He Who Gets Slapped (1924) Review

Director: Victor Sjöström

Genre(s): Drama, Romance

Runtime: 95 minutes (Blu Ray version), 71 minutes (DVD version)

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

With star Lon Chaney showing up as a hideous-looking clown, it would be easy to mistake He Who Gets Slapped for a horror film. However, this silent movie is actually a grotesque drama (similar to other silents like The Man Who Laughs [1928] or West of Zanzibar [1928], the latter of which also stars Chaney) with strong romance elements. The story is about scientist Paul Beaumont (Lon Chaney) who joins the circus as a masochistic clown after his discoveries and his wife, Marie (Ruth King), are stolen from him.

This well-made feature is not held back by the cinematic limitations of the time. It’s still an engaging and poetic picture that intrigues the audience. He Who Gets Slapped has an easily digestible runtime that varies depending on what speed the silent movie is played at. It may not be horror, but it still has an odd, creepy vibe to it. I mean, it does feature dozens of synchronized-dancing clowns, after all.

The second act of this flick does feel a little distracted at first glance. During this segment, the focus is largely shifted away from Chaney’s character and settles on the romance between circus horse-riders Consuelo (Norma Shearer) and Bezano (John Gilbert). It feels “off” at first, but by the time the work’s remarkable climax rolls around, it makes sense.

As far as silent, 1920s melodramas go, this one is very solid. With the occasional abstract touch, it is a film that fans of the silents should try to seek out. Some say that Bela Lugosi can be seen here in a small uncredited role or two. It is supposedly the first Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) movie to have that company’s animal mascot, Leo the Lion, appear before the feature starts. It’s certainly not the only time a lion appears in this movie!

My rating is 7 outta 10.

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