Thursday, February 16, 2012

The False Faces - 1919

Country: USA
Director: Irvin Willat
Writers: Louis Joseph Vance (novel), Irvin Willat
Stars: Henry B. Walthall, Mary Anderson and Lon Chaney
Release Date: 16 February 1919 (USA)
Production Co: Paramount Pictures
Runtime: USA: 70 min  | 76 min (DVD)
Sound Mix: Silent
Color: Black and White
Plot Keywords: Lone Wolf | Based On Novel
Genres: Drama
During World War I, a professional thief known as The Lone Wolf is assigned to steal a cylinder with important information from behind the German lines and bring it to Allied intelligence headquarters. However, German agents set out to stop him, headed by the man who was responsible for the death of the thief's sister.
The story for "The False Faces" is taken from a novel by Louis Joseph Vance based on a character he created called 'The Lone Wolf'. Films about WW1 made during WW1 are interesting. The opening stages of Irvin Willat's "The False Faces" hark forward six & eleven years to the battle sequences in "The Big Parade" & "All's Quiet on the Western Front" respectively. Indeed both King Vidor & Lewis Milestone must've viewed portions of this film. 1919 was a break out year for Lon Chaney with "The Wicked Darling", "Victory", and the hugely successful "The Miracle Man". "The False Faces" is Chaney's first film of 1919 so it was probably made while WW1 was still going on(before November 11 1918). The film actually stars Henry B. Walthall as a Sidney Reilly type spy, 'The Lone Wolf'. Quite possibly a double agent. The movie is a potpurri of a spy cheating officials and officials cheating the spy. Director Willat has scenes that occur on board a real passenger liner and later in a submarine. Amazing that Willat could obtain the use of a sub for his film. Chaney plays a man called Ekstrom in several disguises & whom 'The Lone Wolf' harbors a personal vengeance against. Ekstrom is a German w/spiked helmet, an officer on an ocean liner, a sub captain and a shaven adventurer in drawing room back on shore. An actress called Mary Anderson plays the sole female character in this film. A popular and pretty actress in the silents, she's all but forgotten today. Irving Willat's brother, Edwin Willat, is the cinematographer. The print of this film survives generally in good condition but some of the intertitles are so blacked out that they can't be read. Grapevine video actually replaced key titles so to hold the viewer to the story. The latter part of the film tends to get melodramatic. But the highlight scenes are on a real passenger liner(makes some think of the Titanic & Lusitania) and a real submarine with scenes that hark forward to 'Destination Tokyo' and 'Das Boot'. Most films about WW1 made during WW1 tend to be propaganda or over the top grotesque comedies aimed at Germans. This movie is a little bit of both but alas one of the more tamer films compared to others.

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