Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Man who Laughs (1928)

Today's film is The Man who Laughs. There is so much going on, with so many long names of characters, that I feel like I should read the book before I watch this.  But I'm not.  It's not a horror film, but instead is an underrated example of German Expressionism.  Its moodiness and balance of shadows, along with its hideous star, can easily make someone think it's horror.  It's more of romance than anything.

Gwynplaine was the son of a nobleman who insulted King James II.  His father was killed, while he was permanently disfigured by comprachicos so that his mouth would have a permanent grin - so he could "forever laugh at his fool of a father".  According to Victor Hugo, the author, comprachicos were like surgeons that would mutilate children early in life so they would grow up to be freaks.  Gwynplaine is said to be the inspiration for the Joker.

Gwynplaine, alone, and having no memory of his father, wanders around and finds a baby.  He brings it to a house and begs to come inside.  The man who takes them in is Ursus, a mountebank (later a playwright).  The baby, who is blind, is named Dea, and together they grow up.  Dea grows up to be very beautiful, and she is fond of Gwynplaine.  However, he doesn't feel that he deserves anyone's love or to marry anyone because of his disfigured face.

Someone recognizes the adult Gwynplaine and tells the royal court that he should be a member because of his father.  Lots of royal court drama happens, and Josiana, the duchess who currently holds Gwynplaine's position in court, goes down to see him at work.  Right now Gwynplaine and Dea are putting on a show that Ursus has written.  Everyone laughs at his face, even though he looks terrifying instead of funny, but Josiana likes him.  Still, in the end she is put off by his face.

More royal court drama happens, and Queen Anne (who succeeded King James II's place) orders Josiana to marry Gwynplaine so he could have his spot back.  But, Gwynplaine, realizing that he and Dea belong together, refuses and runs away back to Dea.  However, Ursus and Dea have been banished from the country.  Gwynplaine finds them at their ship in the harbor and sails away with them.  He would rather be poor and be with his true love then live life as a nobleman without her.

Even though a lot of stuff happens, it feels that even more stuff was left out.  Also, some scenes take a while to get to their points.  Still, for a silent film it isn't too over-acted.  I will give this film a 7/10.

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