The Man Who Laughs (1928, Leni)

This silent film, produced by Hollywood and made by German expressionists including director Paul Leni, is not really a horror film. It falls more under the melodrama genre and is based on a novel by Victor Hugo. Conrad Veidt’s performance, the makeup, art direction and Paul Leni’s expressionist point of view make for a melodrama presented as a horror film. Conrad Veidt’s as Gwynplaine is filled with expression and sadness (using only his eyes) that cannot be forgotten. Olga Baclanova nearly steals the film away from Veidt as Duchess Josiana who loves to do what she wants and has an inexplicable facination with Gwynplaine. Baclanova is captivating with sizzling sexuality dealing with an ambiguous and complex character. Her subplot is even more interesting than the main story. Leni makes very early use of sound by creating certain sound effects and lending a lot of atmosphere with audio during the crowd scenes. The love story is moving, a bit repetitive at times, but still effective. The grimace on Veidt’s face is one of the more unforgettable images film has to offer. Leni’s directorial voice stands out with many techniques that enhance emotion and atmosphere. One of the best silent films ever made, this is a must-see.


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