Lowell Sherman, US, 1932, 81 min., b&w
The loathsome career of Henry Schireson, the self-styled “King of Quacks” famous for bobbing Fanny Brice's nose and infamous for a botched surgery that necessitated the amputation of a young woman’s legs, is celebrated in Lowell Sherman's False Faces, a delirious film à clef worthy to be spoken of in the same breath with the best of Warren William's pre-Code muckrakers like Bedside (1934), Skyscraper Souls (1932) and The Mouthpiece (1932).
We first meet Schireson's screen counterpart, Dr. Silas Benton (portrayed by director Sherman as an affectless sociopath), extorting money from a poor immigrant family for deceitful medical guarantees. Dismissed from his post at a New York hospital, Benton relocates to Chicago and promotes himself to the idle rich and famous as the doyen of nip-and-tuck. Utterly indifferent to his trail of human wreckage, Benton dallies promiscuously with every woman in sight and gorges himself with riches gleaned from his outlaw surgeries. His ultimate comeuppance is designed to leave the picture audience agog and cheering.
False Faces provides showcases for a host of eclectic actresses, including Lila Lee (mother of A Chorus Line playwright James Kirkwood Jr.) as the left-behind lover; the tragically alcoholic Clara Bow wannabe, Peggy Shannon, as Benton's Chicago squeeze, and Nance O'Neil, confidant and purported lover of axe murderess Lizzie Borden as the wretched Mrs. Finn. They all face stiff competition from that ultimate paragon of studio logos, the anonymous but delightful World Wide Pictures girl.
Hearst Metrotone News, Vol. 4, No. 226 (1932)
Director: Dave Fleischer. Cab Calloway sings “St. James Infirmary.”
Restored by UCLA Film & Television Archive with funding provided by The Packard Humanities Institute.