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The Man Who Laughs
IMDB Rating: 7.8/10 from 3,360 votes
Release: 4 November 1928 (USA) /

The Man Who Laughs

Genre: Drama, Horror, Mystery
Director: Paul Leni,
Stars: , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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. Written by Helen Elsom <[email protected]>

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Critic Reviews


A young boy is terribly disfigured by roving gypsies by the order of King James II of England as a punishment to one of his disobeying nobles. The gypsies carve a permanent smile in the young boy's face and then leave him for dead as they leave for their homeland. The young boy wanders aimlessly for shelter amidst the cold coastline filled with snow, ruins, and swinging bodies from the hangman's noose in the background. Here he finds an infant..alive..clutched in the frozen hands of a woman whose husband was hanged. This was the beginning of The Man Who Laughs...and it was so powerfully filmed that a race of emotions filled me as I watched awe-struck, yet horrified. Paul Leni directed this great film based on the novel by Victor Hugo. Conrad Veidt plays the grown Gwynplaine who travels around the English countryside with his adopted parent Ursus the Philosopher and the young Dea, the girl whose life he saved as a baby. Dea has turned into a blooming young woman, yet blind from her birth. Dea is played very nicely by Mary Philbin, who played in The Phantom of the Opera(1925) in the female lead. The way Leni has the characters interact is very effective. We can feel the tension in Veidt's character as he submits to the growing pains of love. We feel his sorrow as he cries through smiles. The rest of the film involves a royal plot by the queen and her henchman/jester(by the way, Brandon Hurst does a phenomenal job as this cruel heartless jester) to reinstate some royal property to Gwynplaine so he can be married to a duchess that the queen does not like. The story is pretty good and one can see where it is going early on, but the way Leni creates suspense and pathos overpowers any negative defects. The acting all around is very strong. This is a powerful film on many levels. It is an emotional rollercoaster ride through love, hate, despair, joy, and much more. I laughed; I cried. The best part though was that the film has a marvelous message about perceptions. Here we have this character Gwynplaine that smiles outwardly and makes people laugh, but he is full of despair. He cries on the inside. People should not always be taken at face value. By the way, Bob Kane, the creator of Batman, credits this film and the character of Gywnplaine for his creation of the Joker. I can see how. Watch this and the silent version of The Bat in the same evening and you will see what stirred a young Bob Kane's imagination.

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