The proprietor of an ice-skating revue promotes a peanut-vendor at the show to a management position based on suggestions he made to improve the act of the show's star, who also happens to ... See full summary »
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
I've been a die-hard Lonaholic since the early 70's, but only managed to see this in a terrible 16MM bootleg print over 30 years ago, and then a fragmentary view when it was shown on TCM. Watching this DVD now has given me a whole new perspective on how great a silent picture can be, and on why I fell for Chaney as well.
The story, while it apparently bears the stamp post-Victorian melodrama, is also very complex and has sexual undercurrents that are surprisingly modern. It portrays emotions that are so primal, and portrays them so well, that its dated elements don't prevent it from feeling current and emotionally valid.
The acting is top notch. The deep and conflicting feelings that are a component of any of the three sides of a love triangle are brilliantly, subtly portrayed by all the principals. Fourteen year-old Loretta Young is perfectly cast as the girl who is becoming a woman, with her experiences always ahead of her understanding.
You can really see in LCL why Lon Chaney was considered the actor's actor of his day. He's superb; his Tito Beppi is an irresistible combination of simplicity and depth. At first I thought Chaney was hamming a bit, but ultimately it contributes to the impact of his portrayal of Tito's honest and profoundly compassionate character. The few seconds when Beppi realizes that his fatherly love for Simonetta--whom he has raised since she was a child--has suddenly veered into desire, ought to be taught in acting classes. That Chaney was capable of portraying so many strong, and subtle, deeply personal emotions, without a single word, goes a long way towards explaining the powerful grip his on screen charisma had on audiences of the Twenties.
James Wong Howe's photography is stunning. He was famous for having been able to get Mary Miles Minter's pale blue eyes to register on orthochromatic film; LCL shows how he brought that same testimonial to the richness of black and white to the more realistic palette of panchromatic stock.
The DVD's presentation is excellent. The new musical score really enhances the film without calling attention to itself. Its quiet urgency contributes to the sense of inevitable tragedy without ever veering into clichéd dramatics. I think this print of Laugh Clown Laugh is the only one surviving; there are some small continuity hiccups from lost footage but it doesn't detract.
Anyone who is or has been in love should see this film; it's hard not to identify with elements of the plights of all three protagonists. Put this on a double bill with City Lights and it's liable to kill you.
Regards, Richard Day Gore
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