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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

THE MAN WITH TWO FACES (1934)

Edward G. Robinson has a lot of fun with this fluffy backstage thriller taken from a flop play by George S. Kaufman & Alexander Woollcott. He’s an actor/director who’s helping his talented sister (Mary Astor) get back on B’way after a nervous breakdown. Out of the blue, the cause of her troubles, her ghastly, venal husband (Louis Calhern) reappears on the scene. Everyone involved in the production wants to get rid of the creep, but only Eddie G. has a plan. The big twist is so obvious that the filmmakers don't try to hide anything, which happily slashes the play’s more elaborate construction to a tidy 80 minutes. Hokey as it is, the cast is game (Mae Clarke & Ricardo Cortez are also on hand); the murder is unexpectedly chilling; and it’s fun to see how they meld Ferenc Molnar’s THE GUARDSMAN (just filmed by The Lunts, no less, in ‘31) with a Lon Chaney revenge meller. Plus, you get to see Robinson in a veritable trial run for Sheridan Whiteside, the great Falstaffian creation of Kaufman & Moss Hart in THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER/’41. A classic character based on this play’s co-author, critic & Algonquin 'Round Table' wit Alex Woollcott.

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