Film Review: The Last Laugh
The Last Laugh (Murnau, 1924)
"Der letzte Mann"
This wonderful silent film was directed by F.W. Murnau who also directed the classic films Nosferatu (1922) and Faust (1926). Murnau brilliantly uses multiple techniques to bring the story of a down on his luck hotel porter to life. The sets and lighting he uses has tinges of German Expressionism. His camera angles and highly cinematographic effects were more commonly used by French Impressionists.
Lastly, his focus on detailed, more theatrical acting as opposed to the more common extreme, over the top ‘silent film’ acting as was prominent in Kammerspiel films. This movie encompasses it all: brilliant sets, brilliant camera usage and brilliant acting.
The Last Laugh stars the powerful performer Emil Jannings. If his name sounds familiar, it could be that you recall it from Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds (2009) or from Marlene (Vilsmair, 2000), which details the life of the legendary Marlene Dietrich. Jannings takes you into his world where times are tough, but no so tough that you can’t enjoy the small things in life.
This movie differs from most other silent films in that it only uses title cards in one section of film. The rest of storytelling is done entirely by Jannings and his performance. It’s a stunning piece of work that shouldn’t be forgotten.
- The first dolly to move a camera was used on this set. It was made out of a baby carriage and pulled across a makeshift railway.
- F.W. Murnau (who also did Nosferatu) was the director who said, “Don’t act - think!”
- Emil Jannings was only 40 years old when he did the movie.
- Jannings went to Hollywood and did well, starring in 5 films, one, The Last Command (1928), won him the first Oscar ever to be presented.
- When talkies became all the rage, Jannings had to go back to Germany. His accent was too thick and he wasn’t given any more speaking roles.
- If you were wondering about Inglorious Basterds, it is true that Jannings supported the Nazi regime as an actor and probably would have attended Hitler’s premier since he was an A list actor.
- Carl Meyer, who wrote the story, also wrote The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Weine, 1920).
Below is a clip of a scene in the beginning of the film.
- German Cinema: What You Need to Know About the Silent Era
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