Seven Faces

Seven Faces is a 1929 American pre-Code drama film with fantasy elements that was released by Fox Film Corporation in the Fox Movietone sound-on-film system on December 1, 1929.[1][2] Based upon the piece of short fiction "A Friend of Napoleon" which was published in the June 30, 1923, issue of The Saturday Evening Post magazine by popular writer Richard Connell (whose best known work, The Most Dangerous Game, was filmed three years later), it was directed by Berthold Viertel and stars Paul Muni in his second screen appearance.[3][4][5] Seven Faces is a lost film, with no excerpts from its footage known to exist.

Seven Faces
Directed byBerthold Viertel
Lester Lonergan (dialogue director)
Produced byWilliam Fox (president)
George E. Middleton (associate producer)
Screenplay byDana Burnet
Based onoriginal story
by Richard Connell
StarringPaul Muni
Marguerite Churchill
CinematographyJoseph H. August
Al Brick
Edited byEdwin Robbins
Distributed byFox Film Corporation
Release date
  • December 1, 1929 (1929-12-01)
Running time
78 minutes
CountryUnited States


A common convention in the early decades of newspaper and magazine film reviews was to describe in the write-up the entire storyline including, in a substantial number of instances, the ending, thus unintentionally enabling subsequent generations of readers to reconstruct a lost film's contents. True to form, those who evaluated Seven Faces, such as Mordaunt Hall of The New York Times,[6] did go into considerable detail regarding plot twists, as related herein below.[7][8][9][10]

Papa Chibou (Paul Muni), the elderly caretaker of Musée Pratouchy, a Parisian wax museum, feels a strong kinship with the figures, particularly with that of Napoleon. He spots at the waxworks a romantic young couple, Georges (Russell Gleason), a lawyer, and Helene (Marguerite Churchill), the daughter of a stern judge (Lester Lonergan) who disapproves of his daughter's choice and forbids her to see Georges. Papa Chibou suggests to them that they can still stay in touch, without disobeying her father's directive not to speak with each other, by placing secret personal messages in the pockets of Napoleon's uniform. However, a missing letter and confusion in communication causes Georges to arrive at the mistaken conclusion that Helene has redirected her affections towards a foolish young man (Walter Rogers), who is unworthy of her and excessively preoccupied with his stylish personal appearance and elegant clothing.

Seeing their lovers' quarrel, Papa Chibou attempts to mollify the heated language, but George and Helene rebuff his soothing words by telling him not to interfere, since as an old man he knows nothing of love. Saddened by this rejection, he dreamily imagines that seven of the museum's waxworks come to life and offer philosophical advice on the intricacies of courtship and love. Don Juan, the legendary 17th-century libertine, Napoleon (1769–1821),[11] Franz Schubert (1797–1828), African American boxer Joe Gans (1874–1910),[12] Willie Smith, a Cockney costermonger who became a music hall attraction after winning a lottery-auction known as Calcutta Sweepstakes[13] and a Parisian hypnotist whose purported mastery of dark arts earned him the stage name Diablero (all portrayed by Muni) as well as Catherine the Great (1729–1796) (portrayed by Salka Stenermann) speak to Papa Chibou, each in his or her own unique manner and accent, providing insight and personal experience in their reflections on this very intimate topic.[14][15]

The wax museum is unable to support itself and has to close. The owner, Monsieur Pratouchy (Gustav von Seyffertitz) puts the figures up for auction and Papa Chibou bids his life savings to acquire Napoleon, but is outbid. He then decides to take the waxwork and, while struggling to carry the heavy and unwieldy life-size figure in his arms through Paris streets, attracts public attention and is arrested for theft.

At his trial, the judge is Helene's father, while the defense attorney is Georges, the young romantic, who delivers an impassioned summation vividly describing how the defendant was overcome by patriotic fervor over Napoleon's victories and his contributions to the glory and grandeur of his beloved France. Although the judge finds Papa Chibou guilty, as required by law, he is so impressed that he suspends the punishment and contributes towards the purchase price of the figure which is given to Papa Chibou who then confesses that as an uneducated man he never knew that Napoleon had accomplished all those great deeds and that he simply formed a close attachment to him. "Then who did you think Napoleon was", he is asked. "A sort of murderer", he replies.[16] At that point, as he straightens Napoleon's pockets, Papa Chibou discovers the overlooked letter which explains and resolves Georges' and Helene's misunderstanding, thus allowing the young lovers an opportunity to declare their true feelings, with her father's blessing.


Production details

The female lead, 18-year-old Marguerite Churchill, was also Muni's co-star, six months earlier, in his first film, Fox's The Valiant, although they were not cast as a romantic couple in either production.[18][19][20] Their sole scene together in The Valiant comes at the end of the film and consists of an extended dialogue sequence in which condemned prisoner Muni, in reality Churchill's long-lost older brother, seeks to protect her and their mother, who was too infirm to make the long trip to the prison, from anguish at his execution by attempting to convince her that even though he is not who they may believe him to be, he does recollect, upon hearing her say the brother's name, witnessing his heroic final moments as a fellow soldier during The Great War.[21]

Before filming started, the early working title for Seven Faces was "Lover Come Back" and a full color poster was created using that appellation, with a note stating "(Temporary Title)" appended directly underneath.[16] Additionally, while the poster was already intended, even in the film's pre-production stage, to highlight, in fonts smaller than those reserved for Muni's billing, the name of second-billed ingenue Marguerite Churchill, the listing for her male counterpart, playing young lawyer Georges, is indicated beneath her name as Owen Davis, Jr., thus pointing out the fact that subsequent unspecified casting revisions led to the 22-year-old actor's replacement with another 22-year-old, Russell Gleason.

Impressed by Paul Muni's gift for characterization under makeup, which led a number of critics to designate him "a young Lon Chaney", Fox prepared another such vehicle for him — two years before MGM's opulent 1932 production, Rasputin and the Empress, with studio contractee Lionel Barrymore as "The Mad Monk", Muni was set to portray the character in a production, helmed by top director Raoul Walsh, with a title which intended to utilize another of Rasputin's nicknames, The Holy Devil. A full color poster,[22] similar to the one for Lover Come Back (Seven Faces), was produced, but creative disagreements between Muni and the studio caused him to cancel plans for any future projects with Fox. Going back to the Broadway stage, he starred in brief runs of This One Man (1930) and Rock Me, Julie (1931), as well as in the hit play, Counsellor-at-Law (1931–32 and 1932–33), with the in-between time enabling him to star in two 1932 hit films, Howard Hughes' Scarface and Warner Bros.' I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang. As an example of how prolific the output of actors who worked exclusively in film during this era could be, in the same four years (1929–32) that gave Muni the opportunity to complete four films, his co-star in two of those, Marguerite Churchill, had leading or co-starring roles in fourteen features and two comedy shorts.


  1. Illustrated film ad: "William Fox presents SEVEN FACES with PAUL MUNI who plays seven characters; and Marguerite Churchill, Lester Lonergan; A remarkably human story of a gentle, lovable old fellow who seeks advice for lovers. For beauty of story and novelty of treatment this picture is in a class by itself." (The Southeast Missourian, February 13, 1930, page 10)
  2. Film ad: "PAUL MUNI in SEVEN FACES; the miracle man of the talkies plays seven roles in this feature! the most unusual picture ever shown!" (The Leader-Post (evening), Regina, October 15, 1930, page eighteen)
  3. "In the Studios and Theatres" (The New York Times, October 13, 1929)
  4. Photograph of Paul Muni as Papa Chibou next to a wax figure of Napoleon. "First and Best Screen Reviews Here" (Photoplay monthly, January 1930)
  5. "Muni When Lad of Ten Played Part of Man 75 Years Old" (Schenectady Gazette, February 4, 1930, page 15)
  6. Hall, Mordaunt. "THE SCREEN: A Silent Miss Garbo" (The New York Times November 16, 1929 review of The Kiss, starring Greta Garbo, and Seven Faces, which is reported as "Seven Pages")
  7. "Paul Muni Plays Seven Characters in New Film" {the review is accompanied by a photo with the text: "Paul Muni shows his great versatility of makeup and characterization in his forthcoming picture, "Seven Faces," in which at various times he plays seven different roles. The photograph shows in profile the seven characters. They include Don Juan, Willie Smith, Diablero, Franz Schubert, Joe Gans, Napoleon, and Papa Chibou"} (Milwaukee Sentinel, December 1, 1929, page 6–H)
  8. "'Seven Faces' Gives Paul Muni a Chance to Show Versatility" (Palm Beach Daily News, January 4, 1930, page five)
  9. "PAUL MUNI The World Presents "Seven Faces", The Toledo News-Bee, March 10, 1930, page 14
  10. "Society Tangle Seen in Regent Feature; "Dynamite," Gripping Drama of Mixed Loves, Plays First Half; ACTOR IN SEVEN ROLES; Paul Muni Featured Star in Film, "Seven Faces"" (The Afro-American, Baltimore, MD, March 22, 1930, page 9)
  11. Photograph (profile) of Paul Muni in makeup as Napoleon for Seven Faces
  12. Paul Muni in facial and body makeup for his portrayal of African American boxer Joe Gans
  13. Photograph (profile) of Paul Muni in makeup as Cockney costermonger Willie Smith
  14. "Muni Features in Seven Faces" (Prescott Evening Courier, Prescott, AZ, March 19, 1930, page ten)
  15. "Seven Faces Is Novel Film" (Prescott Evening Courier, Prescott, Arizona, March 20, 1930, page three)
  16. Early poster, in color, depicting the production's original indication as "Lover Come Back (Temporary Title)", with inclusion of Papa Chibou's quoted dialogue (in the film's final scene) about not knowing who Napoleon really was.
  17. Gallery of characters portrayed by Paul Muni in Seven Faces
  18. Schallert, Edwin. "Paul Muni Impersonations High Light. "Seven Faces" Versatile Character Actor Essays Novel Feat of Portraying Widely Divergent Types in Latest"; "Marguerite Churchill Is exceedingly attractive as the heroine, and endows her role..." (Los Angeles Times, November 17, 1929)
  19. Whitaker, Alma. "TYPICAL 'HOME GIRL' NAMED. Marguerite Churchill Earns Title from Work in Third Fox Production" "Now, how on earth did the little girl who was a leading ledy on the New York stage at the age of 14 come to stand for the typical American home girl of the films?" (Los Angeles Times, November 24, 1929)
  20. "Fox Actress to Appear Tonight at Loew's State" "... of the celebration of anniversary week at Loew's State, Marguerite Churchill, young Fox star, now appearing opposite Paul Muni In "Seven Faces," will make..." (Los Angeles Times, November 25, 1929, page A7)
  21. "The Valiant" Will Open Run at Rivoli (Berkeley Daily Gazette, August 17, 1929, page three)
  22. Early poster, in color, depicting the proposed production's title, The Holy Devil, the director assigned to it, Raoul Walsh, as well as the inclusion of dialogue, "You believe that I pollute you; I do not pollute you. I rather purify you." "But I cannot give myself to you, Father Gregori, I cannot."
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