The Last Laugh: Deluxe Restored Edition
Best known for his vampires, devils, and death-dealers, F.W. Murnau traffics here in the evils of capitalism and human cruelty
Reviewed by Wells Dunbar, Fri., Sept. 26, 2008
The Last Laugh: Deluxe Restored EditionKino International, $29.95
The story of a longtime hotel porter who's unceremoniously stripped of his uniform and dignity when demoted from his job, The Last Laugh evinces an abiding class consciousness. A 1924 silent film from German director F.W. Murnau, it's a study in contrasts – between the sleek, arched city skyline and the unnamed porter's meager tenement, between the Atlantic Hotel's luxurious halls and the subterranean restroom the hapless porter wallows in as an attendant, between the derision and scorn his neighbors heap on him and the dignity with which he endeavors to live. Heady stuff, certainly – arriving in economically racked Germany in the midst of the Weimar Republic, The Last Laugh can't help but be. Further upping the emotional ante is master stylist Murnau, whose pitched expressionism is realized not only in the wildly mustached, unnamed porter (Emil Jannings, conveying deep empathy) but through fantastic set design and frenetic camerawork. While arriving just two years after Murnau's signature Nosferatu, The Last Laugh belongs to an entirely different technical generation. Featuring what's thought to be cinema's first dolly shot, Murnau's camera glides and twirls like the spinning of the hotel's revolving door, while doubled exposures and stretched, distorted shots convey the disillusion at the heart of the story – at least until the tacked-on, studio-requested happy ending. Beautifully restored by the same international team that reissued the definitive Nosferatu, the two-disc set also includes the unrestored international version, containing subtle differences from the pristine German original. While Murnau has come to be defined by supernatural terror – the vampires, devils, and death-dealers in his oeuvre – in The Last Laugh, the evils onscreen are all-too-ordinary capitalism and human cruelty.
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