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FACE OF FIRE (director/writer: Albert Band; screenwriter: from a Stephen Crane story The Monster/Louis Garfinkle; cinematographer: Edward Vorkapich; editor: Ingemar Ejve; music: Erik Nordgren; cast: James Whitmore (Monk Johnson), Cameron Mitchell (Dr. Ned Trescott), Bettye Ackerman (Grace Trescott), Robert Simon (Judge Hagenthorpe), (Dr. John Moser), Miko Oscard (Jimmie Trescott), Jill Donahue (Bella Kovac), Richard Erdman (Al Williams), Royal Dano (Jake Winter), Lois Maxwell (Ethel Winter), Howard Smith (Sheriff Nolan), Harold Kasket (Reifsnyder, the barber); Runtime: 79; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Albert Band/Louis Garfinkle; Allied Artists; 1959-B/W)
“Perceptive tale about small town prejudice in America, in 1898.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A well-realized offbeat social conscience drama, shot in Stockholm as a Swedish-American co-production. It’s based on the Stephen Crane short story “The Monster.” Albert Band (“The Young Guns”/”Robot Wars”) adroitly directs and co-writes with Louis Garfinkle this perceptive tale about small town prejudice in America, in 1898.

In the peaceful New England village of Whilomville, the popular and dapper handyman Monk Johnson (James Whitmore), on the day his girlfriend (Jill Donahue) accepts his wedding proposal, heroically rescues Jimmie (Miko Oscard), the only son of his employer Dr. Trescott (Cameron Mitchell), in a house fire. The child is unharmed but the chemical fire leaves Monk disfigured and mentally unsound.

Rather than treating him with respect, the good citizens turn their back on him and some consider him the Devil. They even blame Dr. Trescott for keeping him alive. The doctor loses most of patients and must find another place for Monk to reside and a way for Jimmie to reconnect with his kind friend.

Its monster theme reminded me of James Whale’s Frankenstein (1931), though less powerful in scope than that masterpiece.

It’s a small gem, at least for the first half of the film, that slipped under the radar and is well worth seeking out. What’s flawed is the uneven screenplay and the unreal pacing, as the town so suddenly turns against Monk was just unconvincing.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”