|Stolen Face (1952)
Run time: Approved | 72 min | Crime, Drama
Director: Terence Fisher
Writers: Martin Berkeley, Richard H. Landau
Stars: Paul Henreid, Lizabeth Scott, André Morell
A plastic surgeon performs an “extreme makeover” on the face of a scarred prison inmate, who becomes a replica of the woman he loved and lost. He really shouldn’t have.
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If cosmetic surgeons could create faces like Lizabeth Scott’s at will, they would be making even more than they earn now, or did half a century ago when A Stolen Face hit theaters. (But then the surgically created evil twin has been a staple of pulp movies up to John Woo’s Face/Off). On holiday somewhere in England, Paul Henried, as an M.D., meets up with concert pianist (!) Scott. They fall in love, but she’s spoken for. Back in grimy postwar London, he finds a patient horribly scarred in the blitz, refashions her into the spit-and-image of Scott, and marries the impudent baggage (a Cockney fadge with one foot in the gutter and the other on a banana peel). Their marriage, for some reason, does not go well. Re-enter Lizabeth Scott, who now has to play a double role…. The movie’s not terrible, at least, though these noirish exercises set in Britain always have a fusty, half-hearted feel to them, more a mug of white tea than a snort of bonded Bourbon. Both Scott and Henried were well into the downslope of their careers — which may, more than the locale, account for the enervated pace and commitment.
Up front I must admit I am a die-hard Paul Henreid fan, and I want to reassure any potential viewers of this movie that he was professional enough to put as much effort into this role as every other one I have seen him play, despite the fact that he made this film as a blacklisted and (consequently) underpaid actor.
There were basically two things I couldn’t believe regarding the plot of this movie: 1)That an intelligent, established, professional man would marry a thievin’ Cockney wench even if he did make her look like his lost true love; and 2) That his lost true love, on returning to him, didn’t do a mad dash the other way when she found out he had actually made someone else look like her & then married that woman. I mean, isn’t that a little twisted or something?
Overall the film was pretty good, & the romance between Henreid & Scott at the B&B truly enjoyable. I thought it delightful the way Henreid nursed Scott through her nasty head cold, & I like seeing a guy who is 6’3" sit on one bar stool with his feet on the next bar stool & look perfectly comfortable. It was only when the plot wanted me to believe the unbelievable that I had some trouble enjoying the film.
Ah, but the ending was pretty darn cute, & worth the ‘huh?’ I uttered during the dubious parts.
"A Woman's Face" meets "A Stolen Life." Paul Henreid is a famed, highly principled plastic surgeon. We see him refusing to work on a society matron who is beyond his help. He is taken to meet a badly scarred young criminal. She isn't terribly nice but he is intrigued and takes on the case pro bono.
He is then persuaded to take a vacation. On his trip he meets a concert pianist. She is none other than Lizabeth Scott! Well, add to the movies this resembles, though in this case considerably predates, the classic "Vertigo." We can also toss "Pygmalion" int the pot, though Scott is no Wendy Hiller.
I can't give too much away but you can guess who the bad girl ends up looking like after surgery.
Scott is quite good. She given a little more range than some of her other movies gave her and she does well. The rest of the cast is good too.
The movie is, I suppose, film noir. I wouldn't say it's campy. But it is fun.
This is a British film marketed as a Film Noir movie, though I could see very little about the film that reminded me of this genre. Now this isn't bad and I'm not complaining–after all, I did give the movie a 7. It just doesn't have the tough dialog, moody lighting and camera work as well as the tough subject matter a true Noir film would have.
You might also be a bit surprised to see that it was made by Hammer Studios AND was directed by Terence Fisher–a man and studio known for horror films. Well, there is no sign of Christopher Lee or Peter Cushing in this one as it's just an interesting romantic drama–the type film you would have been more likely to see in the earlier days of the studio.
Paul Henreid and Lizabeth Scott star in this interesting film. However, if you do decide to watch it, try to suspend your sense of disbelief, as the film has a plot that couldn't possibly happen in real life! Henreid is a very skilled plastic surgeon whose mission in life is to correct facial deformities in criminals. He reasons that given a new face, they can't help but have a more positive attitude towards society and live a crime-free new life. However, he's so dedicated to his work that he's exhausted and is ordered to take a much-needed vacation. There, he meets the girl of his dreams, Lizabeth Scott. They are very much in love but she has some secret. Before finally telling him, she disappears and Henreid is disconsolate.
Now here's where it gets really tough to swallow. Henreid's next surgery is a weird one, as he deliberately makes this habitual criminal look exactly like Scott! Now making her with some similarity is believable, but to be the exact twin was just plain silly. They can't do that today and they certainly couldn't have done it in 1952! Despite Henreid's belief that this lady will become a good person and a good wife, after marrying her she turns out to be a hard-living kleptomaniac–with no desire for redemption. Now at this point it even gets weirder–Scott shows up and both she and Henreid want to marry–but he's stuck with the criminal wife. What happens next you'll need to see for yourself.
The plot, though silly, was still very watchable and cool. I really liked every moment but also assure you that the film never really goes the Noir route–especially the ending.
By the way, one reviewer went on about how he hated Ms. Scott. While she was never one of my favorites, I really think this film was a wonderful showcase for her–letting her play two totally different characters–one a criminal with an English accent and the other a sophisticated American concert pianist. She did a very good job and the film, for its budget, was very good.