Friday, June 18, 2010

Film #29: The Man Who Laughs (1928)

There are some things that just go perfectly together:
-Cheesecake Factory and diarrhea
-Cedar Point and mullet-hunting
-Jack and Coke
-Edward and Bella
(F*$k Team Jacob, we all know Bella’s (and our) heart belongs to the vamp!)

And such is the case with this week’s film’s lead characters – Gwynplaine and Dea.
Gwynplaine is a hideous 17th century freak whose face is snarled in a permanent jokers grin. Dea is a blind, but extraordinarily beautiful woman who loves Gwynplaine for his kindness. Match made in heaven right!
He doesn’t care that she’s blind because she can’t see his freak-face, and she doesn’t care that he has a freak-face because she can’t see it anyway. What are you waiting for? Hook up and live happily ever after, right?
Oh, but only if things were that simple.

But, before we get to all that drama, let us start from the start. Years earlier a long hair rebel royal is banished to the Iron Maiden by the evil King of England. Before sending him to the spiky cage, the King informs the man that his son (Gwynplaine) was handed over to gypsies who sliced and diced his boy’s face into a horrifying snicker “so he can forever laugh at his fool of a father.”

Later, the King gets sick of the dirty gypsies, and banishes them from the land. But when they leave, they abandon goofy-grin little Gwynplaine all by his woe-some. Wandering the snowy England countryside, the boy stumbles upon a frozen beggar woman holding a tiny baby.
Lil’ smiley-face likes the tike, and snatches her (Dea) up. The pair keep on truckin’, but soon come under the care of traveling showman and playwright Ursus, who decides to take in the kid-couple out of pity.

Flash-forward 18 years and our little orphans are all grows up. Gwynplaine is a popular clown in one of Ursus’s shows, but not for his pratfalls and ability to make small children shit themselves. People line the block to see Gwynplaine just so they can mock his monstrous mug. If that wasn’t bad enough, old Gwynplaine is being a real pussy when it comes to Dea, who grew up a lovely, but blind, lady.

She obviously loves the guy, but Gwynplaine has his butt all hurt over the fact that Dea only loves him because she can’t see his ugly yapper. Dea can’t truly love him, Gwynplaine believes, because she doesn’t know how ugly his face is. If she did, there is no way she would love him… at least that is his logic.
Yeah, the guy is a dumbass.

Ursus and his clown-packed show hit it big when they arrive at a London fair, even drawing the slutty royal Duchess Josiana into the balcony. This chick loves anything with a point, and as soon as she lays her eyes on Gwynplaine she has to know what it feels like to have that sickening smile grope her.
Her advances only intensify when she learns Gwynplaine is the real royal in the house, and in order to keep her Duchess title she has to dump her current idiot husband and marry Gwynplaine.

The freak has a choice to make – become a royal Lord, marry Josiana and get herpes/crabs/AIDS/crotch-rot, OR, insult the Queen and face her death-wrath, finally pull the trigger on that blind babe Dea, and continue his true calling of being the center of people’s ridicule. What’s a facially-challenged fella to do in the 1928 epic “The Man Who Laughs?”

RDHP Ratings and Reviews

C-Rating: 3.8
Chris Dimick smiles:
“Who would have thunk there would be an EXCITING silent movie out there! Sure, there were some slow parts, which is expected since this flick comes in at just under two hours.
But I was pleasantly surprised when The Man Who Laughs started off with a blazing pace and quick, almost MTV-style edits, then kept the action and emotion going till the fin.

Definitely the most elaborate of the silent’s we have seen in the RDHP, the huge talented cast, decorative sets, and outside-studio filming really made this movie worth watching. This one is emotional, and even tugged on my cold man-heart.
It even got a good junior high laugh out of me, as the dog’s name in the movie is, I shit you not, “Homo.” Yep, which led to lines like “Where are you taking me, Homo,” and “Quit licking me homo.”

Another notable note, give a hand to the 1920s for not shying away from the human body! This film era was pre-conservative film board Nazism, and there is a scene where the slutty Duchess is shown nude! Gasp!
I didn’t care so much about the nudity (there is more skin shown in a 5 p.m. Victoria’s Secret TV ad) but the fact that it was tastefully left in for the mere sake of realism.
People need to get over this modern day, contradictory embrace of violence yet fear of nudity! My soapbox is so high I can see China!

Calling this a horror movie is a bit of a stretch. The premise of being surgically altered to have a permanent grin is where this film’s horror lies, not so much in the main plot which revolves around royal positioning and the love story between Gwynplaine and Dea.
Although the horror wasn’t outright, it was definitely still present. The thought of having your face permanently frozen in a sickening grin is pretty distributing. As is the thought of making your deformity your livelihood as a circus freak.

I once read in a book about turn-of-the-century sideshow freaks that although one would think being a freak would be horribly depressing and hard on one’s self-esteem, the freaks themselves didn’t think they had it so bad. How else were they going to make a living?
No one would hire them due to their appearance, and even if they did come across a kind soul, usually their deformity prevented them from the manual labor prominent of the day.

One of the midgets who was included in the book was quoted as saying that he was going to be gawked at and laughed at everyday of his life anyway, he might as well charge people for it and make a living! Not only that, but traveling with the sideshow put him in proximity to a family of sorts in the other freaks.
They all had something in common, and could bond together… even protect one another. It was sort of an insulated world of his own kind, he said, with the freak shows just an easy way to turn a buck.

Even though that midget had to put up with staring, laughing rubes during the day, at least he got to count the money he took from them each night. Now that is what I call making the best of a lousy hand.
Or better yet, in the context of this week’s film – he may have been laughed at by day, but that midget got to laugh that night swindling moron’s for their hard earned wages --- all for just standing on a stage and enduring insults.
‘He who laughs last, laughs best.’”

N-Rating: 4.0
Nick Rich smiles:
"This film, like it's main character (whether he realized it or not), had a lot going for it . From the opening scene I immediately was impressed with the shooting style, sets and acting... it felt as if I were watching a modern-day movie - not a film from 1928! Which, needless to say, is very impressive.

At a soaring budget of $1,000,000, The Man Who Laughs was a full fledged Hollywood blockbuster that surely wowed audiences of the time. Not only was everything about the film eye-candy, but this film also was one of the first films to begin the transition from silent to sound. Chris and I were confused and confounded enough when we heard mobs mumbling (did you hear that? Was that in the original release? Quick - to Wikipedia!), so I can only imagine how audiences in the 20's reacted to organic sounds accompanying the film! I imagine it was very similar to how audiences have been reacting to James Cameron's Avatar.

I really can't stress enough how crazy it was to see shots and techniques featured in a silent film that are more advanced than any film for the next 30 years (well, in my experience anyway). Major props to director Paul Leni, who strangely enough died at the age of 44 from blood poisoning two years after making this film... maybe he rocked so hard his body couldn't take it anymore and gave out on him (either that or the rest of Hollywood was intimidated by this German import and made sure he didn't stick around).

Now that I've touched upon the rational reasons this movie is an important work and just plain cool, I feel free to focus on general things from this film that made an impression on me:
  • There's something oddly appealing about scarves...
  • Homo the dog was totally rad. Not only did this dog steal the show, but he was the only heroic character in the whole film! In a world beset with buffoons, loose women and whiny "heroes" this pooch was a real winner!
  • Is Regis Philbin related to Dea (Mary Philbin)?!? (Don't worry, he's not)
  • Seriously, Homo was awesome! The last thing I expected to see in a film this old was a dog tearing out a man's throat!
  • It used to be cool to live in a trailer (ala traveling circus)! I think things started going south when they were no longer made of wood and had those killer huge wheels...
  • I don't think I'll ever understand how wearing wigs became a fashion trend/tradition. Weird... just weird.
  • Who knew eyes could be so expressive? Well, ok, everyone... but seeing Conrad Veidt's performance takes eye-expression to a whole new level!
As Chris said, this wasn't a horror movie per se, but the first 20 minutes of the film will definitely leave you with a chill in your bones... that coupled with the horror that is our protagonist's lot in life and I think you're left with a film that makes you want to smile.

The Skinny: Check this flick out if you want to see how old school was new school before there was new school - or if you're horribly disfigured and need a pick-me-up.

Quote of the Viewing:
[Context: Nick decides to see how long he can keep a painful, crazy smile on his lips. He gives up after about 30 seconds.]
Chris: Ahhh, you blew it. Now see how long you can frown.
Nick: Frowns are much more natural than smiles.
Chris: Such is life. Such is life.

Things We Learned from Watching "The Man Who Laughs"
-Duchesses love drunk pirate gropes.
-Blind girls are always hot in the movies.
-[Said in Yakov Smirnoff voice] "In Royal England, Iron Ladies poke YOU!"
-It was totally cool to name a dog Homo in the 1600s.
-The best way to examine a child is to lay it down and feel it.
-Constant smiling was HILARIOUS in 1600s England.
-Flintstone capes were a fashion statement outside of the Stone Age (Thanks, Mel)
-When in doubt, jump out a window.
-Clowns were always creepy:

RDHP Salutes: Smiles and Frowns!
Let's turn some frowns upside, and vice versa, with a look at some fantastic facial expressions.







The Man Who Laughs Bizarro Cast
The fine actors in this 1920s movie all resembled people currently famous! It was uncanny. Here, the cast and their modern day doppelgangers that could play them in the remake.

Duchess Josiana

Played by: Madonna


Played by: John C. Reilly


Played by: Jack Nicholson


Played by: Taylor Swift

Homo the dog

Chris's Pick:
Played by: Ryan Seacrest

Nick's Pick:
Played by: Robert De Niro
(Who better to play the hero of the film than the greatest character actor of his generation?)

Things that Make the RDHP Smile Uncontrollably
There are just some things in life that plant a permanent smile on our faces. Here are a few examples of things in life that are worth drawing one's facial muscles upward.

Chris Smiles At:

Wrigley Field
Show me a better place to be on a sunny summer afternoon. It's all smiles the second you cross Clark and Addison Streets.

Stuff Getting Smashed
That crunch noise is just so satisfying.

Music Box Theatre
They just don't make movie houses the way they used to. This is a rare palace gem, and one of the few places I never want to leave... even after a 24-hour horror movie marathon.

Finding a Seat on the Bus
Just when you think you'll have to stand forever in rush hour traffic, someone empties their seat right next to you. Grin-time.

Whittle Babies
They are just so cute before they start crawling, talking, borrowing your car, and killing you in your sleep.

Syfy's Twilight Zone Marathons
This only comes twice a year on the 4th of July and New Years Eve. Put in the books, Rod Serling is a horror/sci-fi genius. It is so hard to pry my eyes, and my smile, away from the tube bi-annually to light fireworks or shoot my shotgun in the air.

What? They are f$%king beautiful.

Nick Smiles At:

French Bulldogs
I can't be held responsible for the noises I make when I see these oodle-licious creatures,
nor in what tone of voice said noises are made.
Ooo-gee-boo-gee-who? Yeeesssssss widdle-ones!!!

Created me? Check. Loves me? Double-check! Smile? Well, duh!

San Diego Comic Con
The largest gathering of basement dwelling SWM's in world...
in spite of that, it still manages to be totally awesome.

Asian Babies
Occasionally I can control myself when I see babies of other races, but for some reason
- pound for pound -
Asian babies are the cutest babies EVER.

My Wife

Sure she can make me frown, but by far she makes me smile more than anything else!
(In fact, I'm smiling as I write this!)

Lucha Libre's Queso Taco
Highly addictive and always makes me feel like a champion!

Old Couples in Love
It's always nice to see it can happen!

Who doesn't smile when contemplating what they will do when the Zombie Apocalypse happens?

1 comment: