Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Man With Two Faces

Back in April 2012, I briefly mentioned the showing of The Man With Two Faces and how I'd have to write a fuller-length post about it at some time. It's airing again tomorrow morning at 6:45 AM in honor of TCM Star of the Month Mary Astor, and is worth watching.

Astor plays Jessica, a stage actress who has been retired from the stage for a couple of years. She retired because of the difficult relatoinship she had with her controlling husband Stanley. Stanley disappeared a couple of years ago, which resulted in a nervous breakdown for Jessica. But with no word from Stanley in a couple of years, he's believed dead, allowing Jessica after a period of recovery to try to take uyp a career on the stage again. All of that takes place before the movie begins; we pick up the action at about the time Jessica is ready to go back on stage, in a play starring her brother Damon (Edward G. Robinson). Producing the play is Weston (Ricardo Cortez), who has also fallen in love Jessica along the way.

And so they produce the play, it's a big hit, and they live happily ever after. Yeah right; there's no possible way it could work out like that, at least, not without a whole bunch of complications along the way. Now, you could have comedic complications like those between Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne in The Guardsman, but our movie isn't a comedy, so we get a different complication, one which you probably should be able to see coming from a mile away: Stanley (played by Louis Calhern) isn't dead. He was only presumed dead, and now he's shown up again.

It's at this point that we get to see he control Stanley had over Jessica, and that control is ludicrous. Jessica sees Stanley, and immediately starts acting like she's some sort of mind-controlled zombie, or one of the women destroying their faces in The Hypnotic Eye. I'd say it strains credulity and, if Stanley could exert this sot of control over Jessica even after all these years, why not cultivate that sort of controlling relationship over the rest of Jessica's family? I suppose, however, that Weston would still be a problem though, since Stanley had never met him before.

Whatever the case, all of the people who love Jessica are extremely distressed by Stanley's return, and wonder what to do about it. And then, like in one of those bad TV sitcoms, somebody gets an idea, we don't hear about the idea, and we cut to a scene of the idea being put in motion. A wealthy Frenchman named Chautard shows up with a business proposition for Stanley. Stanley wants control over Jessica, but also wants money, and so takes up Chautard on his offer to meet. It turns out not to be a proposition for money, but a proposition to be a murder victim: Chautard drugs and stabs Stanley in a hotel room, fleeing the scene. Will Chautard get away with it? Will we discovre Chautard's relationship to Stanley and Jessica?

To be honest, The Man With Two Faces is a movie with a plot that probably ought to have people screaming at the screen for making no sense and having no grounding in any sort of reality. Those are qualities that are less of a problem for comedies, scifi, or musicals, but in a dramatic mystery, there's something about it that should bring the movie crashing down around a fatal flaw. And yet, that doesn't happen with The Man With Two Faces. I think it's down to the acting of the main characters, especially Edward G. Robinson, who gets a juicy role here, and runs with it for all it's worth. Robinson singlehandedly takes dumb material and makes a film worth watching. I wouldn't call this as good as a lot of Robinson's other movies, but it's entertaining and certainly deserves a viewing.

The Man With Two Faces has been released to DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive collection.

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