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The Man Who Laughs (1928)

Not Rated | | Drama, Horror, Mystery | 4 November 1928 (USA)
When a proud noble refuses to kiss the hand of the despotic King James in 1690, he is cruelly executed and his son surgically disfigured.

Director:

Paul Leni

Writers:

Victor Hugo (novel), J. Grubb Alexander (adaptation) | 2 more credits »
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Cast

Credited cast:
Mary Philbin ... Dea
Conrad Veidt ... Gwynplaine / Lord Clancharlie
Julius Molnar Julius Molnar ... Gwynplaine as a child (as Julius Molnar Jr.)
Olga Baclanova ... Duchess Josiana
Brandon Hurst ... Barkilphedro
Cesare Gravina Cesare Gravina ... Ursus
Stuart Holmes ... Lord Dirry-Moir
Sam De Grasse ... King James II (as Sam DeGrasse)
George Siegmann ... Dr. Hardquanonne
Josephine Crowell ... Queen Anne
Károly Huszár ... Innkeeper (as Charles Puffy)
Zimbo the Dog Zimbo the Dog ... Homo the Wolf (as Zimbo)
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Delmo Fritz Delmo Fritz ... Sword Swallower
Deno Fritz Deno Fritz ... Sword Swallower
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Storyline

Gwynplaine, son of Lord Clancharlie, has a permanent smile carved on his face by the King, in revenge for Gwynplaine's father's treachery. Gwynplaine is adopted by a travelling showman and becomes a popular idol. He falls in love with the blind Dea. The king dies, and his evil jester tries to destroy or corrupt Gwynplaine. Written by Helen Elsom <helenel@sco.com>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Certificate:

Not Rated

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

4 November 1928 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

A nevető ember See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Universal Pictures See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Mono (Western Electric Sound System) (musical score and sound effects)| Silent

Aspect Ratio:

1.20 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

The process of carving a victim's face to look like it is smiling broadly has come to be known as a Glasgow Smile or a Chelsea Smile after organized-crime rings in those two British cities used such mutilation as a terror tactic. See more »

Goofs

When Barkilphedro first reads the blackmail note from Doctor Hardquanonne, we are shown a shot of the full text of the note. Toward the bottom, it says, "You are rich...". Seconds later, we see close-ups of the note. Words have been rearranged on the page to make the close-ups more readable and the lower portion now says, "You will be penniless," - a phrase that didn't appear anywhere in the original text. See more »

Quotes

Clown: What a lucky clown you are! You don't have to wipe off your laugh.
See more »

Connections

Referenced in Tod Browning's 'Freaks': The Sideshow Cinema (2004) See more »

Soundtracks

When Love Comes Stealing
(uncredited)
Written by Walter Hirsch, Lew Pollack and Erno Rapee
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

 
The Sadness of Laughter
23 March 2015 | by CJBx7See all my reviews

THE MAN WHO LAUGHS (1928) is the tale of Gwynplaine (Conrad Veidt), who was disfigured as a boy as retaliation for his father's refusal to pay obeisance to King James II. With a blind foundling, Dea (Mary Philbin), he grows up to become a traveling performer. Gwynplaine is involved in court intrigue when an evil jester discovers his existence and plots an arranged marriage to control Gwynplaine's fortune as the heir to a lord. Directed by Paul Leni.

THE MAN WHO LAUGHS movingly portrays Gwynplaine's plight as a man who is marginalized by society. His disfigurement controls his life in many ways. Crowds laugh at Gwynplaine for his appearance, and he feels that no woman can love him because of his face (except for the blind Dea). The script touchingly conveys the love between Gwyplaine and Dea, who only sees the inner man. However, I felt that the exposition lacked clarity when the story dealt with Barkilphedro the jester's intrigue and the reasons for the arranged marriage. Was the jester planning to kill Gwynplaine and take the money as his own? His motivations are not fully clarified, except for the fact that he is evil. On the other hand, maybe it was a plan to rectify things for Gwynplaine. I wasn't sure. The narrative drags a bit in places but comes to a pretty epic and satisfying conclusion.

As far as the performances go, Conrad Veidt is compelling as Gwynplaine, haunting and expressive even though required to hold his face in the contorted laugh to which the title alludes. Veidt is compelling, emotive and unforgettable in his role. For much of her role Mary Philbin doesn't get to do much other than smile and look pretty, but she does realistically portray a blind woman, a definite acting challenge. She does best in her scenes with Veidt. Olga Baclanova is very charismatic as Duchess Josiana, alluring, flirtatious and imperious. Cesare Gravina, who plays Ursus, the philosopher who takes Gwynplaine in, overacts in the Grand Guignol style, something that would be practically obliterated from film about two years later when the switchover to talking film was finally complete.

The production is moody and evocative in the German Expressionist style, using light and shadow, as well as camera angles, to heighten the feeling of the film. I was able to watch the original version with a synchronized sound track. The music was appropriately vivid, and sound effects were added liberally to the score – especially crowd noise and clanging objects at the fair. This can be rather jarring at times, since these effects often play alongside the music, even during love scenes! However, it is an interesting artifact of the pre-talkie era, as Hollywood was learning how to incorporate recorded music into movies.

Overall, the story was moving when it came to Gwyplaine's plight, although somewhat muddy when dealing with the intrigue. Conrad Veidt and Olga Baclanova give compelling performances, with good support from Mary Philbin, and the style of the movie is quite intriguing. A fine movie from the late silent era. SCORE: 8/10


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