Chicago Sun-Times - 01/18/2004
"[O]ne of the final treasures of German silent Expressionism."
Description by OLDIES.com:
In an effort to top the critical and financial success of The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Phantom of the Opera, studio head Carl Laemmle recruited two influential artists of the German Expressionist school: actor Conrad Veidt (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari) and director Paul Leni (Waxworks). The shadowy exteriors, the carnival setting, the demonically misshapen "hero" made The Man Who Laughs something entirely new to American cinema - the foundation upon which the classic Universal horror films would be built.
Veidt stars as Gwynplaine, a nobleman's son who is kidnapped by a political enemy, and then is mutilated by a gypsy "surgeon" who carves a monstrous smile upon his face. Finding shelter in a traveling freakshow, he falls in love with a blind girl (The Phantom of the Opera's Mary Philbin), the one person who cannot be repulsed by his appearance. As years pass, the hand of fate draws Gywnplaine back into the world of political intrigue. He becomes the plaything of a jaded duchess (Freaks' Olga Baclanova), and his enemies renew their efforts to control him.
This horror classic was produced by Universal (beginning that studio's string of brilliant horror movies) in response to the success of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA and THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME. Universal chose two luminaries of German Expressionism, director Paul Leni and actor Conrad Veidt, for the film and in doing so introduced a new and highly influential aesthetic to American movies.
The film stars Veidt as Gwynplaine, the son of an aristocrat who is kidnapped for political reasons before being disfigured by a gypsy surgeon, who leaves the boy's face paralyzed in a contorted smile. Finding refuge in a traveling theatre troupe, Gwynplaine's lineage is eventually discovered and he soon finds himself being pulled back into the social and political world he was taken from as a boy. Featuring a masterful performance from Veidt along with beautiful and haunting photography, THE MAN WHO LAUGHS is one of the silent era's great horror films.