Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Making faces

1930s comedian Joe E. Brown was known for making strange faces in his movies, but that's not the kind of face-making I have in mind today. For, coming up at midnight ET tonight, TCM is showing Dark Passage. The basic gist fo the story is that Humphrey Bogart has been wrongly convicted of murdering his wife, and breaks out of jail in an attempt to clear his name. In order to stay a step ahead of the police, he undergoes plastic surgery, and comes out of it looking amazingly like Humphrey Bogart. This works because the film has a gimmick: the first 45 minutes or so (until Bogart wakes up from the plastic surgery) are filmed as though we're looking through Bogart's eyes. We never actually see what he looked like before the surgery, so for all we know he could have looked like James Cagney, or even Marie Dressler.

There are actually quite a few movies dealing with plastic surgery. Perhaps the best of them all is Eyes Without a Face, although the criminal here isn't the person undergoing the surgery, but the surgeon himself. For an example of escaped convict undergoing plastic surgery in order to conceal his identity in classic Hollywood, there's always Raymond Massey in Arsenic and Old Lace.

The face is the obvious way of concealing one's identity, and Raymond Burr uses this idea in His Kind of Woman: he lures Robert Mitchum to Mexico, with the idea that Mitchum will undergo surgery to be made to look like Burr, at which point Burr would have the Mitchum character killed off so that the authorities would think the ganster had died. (Ever heard of fingerprints and dental records?) A more exotic form of plastic surgery would be Roger Moore as James Bond getting a superfluous third nipple to look like the bad guy in The Man With the Golden Gun.

Perhaps Humphrey Bogart should just have dressed up as Lauren Bacall once he got out of prison. Of course, that's been done multiple times.

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