Monday, 12 April 2021

The Man with My Face - 1951 film review

We tend to associate film noir with urban settings and dark, menacing streets. This isn't surprising, but there are a number of sunlit films which fit into this genre of movie-making. The outstanding example is Body Heat, sometimes described as neo-noir. And then there is The Man with My Face, a modest but competent film set in Puerto Rico.

I spent a few days in Puerto Rico some years ago, and really liked the place. The film is black and white, but I enjoyed recognising one or two locations from my own trip. However, the main appeal of the movie lies in its excellent premise, which is definitely worthy of Cornell Woolrich. Charles Graham (Barry Nelson) goes home one day and finds his wife, brother-in-law, and dog in the company of another man - who looks identical to him. And they insist that the stranger is Graham, and that the chap who has just come home is an impostor. The dog even bites him.

The secret behind this dazzling situation doesn't involve identical twins, you'll be pleased to know. It is, however, revealed relatively quickly, which I thought rather a shame. The story develops competently, and there is an exciting climax, but I certainly wouldn't claim this as a masterpiece. Nelson is a likeable actor but isn't quite engaging enough for this role, in my opinion . I was pretty surprised to learn that he was the very first actor to play James Bond. The rest of the cast is at the same level - okay, but not brilliant - and the same can be said of the screenplay.

Samuel W. Taylor wrote the novel (which was published in the UK as a green Penguin in the Fifties. and is still quite easy to find) on which the film is based and was one of those who worked on the screenplay. The book is set in California, and I'm not sure of the reason for the change of setting, but it works really well. I think more could have been made of such a superb premise, and certainly Graham's terrifying situation could have been conveyed in a more chilling way. Never mind, despite the film's limited ambitions, I enjoyed watching it. 


Jonathan O said...

Another interesting Bond fact - the second person to play the role (in a South African radio version of Moonraker) was Bob Holness!

Martin Edwards said...


Art Scott said...

Barry Nelson was indeed a poor "Jimmy" Bond, but in the same 1954 production Peter Lorre is a fine Le Chiffre. It's on YouTube (with sound sync problems). Live TV!

Martin Edwards said...

Must have a look, Art, thanks!