(director: Paul Leni; screenwriters: Mary McLean/Charles E. Whittaker/Walter Anthony/J. Grubb Alexander /based on Victor Hugo’s novel “L’Homme Qui Rit”; cinematographer: Gilbert Warrenton; editor: Edward Cahn; music: Erno Rapee/William Axt/Sam Perry; cast: Conrad Veidt (Gwynplaine), Mary Philbin (Dea), Olga Baclanova (Duchess Josiana), Allan Cavan ( Lord Clancharlie), Stuart Holmes (Lord Dirry-Moir), George Siegmann (Dr. Hardquanonne), Cesare Gravina (Ursus), Josephine Crowell (Queen Anne), Sam de Grasse (King James II), Brandon Hurst (Barkilphedro), Charles Puffy (Innkeeper), Edgar Norton (Lord High Chancellor), Julius Molnar Jr. (Gwynplaine as a child); Runtime: 110; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Carl Laemmle; Kino (Universal Pictures); 1928-silent)
Veidt gives one of cinema’s most sensitive and moving performances.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A Hollywood film directed by the avant-garde German-born filmmaker Paul Leni.(“Waxworks”/”The Cat and the Canary”/”The Last Warning”), a Jewish German refugee who came to America in 1927 and died here from blood poisoning in 1929. The romantic melodrama, a tremendous visual treat, was released a year after completed as a silent in order to add-on sound effects and a music score. Universal attempted to repeat a similar themed film to its successful The Phantom of the Opera (1925). Unfortunately it was a box office failure. Today it has received justified recognition as a great example of German Expressionism. It’s based on the French author Victor Hugo’s 1869 fairy tale novel “L’Homme Qui Rit.” The team of writers include Mary McLean, Charles E. Whittaker, Walter Anthonyand J. Grubb Alexander.

It’s set in 17th century England.

Lord Clancharlie (Allan Cavan) is the rival of King James II (Sam de Grasse), who in 1690 is captured and informed by the king that his child Gwynplaine (Julius Molnar Jr. ), a heir to the British throne, has been sold to the Comprachico Gypsies. The gypsy Dr. Hardquanonne (George Siegmann) performs surgery to have the child’s face reshaped with a permanent hideous grin. The gypsies are eventually driven out of England and abandon the child in Cornwall. There he finds a mother frozen to death and takes with him her blind surviving child, Dea. They are given shelter by the touring carnival showman Ursus (Cesare Gravina). As an adult Gwynplaine (Conrad Veidt) becomes famous as a traveling carnival clown and becomes known as “The Laughing Man”. The evil gypsy, who performed the surgery, recognizes him at one of the shows and blackmails the decadent Duchess Josiana (Olga Baclanova), the king’s sister, who took over Gwynplaine’s father’s estate when he was executed, to inform her that the rightful owner of the estate lives. The Duchess toys with the freak when meeting him after watching him perform. Through the meddling of royal court insider Barkilphedro (Brandon Hurst), Queen Anne (Josephine Crowell) restores Gwynplaine’s title and orders him to marry the Duchess. But Ursus and Dea (Mary Philbin), who Gwynplaine secretly loves, are deported from England by the monarchy. Still pining for Dea, Gwynplaine refuses the marriage offer.

Veidt gives one of cinema’s most sensitive and moving performances.