The Man Who Laughs


The Man Who Laughs

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Total Count: 16


Audience Score

User Ratings: 2,279
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Movie Info

The second of German director Paul Leni's American films (Cat and the Canary was the first), The Man Who Laughs is a lavish adaptation of the novel by Victor Hugo. The story concerns Gwynplaine, the son of an enemy of the evil King (Sam DeGrasse). Putting Gwynplaine's father to death in his torture chamber, the King exacts a further revenge by ordering that the boy's face be carved into a permanent, hideous smile. Abandoned in the snowy hills, Gwynplaine rescues another outcast, a blind girl named Dea. The two join a circus troupe and grow up together. The adult Gwynplaine (played by Conrad Veidt) falls in love with the sightless Dea (Mary Philbin), who "sees" only his kindnesses and not his grotesquely smiling face. When his noble heritage is revealed, Gwynplaine is presented in court before the Queen, who considers his permanent grin an insult. Once more an outcast, Gwynplaine sails to the New World, with the loving Dea at his side. While many existing prints of the silent Man Who Laughs are in washed-out black and white, it should be noted that the film was originally (and exquisitely) tinted and toned, and was also accompanied by a Fox Movietone musical track. Though the property was later optioned by Kirk Douglas, The Man Who Laughs was never remade.


Nick De Ruiz
as Wapentake
Olga Baclanova
as Duchess Josiana
Conrad Veidt
as Gwynplaine
Brandon Hurst
as Barkilphedro, the Jester
Carmen Costello
as Dea's "Mother"
Charles Puffy
as Innkeeper
Sam De Grasse
as James II
Stuart Holmes
as Lord Dirry-Noir
Torben Meyer
as The Spy
Julius Molnar Jr.
as Gwynplaine as a Child
Edgar Norton
as Lord High Chancellor
George Siegmann
as Dr. Hardqucinnone
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Critic Reviews for The Man Who Laughs

All Critics (16) | Top Critics (5)

Audience Reviews for The Man Who Laughs

  • Oct 28, 2013
    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.
    Chris W Super Reviewer
  • Jan 06, 2011
    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.
    Aj V Super Reviewer
  • Nov 22, 2010
    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!!
    Morgan S Super Reviewer
  • Mar 01, 2010
    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.
    Cassandra M Super Reviewer

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