The Last Laugh (1924)

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The Last Laugh (1924). 91 minutes. Directed by F. W. Murnau. Starring Emil Jannings (as hotel doorman), Maly Delschaft (as his niece), Max Hiller (as her bridegroom), Emilie Kurz (as bridegroom’s aunt), Hans Unterkircher (as hotel manager), Olaf Storm (as young guest), Hermann Vallentin (as guest with pot belly), Georg John (as night watchman), and Emmy Wyda (as thin neighbor). Cinematography by Karl Freund.

The plot of The Last Laugh can be encapsulated in a simple sentence: an anonymous hotel doorman is demoted. Despite its simple premise, however, this silent movie is an astonishingly profound depiction of human misery. Relying on camera movement and gesture to convey meaning throughout, and using only one title card during its 91-minute running time, The Last Laugh relies more than most films on visual elements to tell its story. It is essential viewing for anyone who cares about early movies.

An enthusiastic hotel doorman is observed drinking on the job one day by the … Read the rest

The Blue Angel (1930)

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The Blue Angel (1930). 99 minutes. Directed by Josef von Sternberg. Starring Emil Jannings (as Professor Immanuel Rath), Marlene Dietrich (as Lola Lola), Kurt Gerron (as Kiepert, the magician), Hans Albers (as Mazeppa, the strongman), and Reinhold Bernt (as the clown).  Songs by Friedrich Holländer and Robert Liebmann.

Roger Ebert concludes his review of The Blue Angel by placing its characters in historical context: “You can glimpse the sadomasochism of the Nazi pose in the strange relationship of Professor Rath and Lola Lola.”  Although there are no explicit allusions to Hitler’s political movement in the 1930 film, Ebert’s suggestion that a creepy Nazi power dynamic is evident in the Jannings-Dietrich portrayal is provocative and probably accurate.  The Blue Angel was originally released in the years just before Germany’s official transformation into a Nazi state, and it surely picks up on those larger cultural currents.  But the film is also a weird sort of backstage musical that leaves a bad taste … Read the rest