Based on Leonid Andreyev's 1914 play, which prefigures Beckett and the Absurd in expressing the angst of pre-Revolutionary Russia, He Who Gets Slapped is about a scientist shattered to discover that his patron has appropriated not only his researches but his wife. Frozen into the fixation that he must become a clown in body as well as in spirit, he joins a circus. There, literally wearing his heart on his sleeve, he willingly suffers agonies of humiliation while the crowd roars. Chaney's performance is extraordinary, but the real amazement of the film is Sjöström's direction, incorporating incredibly subtle lighting effects (which are his, not the cameraman's), and perfectly blending its daring Expressionist devices with the horror movie ethos which takes over when the clown finally seeks revenge. This, undoubtedly, is the source Bergman drew on for Sawdust and Tinsel.
Cast and crew
|Screenwriter:||Victor Sjöström, Carey Wilson|