After a fire disfigures his face, local handyman Monk Johnson’s world is turned upside down as he becomes a target not only for prejudice, but for everything that is wrong in the small town where he lives. His engagement is off, he can no longer go anywhere without people running from him in fright and he soon becomes like a hunted animal where only the day before, he was a friend to all.
Face of Fire is a different kind of horror story, one that is all too human in nature, namely because it deals with that very subject. When it comes to the differences between one another, man can be unforgiving, cruel and ignorant and in a way, it can be understood because different can be scary. More often than not though, it is simply the refusal on the part of those who are considered the norm to look outside their box and accept that which might be foreign. This film represents the perfect slice of Americana for it could have taken place a hundred years ago or it could take place in the here in now, so little has changed with society and the way it views others. With Monk Johnson, it is only his physical features which have changed, caused by an accident after risking his life to save another. While his friends and neighbours know that, they simply cannot get past the disfigurement the man now sports, no matter if he is still the same person on the inside. It is not scary, so much as it is sad and it makes a person think just what it is they would do in a similar situation.
Starring as Monk is James Whitmore, a man who always seemed akin to Spencer Tracy and just like Tracy, the man could really act when called upon. Whitmore does a great job as friend and social pariah, playing essentially a double role and it helps that the man was surrounded by a strong supporting cast including Cameron Mitchell, Bettye Ackerman and Robert F. Simon among them. While the movie makes for some heavy drama at times, it never bores and keeps the audience interested from start to finish. Most of that is thanks to Whitmore and Mitchell, the latter playing Dr. Trescott who takes it upon himself to look out for Monk when he is no longer able to do so for himself.
After a terrible accident and actions that can only be called horrific by those he used to call friends, Monk does get a happy ending of sorts. Perhaps it was not the one that he envisioned for himself, but a lot better than what the townspeople had in mind for him. A truly good film, Face of Fire is not one a person will easily forget, lingering long after it has finished.
4 out of 5