The Last Laugh (1924) – F.W. Murnau

I return to DK Books’ The Movie Book to explore the What Else to Watch list following their recommendation of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

The silent film follows the story of a Hotel Doorman (Emil Jannings). He is a man who takes pride in his work, looks good in his uniform, and feels good while he does it. He knows he has it better than the rest of the people living in the slum apartments he and his niece (Maly Delschaft) call home.

While his niece prepares for her imminent wedding, the Doorman works very hard at his job until one little break costs him everything.

On a rainy night, he decides to sit and rest for a moment, his age catching up with him, and his manager sees him, not attending to his position.

The following morning he is dismissed from his position and given the role of washroom attendant. In an attempt to keep this secret from everyone else in the apartment building he steals his old uniform so he can put it on before he comes home each day.

His neighbours soon discover the truth and delight in seeing him fall from his illustrious position and laugh and mock him as word races around the apartment complex.

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He is a broken man, but as can only happen in the movies, a happy ending is crafted for him. The story knows the happy ending is improbable, in fact it tells us so, and yet it allows the Doorman to have the last laugh, and also makes a point of making sure that the working man isn’t being taken advantage of.

This ended up being a rather fun, well photographed tale, the opening sequence even features a some moving camera shots, which were incredibly difficult at the time.

Despite the story’s simplicity, or perhaps even because of it, the story is involving with next to no title cards to let us know what it happening. The story is told almost completely without title cards to let us know what is happening, and yet you know exactly what the Doorman is going through. That’s good storytelling.

Jannings is very good in his role, conveying the pride he takes in his job, his uniform, and the sheer shame he feels when the truth comes out. It is all there on his face, his posture, everything he does conveys how he feels and what he thinks moment to moment.

Surprise, surprise, this was another film that I had never heard of, and rather enjoyed settling in for it. The Movie Book is definitely proving itself, and I cannot wait to see what comes next.

There’s tons to watch, and you can get countless nights’ entertainment out of it, pick it up from DK Books today!

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