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Paul Leni's The Man Who Laughs
Paul Leni's The Man Who Laughs
Actors: Mary Philbin, Conrad Veidt, Julius Molnar Jr., Olga Baclanova, Brandon Hurst
Genres: Classics, Drama, Horror
NR     2003     1hr 50min

Studio: Kino International Release Date: 09/30/2003 Run time: 110 minutes


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Movie Details

Actors: Mary Philbin, Conrad Veidt, Julius Molnar Jr., Olga Baclanova, Brandon Hurst
Genres: Classics, Drama, Horror
Sub-Genres: Silent Films, Love & Romance, Horror
Studio: Kino Video
Format: DVD - Black and White
DVD Release Date: 09/30/2003
Original Release Date: 11/04/1928
Theatrical Release Date: 11/04/1928
Release Year: 2003
Run Time: 1hr 50min
Screens: Black and White
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 10
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: Japanese

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Movie Reviews

Fine example of Hollywood Grotesque
Gwen Kramer | Sunny and not-so-sunny California | 08/11/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)

"A popular genre in the teens and twenties can only be described as Hollywood Grotesque. It's half horror, half freakshow, and inheritance from the Victorian melodrama that many early hollywood films took their inspiration from.The Man Who Laughs, based on the novel by Victor Hugo who also wrote The Hunchback of Notre Dame, is a good example of this genre that essentially died with silent pictures.The plot involves the child of an English nobleman. When his father rebels against King James, the king has the child's face carved into a permanent grin. The child, named Gwynplaine, joins a carnival. He grows up alongside Dea, a blind girl who loves him. Both Conrad Veidt and Mary Philbin were experienced with this sort of film. He had roles in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Waxworks, she was the leading lady of the Phantom of the Opera. Philbin's Phantom co-star, Lon Chaney, was originally slated to play the lead in this film but studio battles prevented it and Veidt, who came over from Germany to act in Barrymore's The Beloved Rogue, stepped in. Both Veidt and Philbin give rather good performances, particularly Veidt who, due to makeup, could only use the upper half of his face to express emotion.Veidt is reunited with the director of Waxworks, Paul Leni. Leni also directed the classic haunted house film, The Cat and the Canary. Sadly, he died of blood poisoning a year after The Man Who Laughs was released.The supporting cast is also good. Silent villain Sam de Grasse (a fixture of Douglas Fairbanks swashbucklers) does good work in his small role of King James. Olga Baclanova (who looks startlingly like Madonna) vamps with the best of them as the warped noblewoman Josiana.The movie is silent with a synchronized period score featuring music and sound effects. I personally found the effects to be distracting and annoying especially when I was used to the silence of the beginning of the film. The music is good although some people disliked the fact that vocal music was used.While this is an old movie, it is pre-code and therefore has some fairly hot scenes for the time although they are rather tame by modern standards. Parents should be cautious about showing this movie to younger children.My only other complaint about the film is the ending. While I will not give it away, I felt that it was rushed and jarringly different in tone from the rest of the movie.What makes this movie really interesting is the trivia. According to IMDB, the creators of Batman based The Joker on Veidt's face in this movie. There IS a resemblance!In conclusion, this is an interesting movie that shows a now dead genre at its height. The DVD is packed with extras as had been restored. Wonderful news since I have only seen a fizzy VHS edition of this movie.You will probably like this movie if: You enjoy early German cinema, you are a fan of any of the leads, you like early horror, you would like to see Veidt play a good guy for once.You will probably not like this movie if: You are put off by the grotesque, you don't care for silent film, you prefer lighter movies."
Nothing Quite Like It.
Chip Kaufmann | Asheville, N.C. United States | 09/23/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)

"I read Victor Hugo's THE MAN WHO LAUGHS in 9th grade. First the Classics Illustrated version and then the book itself. I had already read HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME and TOILERS OF THE SEA and loved them both. Caught in that awkward transitional age between junior high and high school during the turbulent 1960's, I could identify with Hugo's doomed romantic heroes and heroines.

It was only years later that I found out about a silent film version of the book and it was many years after that before I obtained a poor VHS copy of it. Now at last there is an excellent DVD home edition thanks to Kino International which presents the film in as good a condition as we are ever likely to see. It consists of a combination of two prints one from England and the other from Italy which accounts for an Italian intertitle showing up in the middle of the disc (oops!).

As mentioned in another review the film is a gallery of the grotesque with emphasis being placed not surprisingly on faces. Just note Sam De Grasse as King James and venerable silent villian Brandon Hurst's first appearances in the prologue and you'll see what I mean. Check out Cesare Gravina as Ursus whose facial expressions are a show unto themselves. There are several well known silent film veterans in this film including George Siegmann and Josephine Crowell from BIRTH OF A NATION. Special mention must be made of Olga Baclanova (FREAKS) as the jaded duchess Josiana. This is her finest hour on film. The art direction and the cinematography are stunning and if you look up during the concert scene you'll notice a ceiling (13 years before CITIZEN KANE).

The first two-thirds of the film are riveting but it runs out of steam when it turns too conventional at the end. Some of the camera speed seems a little fast at times and the original Movietone score, although beautifully restored (the best of that vintage I've ever heard), is occasionally annoying especially the sound effects and specifically the song WHEN LOVE COMES STEALING which was thrown in to help sell sheet music and promote the film. Too bad Kino couldn't have offered us a modern score as well to choose from.

Despite these flaws I still give the film 5 stars for the performance of Conrad Veidt, the incredible lighting and photography, and the fact that as a silent film there is nothing quite like it. The DVD has a number of interesting extras as well. Finally as you can tell from the cover, it was this film that gave Batman creator Bob Kane the idea for the look of the Joker. It also plays an important part in the resolution of Brian De Palma's THE BLACK DAHLIA."
MAN WHO LAUGHS is moving, masterful.
Hazen B Markoe | St. Paul, MN United States | 10/13/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Long thought to be a "lost" film of the silent film era, THE MAN WHO LAUGHS gets a wonderful restoration in this Kino Video DVD. Based on a minor Victor Hugo novel, the film tells the story of Gwynplaine, a nobleman who, as a child, has a horrible grin carved on to his face and is forced to work as a strolling player. Only the beautiful Dea, the blind girl he rescued when both were children, sees him as the kind soul he really is. Both stylistic and fast paced, THE MAN WHO LAUGHS grabs your attention with it's stunning visuals and moving performances. As the tragic Gwynplaine, Conrad Veidt turns in a heart rending performance. This is all the more remarkable when you consider the fact that Veidt could only act with his eyes due to the dental appliances that forced his face into a ghastly grin. Veidt's make-up made such a strong impression that his Gwynplaine would eventually become immortalized in popular culture as the villainous Joker in the Batman comics. Mary Philbin is touching the blind Dea. As a spoiled Duchess who is both drawn and repulsed by Gwynplaine, Olga Baclanova (who looks amazingly like Madonna in this flick) brings a strong sexual tension to her role. As the evil jester-adviser who is responsible for our hero's plight, Brandon Hurst successfully embodies a perverse mix of humor and evil. This film moves at good clip, while telling its masterful story. Folks who have read the book, may not take kindly to the "happy" ending of the film. Nevertheless, this is a wonderful adaptation of Hugo's work and is definitely worth recommending."
Visual Eloquence
Brad Baker | Atherton, Ca United States | 04/02/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Baes on Victor Hugo's 1869 novel, "The Man Who Laughs" is the morbid tale of Gwynplaine, an English clown doomed to a life adorned with a perpetual grin. His surgical smile was implanted on him by devilish gypsies. Gwynplaine is raised beside lovely Dea, whom we rescued as a baby. Dea is blind and can see only the beauty of his soul. As a complication, the sexy Duchess Josiana is attracted to, and repelled by Gwynplaine, all at the same time. A sensual, robust epic, "The Man Who Laughs" involves court intrigue, secret scandals, and a simple boy's enduring true love. Conrad Veidt played the lead in 1919's "Cabinet of Dr. Caligari". Lured to America in 1926 by actor John Barrymore, Veidt co-starred with him in the classic "Beloved Rogue". Then Universal's Carl Laemmle tapped him for the lead in "The Man Who Laughs". Years later, in 1941, Veidt played Major Strasser in "Casablanca". Just 6 months after it's release, Conrad Veidt died of a heart attack playing golf(8th hole) in Los Angeles, Calif.. The director of "The Man Who Laughs" was also a German import. Paul Leni's production of "Cat and the Canary" installed him as Universal's reigning terror-director. In Leni's "The Man Who Laughs", light is not so important as shadow. Backgrounds unveil misty fog and swirling smoke. Paul Leni finished one more film before an infected, ulcerated tooth caused his early death from blood poisoning. Kino's exceptional DVD of "The Man Who Laughs" represents the successful American-Italian joint restoration of the 75-year-old movie. Slowed by a creaky second-half, "The Man Who Laughs" bogs down in a final melodramatic chase. But don't misunderstand. Silent horror-film fans will relish Leni's macabre art design and relentless animal passion. Just 3 years later, Universal once again photographed a tall, mysterious black-caped stranger; strolling European streets through a dark, swirling fog. This time they called it "Dracula"."