THE SILENT TREATMENT: F.W. Murnau's "The Last Laugh"

After shocking audiences worldwide with Nosferatu, but before emigrating to Hollywood for Sunrise, F.W. Murnau revolutionized filmmaking with this most silent of silent films — one rare for its lack of intertitles, and timeless for its artful social commentary. Using daring camera angles, expressionist framing and groundbreaking P.O.V. effects to convey a subjective psychological state, The Last Laugh tells the heartrending story of Emil Jannings (The Blue Angel, The Last Command) as an elderly hotel doorman demoted to washroom attendant, who must fight to retain his dignity in his life’s winter years. Tellingly, the original German title was The Last Man, yet the pathos at play here retains its power to inspire, finding breathtaking beauty in potentially bleak subject matter. Made at the height of Murnau’s powers, with gorgeous cinematography by Karl Freund and his “unchained camera” (a breakthrough technique that freed the camera eye from the conventional tripod), The Last Laugh is a silent classic of the highest order — one that forever defines the question “is it the work that makes the man?” in our cinematic vocabulary.
Dir. F.W. Murnau, 1924, 35mm, 101 min.

Watch an excerpt from “The Last Laugh”!
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