Monday, December 11, 2006

The Man with My Face (1951)

Posted by MackJay

directed by Edward Montagne

Cast: Barry Nelson, Jack Warden, Carole Mathews, Lynn Ainley, Jim Boles, John Harvey
Based on the novel by Samuel W. Taylor
Screenplay by Vin Bogert, Tom McGowan, Edward Montagne and Samuel W. Taylor
Cinematography by Fred Jackman, Jr
Music by Robert McBride

THE MAN WITH MY FACE is a better-than-average B movie with some of the attending convenient plot devices, but enough twists and turns to satisfy most Noir fans. Visually, it has enough Noir style to appear connected to the main Noir cycle. The film's plot fits Noir expectations neatly, and it's only limited by a few B movie
contrivances. With its unusual setting and well-played lead performance, this is a movie deserving a look by all Noir enthusiasts.

Only two well-known names appear in the cast: lead Barry Nelson and Jack Warden (in a very small role). Nelson shows himself to be more than capable in a dual role. He doesn't differentiate the characters terribly much, but plays them both with conviction. There is a timely reference for Barry Nelson too: he was the first James Bond seen on screen by US audiences, in the 1954 TV version of Casino Royale. As Cora, Lynn Ainley is very hard-edged and unsympathetic. Even her final act speech of regret won't soften most viewers toward her. She's a greedy harpie who deserves her fate. Everyone else is just fine in the film, with an interesting appearance by Jack Elam-look alike Jim Boles, as Meadows the doberman trainer. Director Edward Montagne (The Tattooed Stranger) made a mark later in TV sitcoms (especially
McHale's Navy).

Right from the opening credits, it's clear that The Man with My Face will not take place in typical Noir territory. And like many other superior B movies, the locations are used to advantage. The city of San Juan, beaches, hotels and shops contribute a unique look and atmosphere. Several local amateur residents are given small acting roles as well. The final chase sequence appears to have been shot at the decayed Fort San Cristobal. It provides plenty of dark passageways and vertiginous precipices to keep things interesting.

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The plot is pure Noir, with a fairly original twist. "Chick" Graham (Barry Nelson) works for a small insurance company in San Juan, partnered with his brother-in-law Buster Cox (John Harvey). One day, Chick leaves the office and heads home. When he arrives there, his wife Cora (Lynn Ainley) and her brother claim not to know who he is. The two are very insistent, and even Chick's beloved dog doesn't seem to recognize him. What's going on? A very confused Chick is then stupefied when a man identical to himself (also played by Nelson) walks in and claims to be Chick Graham. Cora threatens to call the police, and in fact does so when the real Chick becomes insistent that the whole thing must be a gag. Poor confused Chick is carted off by San Juan policeman. But he manages to escape when a vicious dobermann meant to attack him instead knocks over the policeman.

Now a familiar Noir narrative begins, as Chick sets out to determine just what has been happening, and who this mysterious Chick #2 can be. Sitting in a hotel bar, Chick (#1) is greeted by a salesman who recognizes him and Chick tells the man to meet him at the office later to help with his investigation. But greed gets the best of the salesman and he cooks up a scheme to blackmail Graham. Unfortunately for him, the salesman proposes his scheme to Chick #2 (now revealed to be a man named Al Grant), who with his henchman makes quick work of the salesman by way of the vicious doberman. So Chick is back to square one. He contacts a former girlfriend he jilted before marrying Cora. The girlfriend, Mary Davis (Carole Mathews) obviously still loves Chick and despite the insistence of her cynical brother (Jack Warden), she agrees to help him solve the mystery. At this point, another woman, Juanita, enters the film, a former romantic associate of Al Grant. Juanita, accosts Chick on the street and angrily insists he come to her apartment. Thinking he will gather more information for his quest, Chick goes along. After convincing Juanita that he is not the man she thinks he is, Chick leaves. Later, poor Juanita is found dead and Chick Graham is the prime suspect for her murder. With his handsome visage on the front page of every San Juan newspaper, Chick really needs to work fast to clear his name. Eventually, Chick and Al meet again, and Al plans to kill Chick so that Al and Cora can flee on the next plane, and later collect her insurance payment for her husband's death. Fortunately, Chick outsmarts even the tenacious dobermann left to guard him. He escapes and, after a very effective chase sequence, manages to expose the criminals for what they are.

The Man with My Face has a combination of the "wrong man" theme (best seen in Hitchcock's The Wrong Man) and the doppelganger idea (exemplified in The Scar). The film has a strongly Noir sense of oppression, felt mainly in the narrative and not supported very much by the visual style. It's a well-done B movie with some exciting episodes and a fine performance by Barry Nelson. A worthy submission to any B-Noir catalog.


Anonymous said...

Hits the marks, but could have been more. Satisfying story nonetheless. nice.

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