The Man Who Laughs

The production set-up must be unique: a French novel with an English setting filmed by a German director in an American studio. Victor Hugo's sentimental horror comic, featuring a rightful heir kidnapped by gypsies, a blind orphan and so on, becomes a riot of expressionist detail in Leni's forceful handling, his camera tracking Hugo's various grotesques and innocents through rabbit-warren sets (Southwark Fair, the London docks). The whole farrago is anchored by Veidt's sensitive rendering of the title character, so called because his mouth has been carved into a hideous grin by one of the story's numerous villains. Baclanova is amusing as a decadent duchess, but it's Leni's pictorial genius - aided here by what must have been an enormous budget - that marks the film as one of the most exhilarating of late silent cinema.

Release details

Duration: 111 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Paul Leni, Carl Laemmle
Screenwriter: J Grubb Alexande, titles Walter Anthony
Cast: Conrad Veidt
Mary Philbin
Cesare Gravina
Olga Baclanova
Brandon Hurst
Josephine Crowell
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