Monday, October 31, 2011

Phil's Horror Watch, Day 29: Phil sees THE MAN WHO LAUGHS (1928) at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum-October 29, 2011

Welcome to Day 29 of my horror movie marathon! Tonight's film adventure took me back to the Edison Theatre, home of the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, for its annual Halloween show! This year the museum screened a silent horror classic, as well as three cool and funny shorts. So grab some popcorn and some ice cold beverage, and enjoy the wonderful world of silent films!

The first short film of the night was FORTUNE TELLER (1923), a funny animated Koko the Clown short. Koko and his creator Max Fleischer have a gypsy fortune teller come by to tell them that they are hunted my ghosts. When the gypsy hands Koko a deck of cards, wouldn't you know, a ghost pops out! Spooky!!

The second sort was another Koko the Clown short. THE OUIJA BOARD (1920) has Max Fleischer tormenting poor Koko when he drew a haunted house. In the meantime, Max and his employees fool around with a Ouija board. When Koko leaps of the drawing board and onto the Ouija board and makes it move, Max and the boys get freaked out, thinking it's a ghost! Double spooky!!

The third short was HER BRIDAL NIGHT-MARE (1920) starring the beautiful and funny Coleen Moore. In this hilarious love triangle, Collen is about to marry her fiancee, but thanks to her jealous former suitor, he gets him arrested. Then the ex-suitor hires a vagrant to steal her wedding presents. Soon it's a cornucopia of hysterical mistaken identity, goofy running around, hilariously failed suicide attempts, and Coleen Moore being funny! And in case you were wondering, the happy couple gets married and the jealous ex-suitor gets hauled away to jail. And they all lived happily ever after!

Theatrical Movie Poster (1928)
After a brief intermission, the show continued with the main attraction. Based on the novel by Victor Hugo, THE MAN WHO LAUGHS stars Conrad Veidt as Gwynplaine, who as a young boy was horribly disfigured by roving gypsies by the order of King James II of England as a punishment to one of his disobeying nobles. He is forced to bear a permanent smile on his face. He wonders the frozen wasteland and discovers a woman frozen to death, but her blind, infant daughter Dea (Mary Philbin) survived. He rescues her from the cold and soon finds shelter courtesy of a mountebank named Ursus (Cesare Gravina).  Fast forward several years later and Gwynplaine and Dea are all grown up and in love. They both still travel with Ursus as part of his show, with Gwynplaine as the star. However it is soon discovered (by former court jester Barkilphedro) that Gwynplaine's deceased father's estate is currently owned by the Duchess Josiana and Queen Anne decrees that the royal duchess must marry Gwynplaine, as its rightful heir, to make things right.
But will he choose to be one of Britain's new Peers or will he choose the love of Dea.

The film was made here in America, but it was directed by German Expressionistic filmmaker Paul Leni. While in Germany Leni directed films such as PATIENCE (1920) and WAXWORKS (1924). Universal Picture's president Carl Laemmle had seen WAXWORKS and wanted Leni to direct his next big, Gothic picture. Since Lon Chaney was now under contract with MGM Studios, Laemmle also persuaded Veidt to star in the film. Viedt was already a well known German actor, having appearing in THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (1919) as well as WAXWORKS with Leni, so it would seem a match made in heaven. However, upon the film's release, both audiences and critics found the film too bleak and the film did poorly at the box office. Now it is regarded as a magnificent work of art, one of the pinnacles of the silent era. The film was released on November 4, 1928.

Another amazing night at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum!! If you would like to learn more about the museum, their weekly film schedule, and how to become a member, please visit their website at

THE MAN WHO LAUGHS is currently available on DVD thatnks to the great folks at Kino International. To purchase a  copy, visit your local retailer or visit Kino's website at

Thanks for reading, and enjoy the show!!

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