The Man Who Laughs ★★★★

“I wrote this play myself, after the manner of a certain Shakespeare -- only much better!”

Lavish, elegant American production values plastered loosely over a wicked heart of gothic German expressionism. Paul Leni’s hidden gem Waxworks is one of my absolute favorites from the era, and his most famous film, The Man Who Laughs, does not disappoint.

This might be my favorite Conrad Veidt role yet (although I sorely need to rewatch Caligari). With just his eyes and forehead, he gives “The Laughing Man” so much fear and pain that his constant, humongous smile becomes something truly grotesque. The silent medium adds its own mysterious, haunting quality, adding so much more significance to every nuance of Veidt’s tortured performance that would be absolutely lost if we heard him speak. The power of his face alone creates one of the greatest horrors in all of cinema. Of all the tremendous actors who would come to play the Joker, none have ever given a performance quite like this.

The editing, framing, and direction is wonderful and clever. I love how well Leni intertwines so many storylines and gives depth and purpose to each of characters in the large ensemble. His storytelling gives a rich complexity and perverse sensuality to the the drama, which is inherently already incredibly tragic and poignant. However, like 1925's Phantom of the Opera, it unfortuntely ends up feeling a bit overlong. The film is grand and big, dramatic and operatic, richly abundant with substance - but maybe too much substance, particularly in the last act. Nonetheless, a wonderfully melodramatic horror-romance, with one of the greatest and most iconic performances of all time.

“A Queen made me a lord -- but first, God made me a man!

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