Sunday, August 24, 2008

Stolen Face (1951)

Seeing some pics of Hammer’s early Noir movie, Stolen Face, in the recent set of Hammer Trading cards reminded me that I had yet to watch any of the Hammer Noirs that came out a while ago, so this was as good an excuse as I ever needed to pop this movie into the player.

Directly by Terence Fisher this film tells the story of a brilliant plastic surgeon (Paul Henreid) who falls into a holiday whirlwind romance with a pianist (Lizabeth Scott), who, alas, is already engaged to a guy played by future Hammer stalwart, Andre Morell in his first role for Hammer. Frustrated about not being able to get the lady he wants, he transforms the horribly disfigured face of a female convict into the spitting image of his lady love and subsequently marries her. Needless to say things soon go awry in that mismatched relationship especially when the marriage is called off for his his real love.

The film is often quoted as an early example of Science Fiction, though it doesn’t have a lot of Sci Fi elements to it and with its themes of plastic surgery is more rooted in reality. If anything that film appears like a forerunner for Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958), another film about an obsessive relationship and a man’s wish to recreate the image of the woman he loves.

The prevailing notions in this production are of course preposterous. Beauty may be only skin deep, but one should also not scratch too deeply on the surface of this plot as there is little of substance there, however, it is directed and acted absolutely straight which gives it a certain charm and makes this an overall entertaining production that, at 70 minutes, also doesn’t overstay its welcome.

The one link to Hammer’s (and Fisher’s) later Frankenstein productions is that physical defects can have an influence on criminal developments, though it is somewhat more believable to draw comparisons between damaged brains and abnormal behaviour than to come to similar conclusions by looking at damaged faces.

Not sure if I am the only one, but I also thought that the “awful” jazz and booze loving criminal crowd appeared to be more fun to be around with than the oh so prim and proper doctor and pianist. Ah well, how times have changed….

The first minute of the YouTube video below is from Stolen Face, the second half from a different production called Strange Impersonation (1946). The common themes: They both feature plastic surgery, doctors and smoking. Also check out this excellent review from a blog dedicated to Film Noir.

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