CAGNEY on top form
stewart d thomas | USA | 04/05/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Truly one of the greatest of all movie stars and a very underated actor this movie glows with Cagney's talent in his depiciton of the life of Lon Chayney. Unlike so many hollywood bios of the time this move tends to steer away from the usual sanitization of a character and instead confronts the darker side of Chaney, a man beset by torments. Poignant, powerful in it's day with the head on look at how deaf people were treated, and indeed with the tragic aspects of Chayney's first marriage. For me this movie stands the test of time exceptionally well, thanks in no small measure to the performances, notably the conflict between Chaney and his first wife wonderfully played by Dorothy Malone. This is one of the great ones!"
A LOOK AT THE LIFE OF LON CHANEY...
Lawyeraau | Balmoral Castle | 09/18/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is a wonderful bio pic of silver screen great, Lon Chaney, a character actor of great renown during the silent film epoch. All but one of his films were silent. Due to his ability to alter his appearance and play many roles, he eventually became known as "the man of a thousand faces". It is ironic that this man who would forge a meteoric rise in the silent film industry was born to deaf mute parents in 1883.
The film shows the impact that being the son of deaf mute parents would have on his life in those unenlightened times. Lon Chaney (James Cagney)started his acting career as a stage performer in vaudeville, where he was a popular pantomime. His first wife, the beautiful Cleva Creighton (Dorothy Malone), was a chanteuse who had dreams of her own.
Unfortunately, once Lon Chaney and she discovered that she was to have a baby, their happiness would turn to bitterness and anger, due to Cleva's shock at discovering that his parents were deaf mutes. Cleva and Lon Chaney would go on to have a son named Creighton, but she later caused a great scandal early in their son's life with a very public attempt at suicide that would change all their lives forever.
This scandal was to end Lon Chaney's stage career, and it sounded the death knell of his marriage. He ultimately divorced Cleva, who had abandoned both him and their son. The divorce resulted, for a time, in his tragic and heartbreaking separation from his beloved, young son. Chaney was to go on to reclaim his career, as well as his son, but would do so on film, rather than on stage, becoming an extremely popular silent film actor.
Lon Chaney was also a doting father who remarried in order to provide a suitable home for his son. His second wife was a former chorus girl named Hazel (Janet Greer). She was a woman who was to prove to be a loving step-mother to Creighton and a devoted wife to Lon Chaney. Always in the background, however, was the specter of Cleva, who was never to regain any of her former glory as a chanteuse and would live a life reduced in circumstances, as a result. She would live to regret her abandonment of their son.
Meanwhile, Lon Chaney was getting ready to take talking pictures by storm. While still in the prime of his life and at the peak of his film career, he was struck by a terminal illness that was to bring down the curtain for the last time. Bequeathing his acting legacy to his son, Creighton, who would later make his mark in film, renamed as Lon Chaney, Jr., Lon Chaney would leave the world at the relatively young age of forty-seven.
James Cagney is terrific in the role of Lon Chaney, creating a three dimensional portrait of a man whose childhood was to influence him is so positive a way. A veritable chameleon that was able to change his appearance at will, Lon Chaney would infuse the characters that he played with much feeling and emotion. His powerful performances would transcend the silence of the films, making him one of the great character actors of the silent film era. James Cagney sums it up best when he performs a bit of the Chaney role in the silent film, "The Miracle". If Lon Chaney played it half so well, it is little wonder that he was so popular.
Dorothy Malone is excellent as the beautiful but shallow Cleva, a woman who would inflict much suffering on those who loved her, but who would also, as a result, endure much suffering herself, eventually realizing all that she had lost. Janet Greer is perfect in the role of Hazel, Lon Chaney's warm and loving second wife, who would love and raise Creighton as if he were her own son, thereby changing all their lives for the better.
The supporting cast is also excellent with good performances by Jim Backus as Lon Chaney's agent and publicist. A very young Robert Evans, a real life future film mogul, plays the role of studio head Irving Thalberg, a man with whom Lon Chaney would have a long term professional relationship. Evans is surprisingly engaging in the small role. Overall, this is simply a film that those with an interest in Lon Chaney will enjoy, as will those who simply love a good, well-acted film."
Cagney shows all his talents
Thug's Ma | Indiana | 12/08/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Jim Cagney shows all his talents in this well-made bio pic. As Lon Chaney on Vaudeville in his early years, he stages two wonderful dance numbers as a clown -- one dancing with a mannequin, the next a competition with a dancing shadow.His sense of pantomime and command of sign language is wonderful (Chaney being born to deaf parents), and his performance of the tragedy-stricken Chaney is a real tear jerker.Especially to be seen is the recreation of Chaney's film "The Miracle Worker." A scene shows Chaney portraying a cripple whose twisted limbs magically unfurl in a traveling scam show.Dorothy Malone kicks bootie as the insensitive wife and incapable mother who doesn't want to bear Chaney's child because Chaney's parents are deaf and so genetically inferior in her eyes. Chaney had been made fun of all his life due to his parents' deafness, and it's wrenching to see his wife's betrayal. At one point she screams to Chaney, "I don't want to give birth to a dumb thing!" Cagney's pained reaction is amazing.Cagney's portrayal of a dedicated father to his son is gripping as well. The wife is hateful to the newborn until she learns that he can hear. (Cagney in a great scene hesitates to clap his hands above the baby's crib to see if the noise will register.) The wife rejoices and sweeps the baby from the crib -- her love obviously is conditional. But Cagney subtley wrests the baby from her and coos to the squalling infant that "No one will scare you again." He turns a cold shoulder to her and effectively muscles her out of the relationship in one move. The course of their marriage is set by her previous attitudes and his inability to forgive her. The drama continues.This film makes one want to see Chaney's silent flicks. It's a good catalyst to jump back into the silent era.Cagney and rest of cast are magnificent!"
Perhaps Cagney's finest performance in a mature role
calvinnme | 03/23/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Cagney plays Lon Chaney in this film about the great imitator's life. Chaney himself was a very private person, prefering the quiet of hearth and home to the wild Hollywood night life. Hollywood was where he worked, not a way of life. In this way both he and the man who plays him (James Cagney) have much in common.
Cagney and Chaney looked totally different, yet Cagney makes this role work. In Cagney's biography "Cagney on Cagney", he admits that the story takes certain liberties with Chaney's life as most biopics do, but there are many actual events in Chaney's life that are in the movie. Chaney was indeed the child of two deaf mute parents - he got his gift for pantomime in communicating with them. His first marriage was a rocky one, just as the film portrays. Whether the trouble started over his first wife believing that their child would be deaf and being horrified by the possibility as is portrayed in the film I don't know, but given early 20th century attitudes toward disability it is entirely possible.
The film whether accurate or not, was a loving tribute to Chaney that was instrumental in a revival of interest in his films. I consider this to be possibly Cagney's best performance in a mature role with maybe the exception of 1956's "These Wilder Years", also not on DVD, or VHS for that matter.
There are no details on extra features at this point."