THE LAST LAUGH, 1924
Cast: Emil Jannings, Maly Delschaft, Max Hiller, Emilie Kurz, Hans Unterkircher, Olaf Storm, Hermann Valentin, Georg John,Emmy Wyda
Unable to carry the burden of his duties, Jannings’ hotel doorman is moved to a more suitable position as a bathroom attendant. Embarrassed and humiliated that his neighbours will no longer see him for the preening peacock that he is, saluting them every morning and fastidiously tending to his appearance, he steals the coat in a bid to pull the wool over their eyes. But his peeping in-law Kurz spots the new man on the job and tells the residents of the slum tenement he lives in.
CLICK HERE and watch 2009 MOVIES FOR FREE!
This is a simple story about human pride and human failings, based on Nikolai Gogol’s anti-militaristic novel ‘The Coat’, is turned by expressionist supremo Murnau into a visually stunning, gripping tale that hits its mark despite, or perhaps because of, Murnau’s decision to not use a single title to explain the action. Silent movies had progressed to such a level of stylistic sophistication that, it seemed, the written word was no longer necessary.
Among the most notable features of this film is the admirable use of mobile camera work that really liberates the action; the moment where the porter imagines the Atlantic Hotel is going to topple down onto him and the night watchman’s torch that seems to focus Jannings’ desperation.
All in all, Murnau created perhaps the most modern and accomplished of silent films up to this point.
Narrative wise, the story is strong when it comes to exploring themes of how the importance placed on uniforms can envelop people and leave them to assuming the role dictated by position and it is interesting to see how Murnau positions other people in relation to the obsession Jannings has with his coat – his neighbours protect it from the dust they beat out of their carpets.
There was no other face of the silent era that was better constructed to convey angst, desperation and dismay at the vicissitudes that life can throw at us that Jannings’. He always excelled in roles that required him to suffer nobly as opprobrium is heaped upon him and, here, his terrified, kitten-like eyes are almost painful to watch. It is a performance of unbelievable physicality – bolt upright and proud when we first see him and then crook-backed and shifty as the film finishes.
Quite why Murnau ruined this film with a completely disposable epilogue is another matter.