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With: Conrad Veidt, Mary Philbin, Olga Baclanova, Brandon Hurst, Julius Molnar Jr., Sam De Grasse, Cesare Gravina, Stuart Holmes
Written by: J. Grubb Alexander, Walter Anthony, based on a novel by Victor Hugo
Directed by: Paul Leni
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 110
Date: 27/04/1928

The Man Who Laughs (1928)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

No Joke

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Following on the heels of the hit The Phantom of the Opera (1925) is the truly amazing The Man Who Laughs (1928), a follow-up from the same studio (Universal) and the same producer (Carl Laemmle). Lon Chaney was originally expected to star, but he had moved on to new things by that time, and so the role went to The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari star Conrad Veidt.

Veidt stars as Gwynplaine, a circus sideshow performer who, as a little boy, had his face disfigured by gypsies. Now he sports a permanent, freakish grin. (Batman creator Bob Kane reportedly based The Joker on this character.) Gwynplaine loves the beautiful blind Dea (Mary Philbin again), but doesn't believe that she'll truly have him. In the meantime, his caretaker realizes that Gwynplaine is actually a royal heir and tries to blackmail the phony duchess for some quick cash -- a scheme that predictably backfires.

Kino's 2003 DVD release doesn't have as many spectacular bonus features as the recent two-disc Phantom of the Opera set, but their picture and sound restoration are about as good as it gets. In 2019, Flicker Alley has given us a truly spectacular Blu-ray, restored in 4K that looks impossibly clear; it gives new life to the movie. It contains a new score by the Berklee School of Music, as well as the original synced Movietone score. Bonuses include visual essay "Paul Leni and the Man Who Laughs" and an image gallery. The liner notes booklet includes an essay by the great Kevin Brownlow and notes on the new score. It also comes with a DVD. This one is highly recommended.

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