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The experienced doorman at the Atlantic Hotel is quite proud of his position, his responsibilities, and his uniform. One busy, rainy night, he has to take a short rest after lugging a heavy suitcase in from the rain. Unfortunately, his manager comes by during the short time when he is not performing his duties. The next day, when the doorman arrives for work, he learns that he has been replaced as doorman, and has been re-assigned to the less strenuous but purely menial position of washroom attendant. Stunned and humiliated, the old man struggles to carry on with his life. Written by
This classic is distinctive in several respects. The expressionistic style and creative camera work, along with a noteworthy leading performance by Emil Jannings, turn a simple story into a thought-provoking experience. It is also very interesting for its almost complete lack of title cards, demonstrating how a skilled practitioner of the art of silent cinema can convey all kinds of attitudes and emotions without employing dialogue of any kind.
The actual story is very simple. Jannings portrays a doorman at a fine hotel, who takes enormous pride in his position, his work, and especially his uniform. One day the hotel manager passes by, misunderstands what he sees, and decides that the doorman is too old for the job. The next day, a new doorman takes his place, and he is relegated to working in the washroom. The rest of the film then shows the effect of this change on the doorman and on the way that others view him and treat him. The plot developments themselves are conveyed efficiently and succinctly, so that the emphasis is on the feelings and perceptions of the characters. The acting, camera work, and settings are all used very carefully to emphasize the changes that take place inside Jannings' character and in the attitudes of others towards him as a result of his demotion.
These changes are often very (deliberately) exaggerated, and there are times when they honestly strain credibility a bit too much. And it is not always easy to watch the doorman's anguish, but it gives you plenty to think about
part of his suffering comes from the foolish attitudes of others, but much
of it also comes from his own over-dependence on his position for his happiness. It is remarkable how much is expressed without even using title cards - there is just one in the entire movie, a note that introduces the last part of the film, when further developments occur that introduce a new set of themes.
"The Last Laugh" is worth seeing for anyone who likes silent films, for its thought-provoking story and perhaps even more so for its creative and masterful use of silent film techniques.
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