James Cagney takes the lead in this biopic of silent horror film star Lon Chaney, star of 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame' and 'The Phantom of the Opera'. Born to deaf, mute parents, Chaney, mildly successful as a mime and juggler in vaudeville, employs and later marries his assistant Cleva Creighton (Dorothy Malone). But Cleva's disgust on discovering Chaney's parents are deaf mutes is soon compounded when she gives birth to their son, believing he too will be deaf. With Chaney's vaudeville career taking off, Cleva, psychologically frail, walks out on her husband and son, forcing a cash-strapped Chaney to place his son in a home. Determined to get his son back, Chaney travels to Hollywood and immerses himself in as much work as he can find, soon building a reputation for himself as a respected and talented artist. Now remarried, and with his life back on track, Chaney's world is turned upside down once more when Cleva reappears demanding the return of her son.