The Man Who Laughs (1928)
Movie InfoReleased with sound effects and a music score that included the song "When Love Comes Smiling" by Walter Hirsch, Lew Pollack and Erno Rapee, Paul Leni's near masterpiece remains one of the silent era's last great romantic melodramas. Based on Victor Hugo's 1869 novel L'Homme qui Rit, The Man Who Laughs starred German import Conrad Veidt as Gwynplaine, a carnival freak doomed to live life wearing a perpetual grin carved on his face by Dr Hardquannone (George Siegman because his father, Lord Clancharlie (Allan Cavan), had offended England's King James II (Sam De Grasse). Taken in as a child by Ursus, a mountebank (Cesare Gravina), Gwynplaine grows up alongside the beautiful but blind Dea (Mary Philbin). They fall in love but Gwynplaine refuses to marry her because his hideous face makes him feel unworthy. Queen Anne (Josephine Crowell), meanwhile, has ascended the throne and when she learns from her predecessor's evil jester Barkilphedro (Brandon Hurst) that the recalcitrant Duchess Josiana (Olga Baclanova) is in possession of Lord Clancharlie's estates, she decrees that the royal femme fatale must marry Gwynplaine, the rightful heir. Josiana, who has caught Gwynplaine's act incognito and arranged a rendezvous, is at the same time sexually attracted to and repelled by the "Laughing Man," but Gwynplaine, who realizes that the duchess' attraction has legitimized his right to love Dea, renounces his title and follows his heart to the new World. Although Kirk Douglas was long interested in producing a remake, The Man Who Laughs was instead filmed again as L'Uomo che Ride by Italian director Sergio Corbucci in 1966. Corbucci, however, changed the setting from Queen Anne to the infamous sixteenth century Italian court of the Borgias. … More
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Critic Reviews for The Man Who Laughs
The Man Who Laughs is a truly great, a devastatingly beautiful film.
As usual in Hugo, love is measured in sacrifice, yielding a sincere and extravagant sense of romance.
Baclanova is amusing as a decadent duchess, but it's Leni's pictorial genius -- aided here by what must have been an enormous budget -- that marks the film as one of the most exhilarating of late silent cinema.
This production has been fashioned with considerable skill. It is, of course, a gruesome tale in which the horror is possibly moderated but none the less disturbing.
Poised between the great German horror that preceded it and the great Universal horror that followed, it is, for genre fans, an inviting and necessary stop.
The Man Who Laughs demonstrates that, however much we gained with sound, we lost opportunities that arise when storytelling prioritizes vision.
While this is a flawed film, it boasts some of the most impressive acting of the silent era. It certainly has sharpened my interest in Veidt.
An expressionistic masterpiece of spooky, fairy tale Poe-meets-Perrault imagery...
Audience Reviews for The Man Who Laughs
Based on a novel by Victor Hugo, this is the story of Gwynplaine- a nobleman's son who, when he was a child, was kidnapped by a political rival, and disfigured by a gypsy "surgeon" who carves a perpetual smile onto the young boy's face. Finding shelter with a traveling freakshow, Gwynplaine matures into adulthood and falls in love with the beautiful, but blind Dea, who is the only person able to get past his appearance. Eventually Gwynplaine gets drawn back into the world of political intrigue where he finds himself forced to make some really crucial decisions.
Because of Gwynplaine's facial deformity (which also served as the inspiration for Batman's arch nemesis The Joker), and the garish freakshow elements, this film is often thrown in with the horror genre. In reality, it's really just a sweeping melodramatic romance, and a decent one at that.
This was made for Universal, but fits right in with the German Expressionist era that many of the cast and crew got famous in. It features wonderful shadowy cinematography, moody set designs, and some good makeup effects from renowned artist Jack Pierce. It's a silent affair, but has some great music and sound effects to carry it along.
I did enjoy the story, but feel that, at 110 minutes, this is too long. Maybe if this were a talkie this wouldn't be an issue. Since it's silent though, a lot of it feels really drawn out and overblown. I really dug the performances though. Conrad Veidt is terrific as Gwynplaine, and Pierce's makeup effects are pretty snazzy, especially considering when this was made. Mary Philbin is captivating as Dea, and she and Veidt make for a wonderful screen couple. The performances by Olga Baclanova, George Siegmann, and Cesare Gravina are pretty swell as well.
All in all, this is a really good film, but somewhat flawed. Maybe if it were a little tighter my grade would be a bit higher. That said though, I still really enjoyed this, and definitely think you should give it a try.
A great classic movie, I really liked it, it's beautiful. I can tell that many films have been inspired by this story, and it's great to finally see the inspiration. I highly recommend seeing this movie.More
spectacular movie!! Its not so much a horror movie as it is a romance. I ador Conrad Veidt and Mary Philbin. They are both great!!More
In 1690, in England, the nobleman Lord Clancharlie returns from his exile to see his young son. The peer is captured by the cruel King James II and before being killed, he is informed that his beloved son had been sold to the gypsies Comanchicos that carved a permanent grin on his face. The Cormanchicos abandon the boy in the cold snowing winter, and while looking for shelter, he finds a baby hold in the arms of her dead mother. He brings the baby with him and they are welcomed by the philosopher Ursus (Cesare Gravina), who finds that the baby is blind and raises them. Years later, Gwynplaine (Conrad Veidt) becomes a successful clown, and together with the blind Dea (Mary Philbin), they present plays for common people. Gwynplaine and Dea are in love for each other, but he refuses to marry her because of his ridiculous appearance. When the evil jester Barkilphedro (Brandon Hurst) discloses the origin of Gwynplaine, he plots a means to be rewarded by the Queen, jeopardizing the love of Gwynplaine and Dea.
The Man Who Laughs" is a magnificent classic based on the famous Victor Hugo's novel. The performances of Conrad Veidt and Brandon Hurst are amazing and there are many touching and heartbreaking scenes. My eyes became wet when the artists act like the audience cheering for Gwynplaine to spare Dea from the truth. The appearance of the character Gwynplaine inspired Bob Kane in the creation of "The Joker", one of Batman's greatest enemies. Another point that I would like to highlight is the resemblance of Madonna, in the beginning of her career, with the Russian actress Olga Baclanova, who performs daring scenes including of nude with her amoral character of Duchess Josiana. I have never read Victor Hugo's novel, but it seems that the conclusion in the original story is less optimistic than in this movie, but anyway I loved this film. My vote is ten.
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