The Man Who Laughs


1h 50m 1928

Brief Synopsis

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. Unlike in the original story by Victor Hugo, the lovers escape to France.

Film Details

Release Date
Nov 4, 1928
Premiere Information
New York premiere: 27 Apr 1928
Production Company
Universal Pictures
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel L'Homme qui rit by Victor Hugo (Paris, 1869).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 50m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Sound System) (musical score and sound effects), Silent
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.20 : 1
Film Length
10,195ft (10 reels)

Synopsis

Gwynplaine, a small boy, his features distorted into a permanent wide grin by order of James II because his father is a political enemy, becomes a famous clown. He and Dea, a blind girl, travel with the van of Ursus, a mountebank. Romance develops until Gwynplaine discovers he is heir to a peerage. Barkilphedro, attached to Queen Anne's court, discovers Gwynplaine's claim to the title. The queen, seeing an opportunity to discipline her half sister, Duchess Josiana, has Gwynplaine restored to his wealth and decrees that he shall marry Josiana. Gwynplaine renounces his title, defies Josiana, and follows Dea and Ursus, who have been banished from England. In his flight Gwynplaine is pursued by soldiers of the queen and Barkilphedro. Escaping unharmed, he finds Dea just as the boat she and Ursus are taking is about to leave.

Film Details

Release Date
Nov 4, 1928
Premiere Information
New York premiere: 27 Apr 1928
Production Company
Universal Pictures
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel L'Homme qui rit by Victor Hugo (Paris, 1869).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 50m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Sound System) (musical score and sound effects), Silent
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.20 : 1
Film Length
10,195ft (10 reels)

Articles

The Man Who Laughs


Director Paul Leni was a German emigre to Hollywood whose career was tragically cut short when he died of blood poisoning brought on by an untreated ulcerated tooth. Shortly before he died, he would blend his talent for expressionism with a great cast to make The Man Who Laughs (1928), based on the book by Victor Hugo. Carl Laemmle, the father of Universal Pictures (and also a German emigre had found success adapting Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) and had already brought Leni into the Universal stable after being impressed with his film Waxworks (1923). The Man Who Laughs is now widely considered an overlooked gem that deserves praise as one of Universal's first classic horror films. It also represents an apotheosis of silent and soaring cinema before the visual world of film was dealt a crushing blow by the camera's sudden paralytic imprisonment as it accommodated the coming of sound.

The Man Who Laughs casts a veritable who's-who of classic horror film stars. Conrad Veidt (1893-1943) played Cesare in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) and here takes on the role of Gwynplaine, the son of a rebellious nobleman who is sentenced to both execution and the knowledge that his son will be surgically carved with a permanent skull-face grimace. The carving is carried out by gypsies on the behest of English monarch King James II, and it was among the first makeup assignments for Jack P. Pierce who, just a few years later, would find his career really taking off with his work on Frankenstein (1931), Dracula (1931), and The Mummy (1932). In 1925 Mary Philbin starred alongside another toothy horror film icon in The Phantom of the Opera, and here she is once again a love-interest - but this time she is a much more willing (albeit blind) participant. Olga Baclanova would end up with a pivotal role as Cleopatra, the trapeze artist in Freaks (1932), and makes waves in this film as the Duchess Josiana. This might also be a good time to mention how atop the freedom the camera has at the pinnacle of silent cinema, there was also another kind of freedom going on before Hollywood imposed the Production Code of 1934, and this allows for some rather saucy scenes (although some of the risque material was culled from European sources and not part of the print circulated in the U.S.).

The dvd release of The Man Who Laughs by Kino Video presents the film in its original 1.37:1 aspect ratio using archive film material that was restored by the Cineteca del Comue di Bologna at the laboratories of L'immagine Ritrovata. The original Movietone soundtrack is also restored and provided by Universal Studios. There is a wealth of bonus material, and this includes a 20-minute documentary on the making of the film, home movie footage showing Veidt at home with such guests as Greta Garbo and Emil Jannings, a gallery of rare photographs and art, an essay by the author of Conrad Veidt on Screen, excerpts of the Italian release version, and an excerpt from Victor Hugo's original novel. The film harkens to a different age that is full of menace and magic. It spins its audience from tragedy, and into carnivals, and then to a larger drama - and does so with ease and atmosphere to delight true cinephiles.

For more information about The Man Who Laughs, visit Image Entertainment. To order The Man Who Laughs, go to TCM Shopping.

by Pablo Kjolseth
The Man Who Laughs

The Man Who Laughs

Director Paul Leni was a German emigre to Hollywood whose career was tragically cut short when he died of blood poisoning brought on by an untreated ulcerated tooth. Shortly before he died, he would blend his talent for expressionism with a great cast to make The Man Who Laughs (1928), based on the book by Victor Hugo. Carl Laemmle, the father of Universal Pictures (and also a German emigre had found success adapting Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) and had already brought Leni into the Universal stable after being impressed with his film Waxworks (1923). The Man Who Laughs is now widely considered an overlooked gem that deserves praise as one of Universal's first classic horror films. It also represents an apotheosis of silent and soaring cinema before the visual world of film was dealt a crushing blow by the camera's sudden paralytic imprisonment as it accommodated the coming of sound. The Man Who Laughs casts a veritable who's-who of classic horror film stars. Conrad Veidt (1893-1943) played Cesare in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) and here takes on the role of Gwynplaine, the son of a rebellious nobleman who is sentenced to both execution and the knowledge that his son will be surgically carved with a permanent skull-face grimace. The carving is carried out by gypsies on the behest of English monarch King James II, and it was among the first makeup assignments for Jack P. Pierce who, just a few years later, would find his career really taking off with his work on Frankenstein (1931), Dracula (1931), and The Mummy (1932). In 1925 Mary Philbin starred alongside another toothy horror film icon in The Phantom of the Opera, and here she is once again a love-interest - but this time she is a much more willing (albeit blind) participant. Olga Baclanova would end up with a pivotal role as Cleopatra, the trapeze artist in Freaks (1932), and makes waves in this film as the Duchess Josiana. This might also be a good time to mention how atop the freedom the camera has at the pinnacle of silent cinema, there was also another kind of freedom going on before Hollywood imposed the Production Code of 1934, and this allows for some rather saucy scenes (although some of the risque material was culled from European sources and not part of the print circulated in the U.S.). The dvd release of The Man Who Laughs by Kino Video presents the film in its original 1.37:1 aspect ratio using archive film material that was restored by the Cineteca del Comue di Bologna at the laboratories of L'immagine Ritrovata. The original Movietone soundtrack is also restored and provided by Universal Studios. There is a wealth of bonus material, and this includes a 20-minute documentary on the making of the film, home movie footage showing Veidt at home with such guests as Greta Garbo and Emil Jannings, a gallery of rare photographs and art, an essay by the author of Conrad Veidt on Screen, excerpts of the Italian release version, and an excerpt from Victor Hugo's original novel. The film harkens to a different age that is full of menace and magic. It spins its audience from tragedy, and into carnivals, and then to a larger drama - and does so with ease and atmosphere to delight true cinephiles. For more information about The Man Who Laughs, visit Image Entertainment. To order The Man Who Laughs, go to TCM Shopping. by Pablo Kjolseth

Quotes

Trivia

The central character, Gwynplaine's fixed grin and distrubing clown like appearance was a key inspiration for comic book talents, Bob Kane and Jerry Robinson, for creating Batman's greatest enemy, The Joker.

Lon Chaney was originally cast as Gwynplaine, but at the last minute, he withdrew.

Notes

Company records indicate that, although uncredited, Charles Whittaker, Marion Ward, and May McLean worked on the adaptation.