« The Man Who Laughs »
"The Man Who Laughs" is the third picture based on the writings of Victor Hugo to be handled by Universal as a special. [...] On the premise that Hugo's reputation as a classic is a beneficient factor it may be predicted that "The Man Who Laughs" possesses additional strenght above and beyond its intrinsic entertainment qualities.
[...] For program purposes it should be a standout, although possibly handicapped by the reaction against costume pictures. Five or six years ago it might have been a smash. Today it's a pretty good specimen of a familiar type of movie plus an unusual angle in the stenciled grin and also plus the name of Victor Hugo. The production bankroll must have been sizeable but U should get a good gross back.
The picture in its full length is draggy, notably in the second half. When reduced for general release purposes this slack material can be taken in, but the weakness will remain as regards the absence of an adequate climax. After all the intricacies of plot, sub-plot, treachery, cruelty, agony and general grief the ending seems banality itself, especially with the last minute inclusion of one of those scenes where Rin-Tin-Tin gets his man. This scene is unecessary and somewhat too harrowing as it close-ups the dog's fangs sinking into the man's throat. The dog, until this point, has been entirely casual, allowing Mary Philbin to have a playmate.
Miss Philbin incidentally is zero in this picture. Any pretty girl would have done as well. The part is sheer posing all the way, negative and uninteresting because Dea is a blind girl and never knows what's going on. After Miss Philbin's fine work in "Drums of Love" this sort of a role seems a waste of time and talent.
The plot, sketched briefly, concerns a grin carved upon the small son of Lord Clancharlie by order of King James of England in 1690. The boy, abandoned, is brought up by a traveling montebank and in time becomes Gwynplaine, "The Man Who Laughs", a famous clown. He again comes in contact with royalty when King James' successor, Queen Anne, becomes peeved at Duchess Josiana, whose wealth is founded upon the estate of Lord Clancharlie. Disliking the Duchess, and learning of the existence of his son, the Queen, to humiliate the Duchess, orders the "man who laughs" raised to his rightful position as peer of England and to marry the Duchess.
The toothy clown with his perpertual grin makes an interesting, if gruesome, character. Men are more apt to be intrigued by the situation than women. The grin makes it difficult for Conrad Veidt to do much acting. Glycerine tears do not quite succeed in conveying soul torture nor in creating romantic illusion.
"Man Who Laughs" will appeal to the Lon Chaney mob and to those who like quasi-morbid plot themes. To others it will seem fairly interesting, a trifle unpleasant, and intermittently tedious. [...]
Production, direction and photography are excellent. Indeed, the megaphone work of Paul Leni puts the picture over even where the script leaves loose ends in its not always successful efforts to negociate the tremendous mass of Hugo's story material. The scenes of Southwark Fair, near London, are interesting, if historically authentic, as revealing how ancient the carnival racket is.
The types are well chosen. Sam DeGrasse in a short sequence and a great make-up was a vivid King James. This medieval mind with its religious bent seemed immensely interesting. Brandon Hurst, with his best sneers, made real the character of the king's jester, "whose smiles were false and whose jests were cruel". Stuart Holmes was rather nondescript as Lord Dirry-Moir. Unessential to plot or story it was mot quite clear whether he was supposed to be a monumental imbecile or a cunning court politician. At first sight, he seemed to be of the comic relief, but subsequently it seems otherwise.
Josephine Crowell made a splendid Queen Anne, crusty, jaundiced and catty. Ceasare Gravina did his customary beaming boy. Olga Baclanova, in a role of color and vitality, quite outshone Miss Philbin, costarred with Veidt. Miss Baclanova has an interesting blonde personality. Land.