Scary silent movie with live music caps Brandon’s season of 1920s films
BRANDON —“The Man Who Laughs” (1928), a silent drama featuring a disfigured man forced to wear an insane grin all his life, will be screened with live music on Saturday, Oct. 15, at 7 p.m. at Brandon Town Hall.
The film will be accompanied live by silent film musician Jeff Rapsis. The screening is free and open to the public. Donations are accepted to help support the town hall’s ongoing renovation and restoration. The screening is sponsored by Omya, Inc.
“The Man Who Laughs,” directed by Paul Leni and starring Conrad Veidt, was a popular silent film adaptation of a sprawling Victor Hugo novel set in 17th century England. Veidt stars as Gwynplaine, a child born of English nobility. After his father is executed, a cruel King James II orders a royal surgeon to hideously disfigure young Gwynplaine’s face into a permanent smile, so that he may always laugh at his father’s foolishness.
Abandoned and shunned, young Gwynplaine is left to make his way on his own. He learns to conceal his face from strangers, befriending Dea, a blind girl who is not aware of his disfigurement. The pair are then adopted and put to work by a travelling impresario, who makes use of Gwynplaine’s startling face in his theatrical productions. Gwynplaine and Dea grow to adulthood and eventually fall in love, but complications arise when Gwynplaine’s noble lineage is revealed, entitling him to his father’s estate — provided he marry another woman of noble birth.
Veidt, who starred earlier in the German expressionist horror classic “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” (1919), played the role of Gwynplaine by using a prosthetic device inside his mouth to force his face into a hideous grin and display outsized teeth. This striking look was later adapted by Batman creator Bob Kane as a model for the physical appearance of iconic villain “The Joker.”
Critics have praised “The Man Who Laughs” for its dark visual style and daring story content. “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,” wrote Roger Ebert in 2004. “The film is more disturbing than it might have been because of Leni’s mastery of visual style.” Director Leni, originally trained as an artist, made ample use of shadows and darkness in the film, which set the stage for many legendary Universal horror classics soon to follow, including “Dracula” (1931) and “Frankenstein” (1931).
“The Man Who Laughs” will be screened with live music on Saturday, Oct. 15, at 7 p.m. at Brandon Town Hall and Community Center, Route 7, in Brandon. Admission is free. Free-will donations are encouraged, with proceeds to support ongoing renovation of the town hall. For more information, visit www.brandontownhall.org. For more information about the music, visit www.jeffrapsis.com.