The Last Laugh (1924) Review

Director: F.W. Murnau

Genre(s): Drama

Runtime: 90 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

The 1924 German silent film The Last Laugh (originally titled “Der Ietzte Mann” in German) is all about the power of visual storytelling. While most silent movies relied on intertitles for dialogue or to tell the audience what’s going on, this motion picture has almost none. The plot here is about a proud, yet aging, doorman (Emil Jannings) at a high-class hotel who’s position is threatened by his increasing frailty. He just can’t lift those suitcases like he used to.

A lot in this feature rides on its virtuoso cinematography. Pioneering the “unchained camera technique,” the camera moves around more than it does in your typical silent movie. It’s a visually splendorous work, and that opening shot with the camera in a descending elevator overlooking the hotel lobby is unforgettable. However, the best scene in the flick is a drunken dream sequence that I won’t spoil the details of here.

For all of its glory, The Last Laugh is hampered a bit by its ending. It feels like one of those studio-mandated conclusions ordered to make the finished product more commercial. As the movie stands now, the ending’s not horrible by any means, but it does feel a tad out-of-place. It should also probably be noted that there are a couple of slightly slow segments.

Minor gripes aside, this is a memorable work of German Expressionism. The cinematography, drama, and special effects (yes, there are special effects here) work together marvelously to tell a story that’s a lot more interesting than it might sound on paper. Some may scoff at the ending, but The Last Laugh still holds up as entertainment. Did I mention that I really love that dream scene?

My rating is 7 outta 10.

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