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One of over 700 Paramount Productions, filmed between 1929 and 1949, which were sold to MCA/Universal in 1958 for television distribution, and have been owned and controlled by Universal ever since. See more »
Seminal screwball comedy: funny, reflexive and only superficially dated
Harry D'Abbadie D'Arrast always complained that this movie, which he considered his best, was undeservedly forgotten, for it created many concepts which would reappear in comedies of later years.
This time he was right. It is surprising to find in such an early film the conflict between economical safeness and spiritual freedom that would later be typical of such wonderful films as Frank Capra's You Can't Take It with You, and very especially, George Cukor's Holiday (not a surprising coincidence, since it was written by the same screenwriter as Laughter).
It is an answer to the existentialism dilemma, where the only choices to make are living for the future (marrying a millionaire) or for the present (enjoying the moment you're currently living). Laughter goes even further than the later films, for it incorporates a third answer: suicide, which takes the story for the path of melodrama with a surprising respect of its unity.
In fact, what is most curious about Laughter is that it is much more mature that one would suspect. The structure of the story, the performances and even the humor feels fresher than those of other comedies of the period. A good example is the surprising scene in which Fredric March and Nancy Carroll do some role playing just for the sake of it: they pretend to be a marriage in which he is the woman and she is the man. They both imitate the conventions of each sex's supposedly proper behavior, making fun of predetermined attitudes and social obligations, clearly defending sponaneity and freedom as opposed to that which they parody/criticize (social roles conditioned by sexes).
Also the way the structure of the story is inventive enough, with a past time we never see but which is reflected in the present, and a triggering opening which serves as the conclusion of the movie as well. In fact, many other the elements of the movie (starting by the title itself) are developed in more than one level, like this one.
The biggest fault of the film is not in its final quarter (which, contrary to what I had read, seems to me fluid and coherent with the rest of the film): it is a number of technical limitations, which harm its rhythm for today's audience. These were common in the beginning of sound film (Lubitsch somehow avoided most of them in The Love Parade, made one year before this and quite a miracle).
The shortcoming I found most annoying was the impossibility for the camera to show the characters in a more frontal angle than the profiles during dialogs, which gives some important scenes a very old fashioned stagy feel.
(It had to do with the sound equipment: for what I know, they couldn't edit the sound they recorded, so they had to film each scene with several cameras so that they could use full takes of sound. So there could only be one light setup, and therefore, the characters had to be filmed from the only side where the light was better).
However, compared with most movies of that period, Laughter is a clear winner, and it is no wonder that March considered it one of his best films. His performance is relaxed, joyful and attractive still today, and so is Nancy Carroll's.
It is a pity that D'Arrast is not better known today, nor this movie properly restored/distributed. It is a interesting work on many levels, by a highly original and innovative filmmaker.
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