The Last Laugh

The Last Laugh

***1/2

Reviewed by: Keith Dudhnath

The Last Laugh is the tale of a hotel doorman (Emil Jannings) who is unfairly demoted to lavatory attendant. Yes, that really is the plot.

F.W. Murnau's film is technically impressive, indeed ground-breaking. Praise for this should be shared equally with the exceptional cinematography of Karl Freund.

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Emil Jannings was rightly regarded as one of the finest actors of his generation - he won the first ever Best Actor Oscar three years after this for The Way Of All Flesh. The Last Laugh has a place in the annals of film history and, in many ways, still stands up as a film in its own right.

There are, however, vague, almost diffuse, reasons why it might not be enjoyed as much by a modern audience. For the most part, the balancing act between the subtlety of the story, and the "over-acting" necessary to convey everything in a silent film is trod with exceptional skill by Jannings, but there are times where this wavers.

It couldn't have been done any other way and so criticism boils down to an unfair complaint that a silent film is silent. My own feelings, as to whether to forgive this, or judge it in contemporary terms, change embarrassingly frequently. Perhaps, the best solution is to appreciate it for what it was, whilst also judging it for what it is, or rather, at times, isn't.

A firm criticism to make is that never has an ending been unceremoniously tacked on more than here. It would be unfair to give it away, even in this case, but suffice to say that its blatancy is astounding and disappointing.

The Last Laugh is a classic that stands the test of time... doesn't stand the test of time... stands the test of time... doesn't... I'm sorry, I can't make up my mind.

You're going to have to watch it and decide for yourself.

Reviewed on: 02 Feb 2004
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The Last Laugh packshot
A hotel doorman suffers the ignominy of being demoted to lavatory attendant.
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Director: FW Murnau

Writer: Carl Meyer

Starring: Emil Jannings, Maly Delschaft, Max Hiller, Emilie Kurz, Hans Unterkircher, Hermann Vallentin, Olaf Storm, Georg John, Emmy Wyda

Year: 1924

Runtime: 90 minutes

BBFC: U - Universal

Country: Germany

Festivals:

CFF 2008
BIFF 2012

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If you like this, try:

The Ring