The Man Who Laughs (1928)

USA | 1928 | 110 min| PG

Adapted from Victor Hugo’s notorious novel set in seventeenth-century England, Leni’s late era masterpiece tells of Gwynplaine, the tragic son of a nobleman who is disfigured after his father insults a despotic king.


Orphaned, Gwynplaine rescues a blind baby girl and is hidden away within the confines of a travelling circus. There the two grow-up and fall in love, with the young girl, Dea (Mary Philbin) unaware of his disfigurement. Performing at the circus, Gwynplaine attracts the attention of a powerful Duchess (Olga Baclanova), who is perversely aroused by his disfigurement. Brought back to court, Gwynplaine and Dea face great peril.


Director: Paul Leni
Cast: Conrad Veidt, Mary Philbin, Olga Baclanova


Established as Silent Sundays by founding programmer Eric Veillette in 2009, Silent Revue is Toronto’s only year-round film series dedicated to silent cinema. Monthly screenings (more…)


A German Expressionist nightmare infused with grotesque circus-themed horrors, Silent Revue presents THE MAN WHO LAUGHS, the film that inspired all Universal monsters to come, as well as Batman’s infamous archenemy The Joker. Directed by German émigré Paul Leni, THE MAN WHO LAUGHS is “one of the final treasures of the German silent Expressionism” (Roger Ebert), and features an iconic, visually astounding performance from Conrad Veidt—best known for his role as Cesare in THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI.

With stunning production design by Charles D. Hall, who would channel this film’s visuals into future Universal horrors like FRANKENSTEIN and DRACULA, and with groundbreaking make-up effects by Jack P. Pierce, THE MAN WHO LAUGHS is the ultimate horror film—one with heart even at its most gruesome.

Live accompaniment by Marilyn Lerner.

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