Starring the great Conrad Veidt (Cabinet of Dr Caligari, Casablanca) and directed by the masterful Paul Leni, The Man Who Laughs (1928) is classed as one of the most important and most influential films to come out of Hollywood during the latter part of the silent era. A masterpiece on every front.
Based on the classic novel by Victor Hugo, the film centres on the extraordinary adventures of Gwynplaine (Veidt), whose wide and mirthless grin inspired DC Comics’ legendary Batman villain, the Joker. Veidt's character has become well known to most cinephiles. Orphaned as a child, Gwynplaine is punished by the king for his father’s transgressions by having his face carved into a hideous grin. Disfigured and alone, Gwynplaine rescues a blind girl named Dea (Mary Philbin), and both end up starring in a sideshow where they fall in love. Because she cannot see, Dea does not know about her lover’s tormented grin.
The Man Who Laughs marks Leni’s penultimate directorial work. Having grown up in Germany during the era of Expressionism, Leni embraces haunting characters, twisted sets, harsh angles, and deep shadows. Heralded as one of the best American silents emulating German Expressionism, The Man Who Laughs presents Leni at his creative directorial peak.
Live piano musical accompaniment by Meg Morley.
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