Film addresses prejudice, fear of unknown

Chuck Norstadt (Stahl) is unhappy with his much-married mother (Margaret Whitton) and his bothersome stepsisters. His escape to a military academy is thwarted by failure in an entrance exam. A dreamy kid, he is accused by his malicious older sister (Fay Masterson) of being dimwitted.

The squabbling family spends weeks at their summer home in a Maine seaside village. The locals are intimidated by the presence nearby of a reclusive mystery man whose scars arouse their fear and distrust.

Frightened at first, Chuck makes contact with the distant, bitter Justin McLeod (Gibson). He has been a teacher, and he reluctantly agrees to tutor Chuck for another shot at the exam.

Chuck’s mother and the villagers are alarmed by Chuck’s association with the suspicious stranger. Amid the turmoil that ensues, Chuck learns hard lessons about prejudice and fear of the unknown.

Gibson gives one of his finest portrayals, conveying the anguish and frustration as well as the inner goodness of the scarred man.

As a first-time director, he displays a natural reluctance to trim scenes, and the pace sags in the middle. But he wisely follows screenwriter Malcolm MacRury’s focus on the main theme, and he reveals a good visual sense as well as a healthy trust in his actors.

A Warner Bros. release, ‘‘The Man Without a Face’‘ is based on the novel by Isabelle Holland. Bruce Davey produced for Gibson’s Icon Productions. The rating is PG-13.

Motion Picture Association of America rating definitions:

G—General audiences. All ages admitted.

PG—Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

PG-13—Special parental guidance strongly suggested for children under 13. Some material may be inappropriate for young children.

R—Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

NC-17—No one under 17 admitted.