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Sunday, November 10, 2013

A STOLEN FACE (1952)

This little thriller from HAMMER FILMS, made in the years before their signature horror pics, has lots of good ideas in it . . . all easily found in better movies. The main lift is from A WOMAN’S FACE/’41, a Joan Crawford remake of a Swedish Ingrid Bergman film, the one about a badly scarred woman whose criminal life is tied to her maimed features. Might a spot of plastic surgery ‘cure’ her inside and out? Here, Paul Henreid plays the doctor and Lizabeth Scott’s the bad-seed character. That is, it’s Lizabeth Scott in the part after the surgery. That’s because Henreid falls hard for the real Lizabeth Scott character, a concert pianist he can’t have since she’s already engaged. And when you can’t possess the woman you love, you surgically alter a prison patient to look just like her. Of course! Too bad she’s the same bad seed under that new face. He’ll just have to teach this lowlife criminal how to act like a lady. That’s when the original Scott returns on the scene, having dumped her fiancĂ©! What’s a successful plastic surgeon to do? Murder his failed experiment? I count major plot borrowings from A STOLEN LIFE/’46, VERTIGO/’58, EYES WITHOUT A FACE/’60; PYGMALION/’38 and AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY/’31; in addition to A WOMAN’S FACE. Some of these films were already made, some hadn’t yet been thought of, but all are improvements. Too bad the script is so clumsy & silly since director Terence Fisher manages a pretty slick look under the circumstances and the actors aren’t phoning it in. Noir babe Lizabeth Scott even looks fresh & happy, quite a change from her steamy/recently-abused default mode.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: All the pics referenced above are well worth watching. Try AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY, Josef von Sternberg’s lesser-known take on the Dreiser classic that also became George Steven’s A PLACE IN THE SUN/’51.

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