The Man Who Laughs

The Man Who Laughs  1928 – Gwynplaine and Blind Dea

The Man Who Laughs  Gwynplaine and Blind Dea named article is about Levi’s best American film. This is a superb piece of UFA ­influenced gothic. Like The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923), also adapted from a Victor Hugo novel, it is a historical romance. It shots through with an eloquently macabre chill. In the superb prologue, Veidt is the Scottish nobleman sentenced to death by King James II for political defection, who as an added refinement of cruelty while he is executed in the barbarous iron maiden of Nuremberg, is subjected to the torture of having his young son Gwynplaine’s face carved into a hideous fixed grin.

Escaping from the palace into the snowy night (A marvellous nightmare of pursuit in which his path is strewn with dark shadows, demonic stone faces and corpses dangling from gib­bets.), the boy befriends a blind girl. Together they find shelter with a mountebank (Gravina). Reaching manhood, Gwynplaine (Veidt again) is loved by the blind girl (Philbin). She cannot see his hideous face which he hides from the audience too under the painted grin of a clown at Southwark fair. His happiness is shortlived, however, and he’s recognized by the late King’s monstrous jester (Hurst). He whisked back to court, and restored to his rightful title and estates by the vicious Queen Anne merely. So that he can serve in a cruel plot designed to humble her lascivious sister (Baclanova).

The Man Who Laughs  True Story -Gwynplaine and Blind Dea
The Man Who Laughs  True Story -Gwynplaine and Blind Dea

The Man Who Laughs – Is It A True Story

The second half of the film is heavy-handed, especially in its pursuit of a happy ending for Veidt and Philbin. But with its resplendent sets, expressive camera angles and exquisite low-key lighting, The Man Who Laughs is invariably a pleasure on the eye. At its best, Leni’s direction is reminiscent of Stroheim and the film’s highlights include the long, low-angled tracking shot. This turns King James and his jester into demoniacally prancing grotesques as they hurry to witness the torture and punishment they have conceived; the Hogarthian images that introduce the scenes at Southwark fair; and the perverse eroticism of the scene in which the Queen’s sister (a fine performance by Baclanova, the treacherous Cleopatra of Freaks, 1932), sardonically characterized by the black monkey which accompanies her everywhere, lures Veidt to her bedroom purely to torment him.

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