This captivating 1928 movie tells the story of a man whose face was mutilated as a child in the expression of a permanent, freakish grin. The main character, Gwynplaine, played by Conrad Veidt, would later serve as the inspiration for the Joker character in the Batman franchise. The silent film was directed by the German Expressionist filmmaker Paul Leni, and is an adaptation of Victor Hugo’s novel of the same name. Roger Ebert stated, “The Man Who Laughs is a melodrama, at times even a swashbuckler, but so steeped in Expressionist gloom that it plays like a horror film.”
The Man Who Laughs is part of a genre of Romantic melodrama, similar to films such as The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923). The film was one of the early Universal Pictures productions that made the transition from silent films to sound films, using the Movietone sound system introduced by William Fox. The film was completed in April 1927 but was held for release in April 1928 with sound effects and a music score that included the song “When Love Comes Stealing” by Walter Hirsch, Lew Pollack, and Erno Rapee.