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George W. Hill
As professional clowns Tito and Simon are traveling, they happen upon an abandoned child, whom they take in and name Simonetta. When Simonetta is older, she becomes a circus performer herself. One day she is looking for roses, and climbs into the garden of Count Luigi Ravelli. The count becomes infatuated with her, but she leaves as soon as possible. Sometime later, Ravelli consults a doctor about his fits of uncontrollable laughter, and there he meets Tito, who has come to seek help for his fits of uncontrollable weeping. The two decide to help each other, and they establish a friendship, but problems arise when they realize that they are both in love with Simonetta. Written by
"Laugh, Clown, Laugh" is a very sad movie, much like "He Who Gets Slapped", only much more heartrending. There is no horror, and the only special makeup is clown makeup. Lon Chaney finds an abandoned toddler, naming her Simonetta to appease his partner Simon. The movie wastes no time into getting to the main plot, involving a teenaged Simonetta (played by a 15-year old Loretta Young), who the circus coordinator says should look like a woman in order to join Tito's and Simon's act.
Tito (Chaney) has loved Simonetta from the time he finds her as a toddler. When he tells her she needs a rose in her hair, Simonetta goes to the gardens of Count Ravelli (Nils Asther), where they grow. She scrapes her legs over the barbed wire fence, and Count Ravelli sees her and takes her into his house to tend to her. He is a womanizer, and immediately becomes infatuated with her. He verbalizes his love, and says the prophetic "What an alluring woman you could be." Maybe it encourages her, even after she learns to her horror that he is a womanizer, because later that day, she is dressed like a woman and amazes Tito.
Both men are now passionately in love with her, and suffer uncontrollable emotions as a result (the Count's is laughter, and Tito's is crying). Three years later, the two men meet at a neurologist's and decide to cure each other, not yet knowing they are both in love with Simonetta.
After they recover, they learn. Count Ravelli gives Simonetta some pearls, which Loretta and Lon Chaney initially reject--until they read the accompanying note. Then, things get really complicated.
Each performance is excellent throughout. Chaney gives an excellent performance, though his quick transformation from a fatherly love to one that borders on incest. Tito is not the kind of man who is given to that kind of passion, and he doesn't like it, knowing it is wrong. Nils Asther is not dramatic or as convincing as Lon Chaney, but then, who can outshine Chaney? No one. Count Ravelli's transformation is more plausible because Loretta Young makes Simonetta innocent and pure, who by her virtues slowly changes him from a reckless womanizer to a devoted lover. All three deserve praise, and don't be surprised if you want to watch it more than once. It may be sad, but it is also sweet.
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