developed as was his tendency to have the weather be part of the story (watch the intensity of the rain as the movie progresses). And as always, underneath his mastery, there is a darn good yarn to enjoy.

Movie Reviews 389 – The Great White Hope (1970)

April 26, 2019

The Great White HopeJack Johnson was probably the greatest heavyweight boxer that ever lived. With all due respect to Muhammad Ali, Jack Johnson was ‘The Greatest’ from a fighting statistics point of view with 77 wins (48 of them by knock out), 13 loses, and 14 ties. But as in the case of Ali, what qualifies Johnson as the greatest are not just the ring stats but more so the life battles he fought outside the ring.

Johnson’s biopic The Great White Hope (based on a book of the same name) stars a very young James Earl Jones in the title role (inexplicably renamed Jack Jefferson) which captures Johnson’s struggles after he ascends the ring throne as heavyweight champion in a segregationist Jim Crow America.

While boxers of African American descent not only form the majority but dominate the sport today, back in 1908 this was hardly the case when Johnson won the title. The white powers that be, not only within the sports association but within the US federal government itself, were not happy to say the least. To them, having a brash, outspoken black man imposing superiority over caucasians in any form was considered a potential festering pot for a class rebellion and a rallying point for insurgency. Making matters worse was Johnson penchant for white women, namely his wife Eleanor (Jane Alexander), an indiscretion many considered even worse than his boxing success.

One possible solution envisioned by his foes was to have a white man win the title back – hence “The Great White Hope“- and this resulted in what many people refer as “The Fight of the Century” when the former white champion was coaxed out of retirement for what many considered a sure bet to secure the title. When that fails the government decides to twist the interpretation of The Mann act (a.k.a the White-Slave Traffic Act) to arrest Johnson.

Facing a few years in prison he flees the country and after a few short stops in Europe the couple end up in Mexico, living in dire poverty, a far cry from the lavish lifestyle Johnson once flaunted. But Johnson stubbornly refuses to return to face his sentence and continues to maintain his boxing form despite not having any worthy fights until he is offered a chance to have his sentence reduced, but only if he takes a fall in a fixed match. His stubbornness has already cost him dearly, but will he now throw in the real towel along with the proverbial towel?

I recall seeing this film as a child and even then Jones’ deep and forceful voice made a lasting impression. The performance perfectly captures the bold thundering character of the pugilist taking the world on his shoulders. Bowing to no man (or woman), Johnson is no stooge to anyone, admonishing even those blacks who are only rooting for him because of his color.

Most people have enjoyed many a James Earl Jones performance over the years, but probably haven’t taken in the marvel of the youthful actor in his prime effectively using that booming voice to earn an Oscar best actor nomination (as did Alexander for her performance). You may enjoy the performances, or you may learn a thing or two about history and one particular man, but either way, you can’t lose. Just like Johnson.

Movie Reviews 387 – Man of a Thousand Faces (1957)

April 12, 2019

Back in the silent era of Hollywood films, American audiences began embracing certain actors over others almost as soon as films became popular. As text boxes filled the audio gap, something on those celluloid frames, whether it was pure looks, facial expressions or specific actions, made some screen personalities stand out and “Stars” were born. Charlie Chaplin was the comedy master as “the tramp”, Rudolph Valentino captured the hearts of women, while Lillian Gish was equally effective captivating young men. Among those ranks was one other surprising star that made his mark by completely transforming his looks from one film to the next; Lon Chaney. So imaginative was his ability to create unique caricatures that he quickly became billed as “The Man of a Thousand Faces”.

James Cagney takes on the title role in Chaney’s biopic Man of a Thousand Faces made nearly thirty years after his passing in which the makeup is peeled back to reveal a number of hardships he had to endure as well as his less endearing qualities, all while changing the rules to become the face – well faces – of horror. The film begins with Chaney already living the life of an entertainer as a vaudeville clown with his wife Cleva (Dorothy Malone) a singer. Cleva’s professional setbacks keep Chaney on the road but the couple are overjoyed when they learn they are expecting.

But when Cleva insists that she must finally meet Chaney’s family with the news of a coming child, Lon can barely suppress his horror at the thought. He has kept a dark secret from her. While he and his siblings are all completely normal, both his mother and father are deaf. But Chaney cannot muster the courage to tell her and Cleva only learns the truth upon her arrival. Shocked and unable to contain her fears that her own child may be born impaired, she storms out. Their relationship remains sour and despite reassurances from Lon that all will be fine it is only after the birth of their healthy son Creighton do the couple return to happier times.

But that respite is short lived as Cleva decides to resurrect her career and gains a following of her own, one surpassing even Lon who is still performing as a stage clown. The marriage finally crumbles with Cleva’s infidelity and hints of Lon himself eyeing chorus girl Hazel (Jane Greer). But the split leaves Lon with the only thing he desires, his son. However juggling a performer’s career while raising a child is less than ideal and authorities eventually place Creighton in a foster home until Lon can provide him with a real home.

It is this hell bent need for a steady income that brings Lon to Hollywood, but one there he learns that Vaudeville veterans do not have a leg up and he is one of hundreds seeking work as extras. Noting that extras are chosen on a daily basis according to whatever character types are needed for scenes, he brings along his trusty makeup kit and in minutes of learning what the daily call up sheets require, makes himself suitable. Whether it be scarred pirates, dark toned Asians, or any other character, Chaney is ready. Working tirelessly he inches up his career with bit parts until his big break in a scene in the film The Miracle Man. The scene in which he transforms in front of our very eyes from a hobbled cripple dragging twisted legs to a standing perfect figure earns him accolades and recognition.

After that, there is no looking back.  Now married to Hazel and with Creighton back in their home, Lon works hand in hand with the studio head to tackle one character after another. Film after film, his legend and fame grows. But when Cleva returns one day wanting to see her son, Lon’s darker side is revealed. And when a persistent cough turns out to be much more, only his friends and family can make his last days happy ones.

The film is entertaining as it presents both Lon acting in his most famous roles as it does his real life trials and tribulations. The film highlights a parade of drawings that capture a multitude of famous caricatures that he created over his career which are shown as both on-set, framed art and as scene transitions. The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the pointed teeth ghoul in London after Midnight (considered the holy grail of lost films) and of course his most famous role of all, The Phantom of the Opera, with that unforgettable unmasking scene are all revived here.

While those folks who are well aware of Lon Chaney will certainly get a kick out of seeing this biopic, I think there is enough drama in his life story to make this an interesting watch for anyone. Horror fans will certainly pick up on the fact that Creighton later adopted the stage name Lon Chaney Jr. and went on to have a long illustrious career in horror movies himself. Perhaps we’ll see a movie of his life as well some day.