The second film of legendary director F.W. Murnau to appear in this marathon, but certainly not the last.
Murnau is a director who achieved legendary status with his film Nosferatu, which is by far one of the most well known Silent films ever made. It is iconic.
But I decided I shouldn't just leave my knowledge of his work there, even if I was disappointed by Nosferatu I decided to explore more of his rather small filmography.
This time I thought I would choose one of his lesser known films, The Last Laugh - 1924
Unfortunately I found this one to be disappointing as well, I am still looking forward to what might be Murnau's most acclaimed film, Sunrise. But I'm nonetheless starting to doubt whether Murnau's films are really all that they are made out to be.
The reason I found this one to be disappointing was that it lacked any driven narrative. In fact it was so lacking that it didn't even have intertitles for the first hour and a quarter or so, and then it was only one disappointing intertitle that I shall refer to later in the review.
Of course, there is much to admire from a technical point of view, the camera performs some remarkable attacking shots and such which are marvellously executed. It avoids the clunkiness that often accompanied Silent film camera movements and seems very smooth even by modern standards.
However the lighting was not some of the the best I've seen, compared to the previous film I reviewed for example, it was a bit glaring and bright. So, not particularly innovative lighting, it also doesn't contribute much to the atmosphere, as it does in the previous Murnau film, Nosferatu.
The set design was decent, nothing very impressive yet it seemed very realistic. All in all, the most interesting thing about the film from a technical point of view would be the inventive camera movements and dolly shots.
But this doesn't really make up for the disappointing story in my opinion, or should that be lack of story. As I mentioned previously, the film has only one or two intertitles which are not even used for narrative purposes. This results in the film being rather uninteresting as the actions of the characters, while obviously comprehensible, bear little interest to the viewer.
It is not a particulalry thrilling story, no grand tragedy, sweeping romance, atmospheric horror or epic battle.
Instead it is a story that could best be described as "a slice of life", a Head Porter at a prestigious restaurant loses his job due to his age, he just isn't as vigorous as he used to be. The job was his pride and joy earning his respect from the whole comuntity in the run down district he inhabited. In an effort to save face, he steals the uniform that characterised his job and pretends that nothing is amiss when returning home.
But those highest fall the furthest and he is mercilessly mocked by the community when the truth is finally found out, probably because they had always been secretly jealous of his prestige and were glad to see him brought down to their level.
He takes the job of restroom attendant at the very same restaurant and is a much humbled man. His family and friends have shunned him, either out of disappointment at the loss of his job
But here is where the intertitle comes in. It is a most puzzling intertitle. Up until this point the film has been a story of the gradual downfall of a once proud man, mainly due to his age, it was sad and rather realistic. And as the intertitle states, the story should end here as all that it can lead to is the eventual death of the lead character.
I think the film would have worked better if it had ended before this epilogue, or perhaps shown the remaining life of the main character and his eventual death.
So the story was a disapointment, yet there were a few interesting aspects other than the technicalities.
Silent films that centre around one single character were actually rarer than one much think, often they told two stories at once, or had a large cast. But for one film to focus solely on one actor, without any supporting characters that have more than a small amount of screen time each. Indeed, the main character appears in practically every scene, there are no sub plots or other such distractions, it a simple straightforward tale.
The main character, is played by Emil Jannings, who cuts an impressive figure when in uniform and definitely gives a great performance in this film. His role is one of transformation, these always make for the best of performances. He starts off as a proud and prestigious but not wealthy porter, becomes a humble and dejected restroom attendant and finally a rich and generous millionaire.
He will be mentioned soon in my upcoming review for another Murnau film, Faust, in which he plays Mephisto.
All in all, The Last Laugh is an interesting film about ageing and such things, that was ruined by the ending. That said, what took place before the ending wasn't amazing either, I felt it should have done deeper into some of the themes it explored instead of just glazing over. Apart from a couple of elements, the film just failed to impress me and proved to be a rather tedious watch.
I suppose it's is worth watching for those interested in the films of this time, but I failed to see what was great about it and was very disappointed.
And yet I still look forward to "Sunrise" and "Faust".
All comments are appreciated as usual and will be answered!
Next up is a very different film and a real change of pace for this marathon, Charlie Chaplin's The Gold Rush!