Paul Leni's The Man Who Laughs (R) product details page

Paul Leni's The Man Who Laughs (R)

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German director Paul Leni's second film for Universal, The Man Who Laughs, remains a stirring experience. Begun as yet another fantastic vehicle for Lon Chaney, the drama instead stars Conrad Veidt, who possessed the one quality that Chaney perhaps lacked: ****** appeal. With Veidt in the role, it is not totally inconceivable that Olga Baclanova's duchess, never mind how decadent, could be attracted to Gwynplaine despite his hideous deformity. No one but Veidt could add realism to as thoroughly melodramatic a character as Victor Hugo's unfortunate Gwynplaine. Of course, the perpetual grin forced the actor to perform with his eyes only, and the result is never less than magnificent. When performing in front of the rowdy country fair crowds, Veidt's eyes fit his carved grin perfectly, but at other times they convey embarrassment over his disfigurement, tenderness toward Lea (Mary Philbin), and at all times an aching sadness. Legendarily wooden as Christine in The Phantom of the Opera (1925), Mary Philbin is much better here and handles her blind scenes in a surprisingly realistic manner. Always the most democratic of silent femme fatales -- her victims coming from all walks of life -- Olga Baclanova, in only her second Hollywood film, lolls about in slinky black negligees, but she too is well-directed and less broad than under more lenient directors. Veering at all times to just this side of the maudlin, Paul Leni created an unforgettable universe filled with romance, wickedness, and heartache. Hans J. Wollstein, All Movie Guide