MADE in 1928, The Man Who Laughs is a film directed by the famous German Expressionist Paul Leni and his cinematographer, Gilbert Warrenton who had worked on The Cat and the Canary the year previously.
This film is considered an early entry into Universal Studios’ now-famous purple patch of horror movie classics under the stewardship of producer Carl Laemmle. From the studio head down, with art director Charles Hall and make-up guru Jack Pierce collaborating, this film was marked by a defining performance at its centre from Conrad Veidt.
Veidt plays Gwynplaine, a carnival performer whose face is mutilated into a permanent ghoulish grin by his executed father’s royal court enemies. Gwynplaine struggles through life with blind Dea (Mary Philbin) as his companion, and despite his disfigurement Gwynplaine still considers himself unworthy of Dea’s affection.
Veidt’s make-up has been acknowledged as direct inspiration for the first portrayal of The Joker in DC Comics’ Batman in 1940 and has become commonplace in screen portrayals down through the years, culminating in Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning turn in The Dark Knight in 2008).
Featuring moments of humour, tragedy, doomed romance and swashbuckling fight scenes, The Man Who Laughs remains one of the most stylish efforts of the American silent cinema era.
With the era of sound on the horizon and the monsters of Universal Pictures being able to talk come 1930-31 with Bela Lugosi as Dracula and Boris Karloff as Frankenstein’s monster, it’s wonderful to see the richness and detail in the film’s production, from costume to sets to narrative construction.
The film has been restored from Universal’s 4K transfer to Blu-ray and features a score by the Berklee School of Music along with featurettes by horror expert Kim Newman and a booklet authored by Travis Crawford and Richard Combs.
The Man Who Laughs is available now on Blu-Ray from Eureka Entertainment.