Sunday, 29 April 2018

Alternate Best Actor 1957: James Cagney in Man of a Thousand Faces

James Cagney did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Lon Chaney in Man of a Thousand Faces.

Man of a Thousand Faces, I suppose rather fittingly, is rather like Richard Attenborough's Chaplin, except a bit more era appropriate in terms of delving into the "dirt" so to speak, following a famed silent actor/director through his success on stage/screen, and the struggles in his personal relationships.

James Cagney was obviously no stranger to the biopic having most famously played George M. Cohan in his Oscar winning role in Yankee Doodle Dandy. Although this film is certainly still a biopic of its time, it does differ from that earlier film in delving into some darker material fitting to the famed horror actor. What may seem less fitting is perhaps the casting of Cagney who was about ten years older than when Chaney died when this film was made. Cagney overcomes any such second thoughts though just by being what he is, which is a great actor. Cagney though is particularly tailored made for the role as in some ways Cagney was a silent leading man, even in his great success in sound. Cagney though missed the silent era basically by just a year or so, however the sort of physicality needed for a silent actor was often one of his greatest assets as an actor. Cagney very much has what are the tools to play Chaney even if from the outset he doesn't seem like the first choice for the role, Cagney makes himself the first choice, just as quite honestly what he did with Cohan as a well. In that Cagney's way of specifically performing a "performance" is particularly important for this role as Chaney, as it was for Cohan.

Now part of this performance is just fulfilling the elements of a more typical biopic, although with some unique elements at least for the time. This gives Cagney very much the chance simply to deliver an, as per usual, terrific charismatic leading turn. The personal side of the story mostly involves his relationships with his two wives which also extend towards the relationship with his parents and later his son. His first relationship being problematic with his shallow first wife Cleva (Dorothy Malone) who is troubled by Chaney's parents who are both deaf. Cagney is fantastic in these interactions in portraying effectively an understood infatuation with his wife in the early scenes though that quickly develops to this growing frustration. He properly makes this more overt in the moments where she directly questions his "biology" essentially due to his parents, which Cagney's reaction realizes the sense of harm this does to Chaney. This further realized through the moments between Chaney and his parents alone which are brilliantly played by Cagney. He brings such a direct and pure sense of love for both parents. Obviously these are purely silent moments of sign language, and in each instance Cagney conveys the earnest care Chaney has for both of his parents.

That creates the problematic relationship with his wife, who can't get over Chaney's parents, which Cagney illustrates so well in each successive scene by slowly realizing this underlying distress towards her behavior. He creates the right inherent tension, and this sense of betrayal in every interaction to essentially realize the divorce in Chaney's mind even before it is realized. This is in stark contrast to the relationship between Chaney and his second wife Hazel (Judy Greer). In their scenes Cagney strikes up just a far unassuming yet much more genuine in a way sense of love between the two that both actors establish well as this simple given through their quiet yet potent interactions. This is similarly found in Chaney relationship to his son Creighton. Obviously there are many stages of this however Cagney is terrific in portraying actually more depth towards this than to even be expected from this type of biopic. In that in part he is very good in bringing such a sense of tenderness in the interactions with his son early on, bringing so much warmth in his eyes that he manages to make rather moving when Chaney briefly loses guardianship of him. That is not simplified though as Cagney later just as firmly portrays a real distaste, and anger, that he portrays as a reflection of his old frustrations when Creighton decides to see his biological mother against Chaney's wishes. Cagney doesn't hold back in these moments offering a proper intensity that is fitting towards the earlier troubled relationship, that in turn makes the later unconditional reconciliation with his son all the more moving.

As good as Cagney is in the more traditional narrative elements of the film, what makes this performance standout though is his recreation of what made Lon Chaney the titular man. Obviously Cagney is aided by some proper recreations of Chaney's old makeup but this performance goes far beyond that. Cagney's immense physicality as an actor heavily plays into this as he has that certain energy of his very being that essential to bringing Chaney's creations to life. Although I think the film itself would have benefited with a deeper delving into Chaney's career, nonetheless Cagney is brilliant in recreating the every specific scene depicted within his career. Cagney's physical work is outstanding as he never simplifies any of the creations we see. This includes his moments as this vaudeville clown, which is not a simple thing, but a fully bodied performance. He is both entertaining as seen, but also so good in creating this distinct style of performance so naturally. The same becomes true for Cagney in creating some of Chaney's famous roles including the Phantom of the opera and the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Cagney brings to life, albeit briefly, these characters so effectively to the point one could have imagined Cagney perhaps should have done more of such overly mannered physical turns in his own career. In each he creates the "creature" as a character more than just an image. My favorite single moment of this is Cagney's depiction of Chaney's portrayal of a handicapped man walking again. It is just a brilliantly performed piece of physical acting by Cagney as he creates the whole scene just within his own work, and is compelling just to see him perform this act. Although I obviously would have loved to have seen the film delve deeper into the man's life and career than the film does, Cagney is more than up to the task of the man even in this somewhat limited perspective. He is gives a striking turn that not only is a moving portrayal of the man, but a convincing depiction of what made him famous.

65 comments:

Matt Mustin said...

Louis: Do you think Jeff Goldblum would've been a good Bruce Banner? I kinda feel like he'd be great in that role.

Louis Morgan said...

Given his work in The Fly, most certainly yes.

Michael McCarthy said...

I can't wait to watch this. Is there a chance you'll upgrade him for Yankee Doodle Dandy?

Louis Morgan said...

Yes.

Anonymous said...

Louis: Your rating and thoughts on Malone and Greer. Also, what are your thoughts on the cinematography of Bound for Glory?

Anonymous said...

Louis: Your cast for a 90's version of IT?

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

Louis: Could Monty Woolley go up for The Pied Piper.

Luke Higham said...

1. Guinness
2. Douglas
3. Mifune
4. Mitchum
5. Curtis

Luke Higham said...

Since 1999 is coming soon, I'm gonna repost my Supporting suggestions.
Timothy Spall - Topsy-Turvy
Robert Carlyle - Ravenous
Max Von Sydow - Snow Falling On Cedars (Plays a Defence Lawyer)
Alan Cumming - Titus
Francis Ng & Roy Cheung - The Mission

Anonymous said...

1999 huh? What's the current rating for:

Bruce Willis (The Sixth Sense)
Johnny Depp (Sleepy Hollow)
Matt Damon (The Talented Mr. Ripley)
Tobey Maguire (The Cider House Rules)

Luke Higham said...

Willis - 4
Depp - 3.5
Damon - 2/2.5
Maguires - 1/1.5

Calvin Law said...

I preferred Harry Lennix and Angus Macfayden, to Alan Cumming myself.

Luke Higham said...

Calvin: I haven't seen Titus, reviews that I read singled out Cumming out of the supporting cast.

Your ratings for the cast of Titus.

Calvin Law said...

Luke:

Hopkins - 4
Lange - 3.5
Cumming - 3.5
Feore - 3
Lennix - 4/4.5
Macfayden - 3.5/4

Luke Higham said...

Calvin: I'll switch Cumming with Lennix.

Luke Higham said...

Calvin: My lead suggestions are the same as before with Fiennes and Wong as bonuses.

Luke Higham said...

Calvin: Your thoughts on Hopkins in Titus.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Have you seen any other 2018 releases lately.

Bryan L said...

Louis: Your thoughts on the "HEINEKEN?!" scene from Blue Velvet? I like how Frank makes it seem as if he's genuinely interested in what kind of beer Jeffrey likes.

Anonymous said...

Louis: Your thoughts on the voices of Lance Henriksen, Brock Peters, Anne Hathaway, Michelle Pfeiffer and Kathy Bates.

Anonymous said...

Louis: your thoughts on Westworld episode.

John Smith said...

Bryan: HEINEKEN? FUCK THAT SHIT. PABST BLUE RIBBON"

Bryan L said...

John Smith: No I want you to f@ck it! Shit, yea pour the f@$king beer!

Anonymous said...

Louis: your top 15 adam sandler acting moments

John Smith said...

Bryan: Hahahahaha

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Could Von Sydow move up the 72 Lead ranking and having seen The Emigrants, did it amplify your love for his work in The New Land.

Luke Higham said...

And if Paul Scofield was more prevalent as a film actor, what roles would you've loved to see him play aside from O'Brien that I mentioned on a previous post.

Anonymous said...

Luke: Even though he played Thomas More in A Man For All Seasons, I can also see him playing Thomas Cromwell. Again, he reminds me a lot of Mark Rylance.

Luke Higham said...

Anonymous: Same here.

Bryan L said...

John: I especially like how Raymond threatens Jeffrey with a knife ("Here today, gone tomorrow...) but turns meek once Frank starts barking orders at him.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: I've got some bad news, The Offence was first released in 1973. Could you review Connery sometime soon or even during the interim.

Louis Morgan said...

Anonymous:

Well keep the kids and Curry from the miniseries. The adults were the problem there, and to be fair some of the actors there can be good but were awful there.

Anonymous:

Malone/Greer - 2.5/3.5(Kind of two exact opposites in terms of their purpose in one being a near perfect wife and the other being quite horrible. Malone is decent at times yet falls into extreme melodrama in her worst moments that feel right out of her earlier work with Sirk. Greer, despite having the less showy role, does find the right chemistry with Cagney and a real understated warmth that works well. In addition though she does find a bit of nuance when she can to create a least a bit of complexity in her moments of reacting to Chaney's relationship with his first wife.)

Well I suppose Bound for Glory quite possibly won the Oscar for its famed premiere Steadicam shot. That certainly is an impressive moments, and well executed. It doesn't feel showy yet rather brings that extreme fluidity to the camera movement yet in a way that feels natural in its portrayal of wading through the crowds. That however does not give the film enough credit for being just gorgeously shot in every regard. The shot of the dust storm alone feels actually worthy of an Oscar, however it illustrates the strength of Wexler's work in general within the film. In that there is a real grandeur and beauty in his almost nostalgic palette and successful framing of every shot yet this is realized with such a real grit within it as well. There is such a perfect balance that amplifies the thematic intent of the film, and is the film's greatest asset.

Luke:

No.

Von Sydow's ranking feels right to me.

Senator Jarmon (The Candidate)
Mark Antony (He almost played the role)
Denethor

Ah....as if 73 wasn't saturated enough. I'll try to get to it eventually.

Bryan:

Great advertisement for Pabst Blue Ribbon! Both hilarious and terrifying at the same time, perfect Lynch and a perfect moment by Hopper. I too love how Frank asks so earnestly before his outburst.

Anonymous:

Henriksen - (One of those great voices that is curiously, yet simply idiosyncratic without being affected in any way. Commanding yet unassuming, and always intriguing.)

Peters - (Well his typical voice was rather different from that used in his most famous role. Typically though just strong booming voice.)

Hathaway - (I don't mind her voice, although I do understand those who find her pseudo-valley girl somewhat grating.)

Pfeiffer - (Vivacious and alluring to be sure, but always stood out in the sort of ease about her voice. An approachable about it that perhaps made it all the more seductive.)

Bates - (Southern hospitality incarnate in her voice, making it all the better it was most famously used for such a chilling purpose.)

Anonymous:

I liked the episode with some strong work from one returning member in particular. I also love the overall expansion for the MIB. In many ways a setup episode however rich in character throughout, and find what it might be setting up most intriguing.

Anonymous:

Sandler:

1. Confronting Trumbell - Punch-Drunk Love
2. Full confession - Punch-Drunk Love
3. Meeting Lena - Punch-Drunk Love
4. Angry Phone Call - Punch-Drunk Love
5. Seeing Lena after the accident - Punch-Drunk Love
6. Family Breakdown - Punch-Drunk Love
7. Calling the phone sex line - Punch-Drunk Love
8. Meeting Lena in Hawaii - Punch-Drunk Love
9. Store dance - Punch-Drunk Love
10. Art Gallery - The Meyerwitz Stories
11. Last scene with his father - The Meyerwitz Stories
13. Airplane - The Wedding Singer
14. Ending - The Meyerwitz Stories
15. The Police - Airheads

Anonymous said...

Louis: Do you consider the screenplay of It's a Wonderful Life original or adapted?

Matt Mustin said...

Louis: Same question as Anonymous only regarding the screenplay for Kiss, Kiss, Bang Bang.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Your reason for casting Scofield as Denethor.

Louis Morgan said...

Anonymous & Matt:

I consider both to be adapted, even though they are both "heavily" adapted they are still adapted.

Luke:

Well Noble wasn't all that good, and Scofield could have delivered the gravitas not just in terms of his powerful presence, but also by bringing sort of the burden of years of responsibility into the character's eventual madness.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Your top 5 Von Sydow performances

Luke Higham said...

Guys, Do you think Robert Redford will ever get a five. Having checked Letterboxd, the only performance he has left that could potentially do so is Jeremiah Johnson (1972).

RatedRStar said...

Spongebox Squarepants recieving 12 Tony nominations, 2018 everyone lol.

Michael McCarthy said...

Luke: I can see him getting one this year for Old Man and the Gun.

RatedRStar: I’m so afraid to listen to that soundtrack.

Luke Higham said...

RatedRStar: I hate Spongebob.

RatedRStar said...

Michael Cera, David Morse, Glenda Jackson!!!!, this is so odd lol

Bryan L said...

Michael: It'd be pretty fitting if he gets a 5 for that performance, since he has plans to retire after.

Bryan L said...

Everyone: Would Taika Waititi be a good choice for Peter Sellers' roles in Dr. Strangelove? He has the right sensibility for Captain Mandrake and the title role I think, but I'm not sure about President Muffley.

Louis Morgan said...

Luke:

1. Three Days of the Condor
2. The New Land
3. Shame
4. The Emigrants
5. The Exorcist

Bryan:

Well based on his work in his own films, especially Boy, I'd say he could pull off all three.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Your top ten Von Sydow moments.

Anonymous said...

Luke: I sure hope he gets a 5 for something.

Anonymous said...

Louis: So are you looking forward to Old Man and the Gun with Redford and Spacek?

Also, your cast for a 60's The Man Who Wasn't There.

Louis Morgan said...

Luke:

von Sydow:

1. How it will be - Three Days of the Condor
2. Final moments with his wife - The New Land
3. Killing a man - Shame
4. Watching over his sick wife - The Emigrants
5. The elevator - Three Days of the Condor
6. Everything changing - The New Land
7. After the "trade" - Shame
8. Demon statue - The Exorcist
9. Goodbye - Needful Things
10. Naehring's entrance - Shutter Island

Anonymous:

Very much so. I liked Ain't Them Bodies Saints, and A Ghost Story. The true story sounds fascinating. It also sounds like a role that could play to Redford's strengths, and a potentially decent role for Spacek always earns my anticipation.

Ed Crane: Robert Mitchum
Doris Crane: Shelley Winters
Frank Raffo: Zero Mostel
Walter Abundas: Everett Sloane
Birdy Abundas: Sandra Dee
Creighton Tolliver: Lionel Strander
Big Dave Brewster: Raymond Burr
Freddy Riedenschneider: Walter Matthau

Matt Mustin said...

Gonna leave this vague, but HOLY SHIT I loved Infinity War. It is every thing I wanted it to be and more. It is a perfect comic book movie, and I chose those words very specifically.

Brolin-4.5
Downey-4
Hemsworth-4
Ruffalo-3.5
Evans-3.5
Cumberbatch-4
Johansson-3
Holland-4
Cheadle-3
Boseman-3
Olsen-3.5
Bettany-3.5
Mackie-3
Bautista-3.5
Hiddleston-3
Stan-3
Cooper-3.5
Pratt-3.5
Saldana-4
Gillan-3
Klementieff-3
Guira-3
Wright-3
Vaughn-Lawlor-3/3.5(not sure. He's not in it much, but I really liked what he did)
Dinklage-3(AWESOME casting. That's all I'll say)
Wong-3

Bryan L said...

Matt: My ratings would be the same as yours. Need a rewatch in order to gather full thoughts on Brolin though.

Matt Mustin said...

Bryan: Yeah, Thanos as a whole really impressed me. Also, the CGI work on him was *outstanding*.

Matt Mustin said...

Also, it is it just me, or has Cumberbatch's accent gotten better?

Bryan L said...

Matt: His accent definitely sounded more natural this time around imo.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Your thoughts on the Infinity War cast.

Bryan L said...

Louis: Your 2010s choices for these Kubrick leads?

Jack Torrance
Colonel Dax
Humbert Humbert
Alex DeLarge (McAvoy perhaps?)

And would you have cast Josh Brolin instead of Michael Shannon as Strickland in The Shape of Water? He did pretty good as a 50s boss/family man/everyman type in Hail, Caesar!

Calvin Law said...

I'd go:

Jack Torrance: Sam Rockwell
Colonel Dax: Matthias Schoenaerts
Humbert Humbert: Paul Bettany

Anonymous said...

Louis: Your thoughts on the voices of Gillian Anderson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Gershon, Rebecca de Mornay and Sharon Stone.

Calvin Law said...

Saw Infinity War again and actually I think I'll be upgrading Bettany.

Louis Morgan said...

Luke:

Let's hold onto that just for a bit longer.

Anonymous:

Anderson - (Well which one? She literally has two accents in reality. Either way though her voice is such perfectly posh English accent, or her rather wonderful down to earth American one.)

Leigh - (Well obviously she's talented in her vocal work, however her voice typically is in the Sissy Spacek school of it. Hers isn't as distinct mind you, but it is just a nice pleasant very natural voice.)

Gershon - (Well when she isn't putting on some purposefully trashy accent, which it seems she does quite a lot. Her voice is distinct anyways though even when not doing that.)

de Mornay/Stone - (Both have rather similar voices I'd say though not overly distinctive. Pleasant to be sure as both seem most often used for similar sultry/cold style. In terms of just their voices I probably prefer both what it seems they are just being more themselves where they both just have nice lower key voices.)

Bryan:

Jack Torrance: Ethan Hawke (Book Version) Matthew McConaughey (Kubrick Version)
Colonel Dax: Yes, Schoenaerts
Humbert Humbert: Daniel Day-Lewis
Alex DeLarge: Alfie Allen

Most certainly in regards to Brolin, given he did sort of a comedic version of that as Bigfoot in Inherent Vice.

Anonymous said...

Louis: Your best cinematography winners for 1933, 1934, 1936, 1976 and 1980.

Louis Morgan said...

Anonymous:

1933: The Testament of Dr. Mabuse
1934: The Black Cat
1936: Modern Times
1976: Bound For Glory
1980: The Elephant Man

Mitchell Murray said...

Just some thoughts on "Old Man and a Gun" since this is the first I've heard of it:

Its an intriguing story, with a veteran cast and an skilled director - It's even being distributed by Fox searchlight. In all other circumstances I'd be keeping an eye of the film come awards season. It's hard to ignore, however, Casey Affleck's recent allegations and what it means in today's climate. I hate to reopen an old wound especially since I'll be doing my best not to let it sway my opinion of the final product; It does leave me a bit mixed, though, since there will no doubt be people who'd want to boycott the movie on Affleck alone, and who'd be even louder if it gained any kind of traction.

Anonymous said...

Louis: Your 1940's The Good, the Bad and The Ugly and Once Upon a Time in the West casts.

Louis Morgan said...

Anonymous:

TGTBTU 1940's:

Blondie: James Stewart
Tuco: John Carradine
Angel Eyes: Robert Ryan
Wallace: Thomas Gomez
Captain Clinton: Edmond O'Brien

Once Upon a Time in the West 1940's:

Harmonica: Henry Fonda
Frank: Harry Carey
Jill: Gene Tierney
Cheyenne: Van Heflin
Morton: Pedro Armendariz