Before Hammer Films discovered their true calling in horror films, they tried a little of everything, including some low-budget noirs featuring Hollywood stars who were not longer exactly hot properties. Such is the case with Terence Fisher’s Stolen Face, though it is perhaps debatable whether or not Paul Henreid or Lizabeth Scott were ever exactly hot properties. Yes, Henreid was in some big pictures, but I doubt many people went to see Casablanca (1942) or Now, Voyager (1942) on the strength of his name. But from the British standpoint, they still had a little Hollywood luster, and their presene would help sell the film in the U.S., which was notoriously resistant to most British movies. How much their presence actually helped this rather unassuming little movie is debatable, but this was a pretty common practice in the 1950s.
The film itself is a reasonably slick little thriller that might best be called “noir lite,” since Stolen Face is not much interested in being all that dark. That’s perhaps just as well, because it is pretty far-fetched stuff — to the point of being sufficiently ridiculous to provoke the occasional chuckle, not to mention one aspect that’s so bizarre that it’s a positive head-slapper. Henreid plays plastic surgeon Dr. Paul Ritter, who meets and falls for concert pianist Alice Brent (Scott). She returns his affections, but, as luck and convenient plotting would have it, she’s engaged to be married. Naturally, she dumps him. Lesser men might let it go at that, but not Dr. Ritter. No, he decides to transform a horribly scarred inmate, Lily Conover (Mary Mackenzie), at the prison where he performs charity plastic surgery (yes, well) into the spitting image of Alice. (The movie has some rather rudimentary notions of plastic surgery.) Well, quicker than you can say Vertigo, he’s turned her into a blonde and married this makeshift Alice. Ambitious he may be. A brilliant surgeon he may be. A man known for rational decisions, he clearly is not.
Of course, making Lily look like Alice is one thing. Making this hardened, amoral and quite probably psychotic woman act and think like Alice is, however, beyond his skills. About the same time he’s realizing this, wouldn’t you know Alice shows up, announcing that she’s broken off her engagement. Well, being an honorable guy (well, sort of), he confesses he’s gotten married. OK, I’m with it — more or less — at this point, but then Alice gets a look at Lily, realizes the truth…and just sort of shrugs it off. It never seems to strike her that just maybe this is really creepy. No, she’s pretty much shoulder-to-shoulder with the doc and hoping they can find a way out of this mess. Now, this might rightly have been the path to some serious noir chicanery, but the film’s having none of that, which has the plus of not being predictable. Even so, where it does go isn’t terribly convincing. Yeah, it’s entertaining, but whether you’ll believe it may be another matter.
The Hendersonville Film Society will show Stolen Face Sunday, Oct. 5, at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community (behind Epic Cinemas), 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville.