A producer decides to reopen a theater, that had been closed five years previously when one of the actors was murdered during a performance, by staging a production of the same play with ... See full summary »
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 <email@example.com>
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
3 of 3 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?
| Report this