Story of an inventor who, suffering betrayal in life, makes a career of it by becoming a clown whose act consists of getting slapped by all the other clowns. He falls in love with another circus performer, and those who betrayed him enter his life yet again. Written by
Robert Tonsing <email@example.com>
This was the first production to start filming in the newly formed Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. It was not their first release, though; it was held until the holiday season when attendance is higher for "important" films. See more »
During part of the scene where the lion is loose in the room, Beaumont is seen with no, or hardly any, black makeup around his right eye. Before and after this scene, both eyes are made up. See more »
Opening Dialogue Card:
In the grim comedy of life, it has been wisely said that the last laugh is the best.
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He Who Gets Slapped (1924) - TCM U.K. screening review
After my mixed response to THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (1923), I decided to augment my current Silent-film schedule with a mini-Lon Chaney marathon. Others I intend to watch in the coming days are THE MONSTER (1925), THE BLACK BIRD (1926), MR. WU (1927) and WHERE EAST IS EAST (1929). All of these I have recorded off Cable TV, and so far all have received a single viewing.
So, let's start with HE WHO GETS SLAPPED and THE UNKNOWN which, incidentally, have many things in common. They are both set in a circus and involve love triangles which end in tragedy. However, the style adopted by the two films' directors, Victor Sjostrom and Tod Browning respectively, is completely different and this goes for the characters Chaney plays, too.
I had been instantly impressed by HE WHO GETS SLAPPED, and a second viewing only consolidates my high opinion of it. The film - MGM's very first production, incidentally was considered highbrow material at the time, not only because it was helmed by a foreigner but also due to the unusually intricate nature of the plot (complete with a healthy dose of symbolism) and a clear emphasis on composition and lighting throughout (one amazing shot has Chaney alone in the circus arena when the lights are being turned off for the night, with the screen entirely black except for Chaney's painted face!).
Chaney is superb as the humiliated scientist-turned-clown (drawing an interesting parallel to Emil Jannings in two Expressionist masterworks, Murnau's THE LAST LAUGH  and Von Sternberg's THE BLUE ANGEL ). His whole life's work is stolen from him and he decides to go into self-willed exile (an influence perhaps on Chaney's future characterization as Erik, the 'Phantom' of the Paris Opera House?) at a circus. Chaney's reaction shots in this film are nothing short of sensational. The sheer masochism in evidence here (a distinctly un-American touch) must not have gone down well with the studio, to say nothing of the gruesome ending when he finally wreaks his revenge. I cannot say for sure, but most of what Chaney was to accomplish in his famed collaboration with Tod Browning, on films like THE UNHOLY THREE (1925) and THE UNKNOWN, is already evident in this film - except that the actor here is less given to uncanny make-up design (which might have overshadowed his acting abilities at times), while the handling is altogether more sophisticated and artful!
Only the middle section drags a bit, as it stresses the budding relationship between Norma Shearer and John Gilbert (though this is contrasted with her father's scheming with a lecherous Baron who, incidentally, turns out to be Chaney's deadly enemy!), but the rest is riveting stuff this film deserves to be better known, and I long for the day Warners gets to release a Box Set of Lon Chaney classics on DVD!!
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