Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Last Laugh (Der letzte Mann) 1924 **

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Clothes do make the man…or in this case a uniform with shiny brass buttons.

Emil Jannings plays a very proud doorman in this classic 1924 F.W. Murnau silent. In the beginning of the film, we find Jannings’ pompous doorman happy and a bit condescending to his co-workers—he has the brass buttons and fancy braids after all. When he is demoted to washroom attendant due to his age (Robert Osborne better watch out), we see a humiliated and scorned Jannings. Unable to face the world outside the hotel without his uniform, Jannings steals one from a locker to wear home. In the end, Jannings becomes a drunkard and a pitiful character that thelastlaugh-still lives the rest of his days in abject misery. Actually, this is the ending I saw in a film class because my professor refused to show the ending Murnau was forced to use by the studio. Later, I learned that Jannings inherited money and went back to the hotel and flaunted his newfound wealth in the faces of those who had laughed at him. Hence, he who laughs last laughs best.

This film is 99% title card free—only at the very end does Murnau use one card to explain the tacked on ending. So, this means the viewer must pay close attention to what Jannings’ face and Murnau’s camera are saying about the narrative. Karl Freund’s camerawork in this film makes the viewer feel like a voyeur of Jannings’ life. The bathroom scenes are truly heartbreaking.

An interesting film to watch, but the ending is trite.

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