Emil Jannings is the doorman of the elegant Atlantic Hotel. He is proud of his uniform and function, and respected by his community. When he reaches the old age, he has difficulties to carry trucks and suitcases. The hotel manager decides to change his function to washroom attendant. This apparently simple action is enough to destroy him as a human being. He loses his self-respect and when his neighbor finds that he is janitor of the hotel, he loses the respect of his neighbors and friends.

Also Known As: Hotel Atlantic, O teleftaios ton anthropon, L'ultima risata, Portier z hotelu Atlantic, El darrer home, El último, Der Hotelportier, The Last Laugh, La última carcajada, A Última Gargalhada, Последний человек Soviet, Saigo no Hito, Den siste mann, Poslednji čovek, Az utolsó ember, Posljednji čovjek, Viimeinen mies, Sista skrattet, O Último dos Homens, Der letzte Mann, Le dernier rire, Le dernier des hommes, Последният човек

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  • chris

    This isn’t The Last Laugh-1924

  • nancy-armstrong
    nancy armstrong

    Emil Jannings is the doorman of Atlantic Hotel. He is proud of his uniform and function, and respected by his community. Based on his age, the manager of the hotel decides to change his function to toilet cleaner. This apparently simple action is enough to destroy him as a human being. He loses his self-respect and the respect of his neighbors and friends. This outstanding movie is another masterpiece of Murnau. It is an authentic study of the vanity and cruelty of mankind. The lack of respect to the elders is also expressed marvelously in this fantastic film. The performance of the great Emil Janning is astonishing. All the plot is based on his character and expressions. I regret only the last part of the plot, where the suffering character gets a surprisingly heritage and becomes ‘the last laugh’ of the title of the movie. But anyway, this is a remarkable movie. My vote is ten.

  • hector-avila
    hector avila

    The Last Laugh (titled ‘The Last Man’ in German, which probably warrants a discussion in itself) is a beautiful, emotional film, taking the viewer from the touching to the abjectly depressing to the excessively jovial. As many have pointed out, that last step is a little disjointed.**SPOILERS – although you should watch this movie for sheer enjoyment, not to be surprised by the ending!***Emil Jannings gives a superb performance as an unnamed doorman for the Atlantic hotel. The movie opens with some fine camerawork – descending into the hotel lobby, crossing the floor, and watching the doorman escort guests to and from taxis under an Atlantic umbrella to protect them from the pouring rain, which is shown through the revolving door. The energy, poise, grace, and magnanimousness of the doorman is thus shown in the context of his environment: an immediate suggestion of the symbiosis of this man’s pleasure and this man’s job.Then, something goes wrong. The porter who should be there to help take the bags from the taxi driver and carry them to the lobby isn’t there. The doorman calls for him but he’s nowhere to be found. So the doorman steps beyond his call of duty, and carries a heavy steamer trunk into the lobby. Unfortunately, he is old, and this leaves him sore and out of breath, so he takes a break. The young hotel manager notices this break, makes some hasty notes in his little notepad, and the next day, the doorman has lost his job – because, we are to assume, the manager thinks him too old to be an effective doorman anymore. However, the hotel has arranged for their oldest employee of all to be retired to a “home”, so the doorman can inherit that job – here Murnau gives the audience some time to appreciate the (former) doorman’s shock, horror, misery, and utter defeat due only to losing his beloved job. It is only after a few minutes of this that his new position is revealed: the rather demeaning labours of a bathroom attendant.The old man steals his old, beloved doorman’s uniform and wears it home, saying nothing to his wife, daughter, brand new son-in-law, or nosey neighbours about what has happened, and pretending to still be the same jovial doorman. The next day, his wife decides to bring him lunch at work, and there she discovers the truth. There also is one of the most memorable shots of the film, though the purpose of its nature is unclear to me… To get to the men’s room from the main concourse of the hotel, there is a double glass door, a short downward stairway, and then a double tinted glass door; a porter informs Jannings’ character that someone is here to see him, so he emerges from the lower doors just as his wife has her face pressed against the upper doors… and in an extremely quick shot, Murnau’s camera moves with lightning speed towards the wife’s shocked face, pressed against the glass. I’ll hazard a guess that Murnau didn’t have faith in his actress’ ability to convey the necessary shock and horror, because the wiser choice to display these things to the audience would be an acting-oriented shot, rather than this one: it SCARES the audience, with its sudden, fast-approaching vision of a wrinkled woman making a contorted face!Anyway, the wife rushes home and tells the daughter. The nosey neighbour (who was always nice to the old man before) overhears and immediately starts a chain of gossip that reaches everyone in the apartment complex. I could digress here and question what Murnau is implying about women or old wives or even apartment building culture, but that’s best saved for another time. Suffice to say when the old man comes home, the entire neighbourhood laughs at him, and his own family seems embarrassed to be seen with him before they rush him inside hoping nobody sees. They then stand sternly – albeit with hurt expressions, too – before him, as if they were a tribunal. Most viewers assume that his family’s reaction is due to the fact that he now holds such a dishonourable job, not worthy of respect, and fully worthy of the neighbours’ laughter. I can’t help but wonder if in fact they’re more upset that he lied to them, not trusting the family’s solidarity and ability to work through hardships. At any rate, he does not know how to deal with them so he returns to the hotel to sleep in the washroom, in a scene which is complemented perfectly by the music and the soft focus to create one of the most heartbreaking moments I’ve ever seen on film.Then the ONLY intertitle of the film – there is no dialogue whatsoever, which I found a remarkable testament to the fine acting and directing – interrupts the most moving scene and declares that, although the film should end here, the author took pity on the character and gave him a (highly unlikely) happy ending. We then see the happy ending: a wealthy old bachelor died suddenly while washing his hands in the old man’s bathroom, and his will stipulated that his entire fortune go to the person in whose arms he died – as it happens, the old man. (This complex bit of plot is revealed in shots of the newspapers the hotel guests are laughing uncontrollably over – somewhat odd, as it doesn’t seem that funny to me.) The film concludes with a drawn-out scene of the old man feasting heartily in the hotel restaurant and allowing his friend the night watchman to join in, then tipping all the hotel staff (except his replacement as doorman) and letting a beggar ride off in the carriage with him and the watchman.Though the final portion of the film is stylistically in keeping with the first part, it is a bizarre, sudden, and very large digression from what had been a continually downward-moving story. From the utmost dregs of the unjust, sad, and pathetic, a sudden unprecedented intertitle lifts us into the utterly joyous and ideal. Cruel, mocking laughter is wholly replaced by “well how about that, isn’t that swell” laughter, and for the first time, the old man doesn’t stagger from the hotel in darkness at the end of a long day’s work, but leaves it joyously, in a carriage, laughing, at midday. The main ideas of the film clearly carry through the interruption, but it’s impossible not to be a little miffed by the suddenness of it all. It’s also strange that absolutely no visual suggestion of the old man’s family occurs after the intertitle – they have absolutely nothing to do with the happy ending, and whether or not they can be forgiven is absolutely not addressed.Nonetheless, Murnau has crafted a moving and beautiful film, perfectly accentuated both by his highly accomplished cinematic style (the drunken scenes are wonderfully realistic, by the way) and by Emil Jannings’ utterly sympathetic and believable performance as the doorman. Questions aside, I gave The Last Laugh 10/10 (more than I gave Nosferatu) and sincerely hope more people see it.

  • dr-varga-erik-csaba
    dr varga erik csaba

    In the 1920s silent cinema was becoming ever more elaborate and literary. While visual means of storytelling were getting ever more sophisticated, the frequency and length of title cards was also on the up, often adding words where they weren’t strictly necessary. This 1924 effort to create a picture entirely without intertitles (bar one at the beginning and one at the end) ought to be a real breath of fresh air, no? Well, director F.W. Murnau was certainly a talented enough fellow to pull off such a thing, in theory at least.Of course, your story can’t be too complex – not everything can be explained visually. The Last Man is a simple tale of man enjoys job, man loses job, man mopes about a bit, man inherit fortune and has last laugh. Murnau himself later pointed out that the story is absurd because a washroom attendant (which said man subsequently becomes) would make more money than a doorman. This may be true, but at least the narrative goes to lengths to show the drop in status that the hero suffers. Much is made of the military-style uniform that doormen wear, and the being made redundant is made to look like the degradation of an army officer. The ironic reversal of fortune in the final reel seems both tacked on and dragged out too long. It would be fairly neat if it was just shown to happen, but instead the point is laboured into banality.But even with such a trite storyline, a silent picture without intertitles isn’t necessarily easy. So what does Murnau do? He cheats. When Emil Jannings gets the news about his job, he is told in a letter which we see in close-up, which really amounts to the same thing as a title card of someone saying it. This shouldn’t have been much of a distraction, but rather than just showing the letter we get words blurring back and forth across the screen, hammering the point home. And throughout the picture Murnau is continually showing off with technique, employing every cheap trick-shot the mechanics of the day allowed, as if that makes up for the lack of text. The bit where the old man dreams of throwing a trunk up and catching it might actually be quite funny, if it wasn’t shot through some blurry filter with a wobbly camera. It’s a pity because Murnau could be such a wonderful image-maker when he didn’t get too absorbed in technical showmanship.Perhaps the worthy talents of lead actor Emil Jannings can help to salvage something of value. Unfortunately this giant of German cinema has one of his hammy turns in The Last Man, and his acting is just as exaggerated as Murnau’s formal excess. His caricatured facial expressions and waddling walk are great for comedy, but when he gives that stupid doleful expression when his niece finds him working in the toilets it makes the scene unintentionally funny. Still, it’s not all bad. For this performance Jannings has one of those elaborate moustache/sideburn combos which makes his mouth almost invisible, and this encourages him to emote more through his eyes and body language. There’s a very touching moment where he sits by the basins drinking his soup.I suppose the fact that Murnau’s other pictures are just as wordy as was the norm at that time ought to serve as a warning that he was not necessarily the best man to conduct such an experiment. There were around this time a number of directors who did make good pictures with very sparse intertitles, including Murnau’s studio-mates Fritz Lang and G.W. Pabst, or King Vidor in Hollywood. None of these attempted a picture without subtitles, instead recognising them as a necessary burden, using them when needed but keeping them to a minimum. And their late silent pictures are far more satisfying than this corny and overwrought bit of self-indulgence.

  • kristina-thomas
    kristina thomas

    In 1920s Germany, a hotel doorman takes great pride in both his job and the grand uniform that denotes his position. The uniform earns him the unquestioning respect of his neighbours, so when he is demoted through no fault of his own to the lowly position of lavatory attendant, the doorman is devastated. Stealing the uniform that once was his, he makes a sad attempt to fool his neighbours into thinking he still manages the door of the prestigious Atlantic Hotel but, before long, the truth is uncovered, and the respect they once paid him quickly dissolves.The Last Laugh stands as one of the finest creations of a remarkable director, F.W. Murnau, whose credits include Nosferatu, Faust and Sunrise. Filmed without use of subtitles – and to appreciate what an astounding achievement this is, try imagining a dramatic film made without any form of dialogue today – Murnau crafts a beautiful, compelling and tragic tale that stands as both testimony to his undoubted skills and to the artistic heights to which silent cinema often aspired.The venerated German actor Emil Jannings was only 40 when he took on the role of the unnamed porter, and yet a combination of Waldemar Jabs painstaking make-up and Jannings’ own ability to convey his character’s heartache in simple ways, such as the stoop of his shoulders or a bent leg, means he gives a towering performance that never threatens, however, to overshadow the story being told.The story revolves as much around the grandiose uniform Jannings wears as it does the man. A symbol of the contemporary German importance attached to uniforms and their unavoidably militaristic connotations, the uniform is portrayed as making the man – and it is only the contentious ending that spins the message that it is not uniforms but compassion and kindness that make men great – not only through the respect he receives from all around him, but in the transformation the porter undergoes whenever he is parted from it. From a ramrod-backed creature of magnificence, with elaborately arranged hair and whiskers, he turns into a fumbling old man with bowed back and shaking hands. In the hands of a lesser actor, the demands of this transformation may have descended into cheap caricature, but Jannings never lets us lose sight of the proud man lurking within the bowed and beaten body.Karl Freund’s camera-work is a revelation in this film, right from the opening shot as we descend with the lift into the foyer of the opulent Atlantic hotel. Numerous tricks are used without drawing attention to their use and thus distracting the viewer from the tragedy that is taking place: the drunken POV shot (achieved by strapping the camera to Freund’s chest) in Jannings’ flat after his niece’s wedding reception; the blurred fantasy sequences (themselves a breakthrough in film narrative) achieved by smearing Vaseline onto the camera lens, and the use of dialectic montage and dolly shots, were all groundbreaking techniques never before used, but copied forevermore.Murnau directs the film with the assurance of a man at the top of his form – where he would arguably remain until his tragically early death – and the care taken with this film is evident throughout every shot. This is why Murnau made relatively few films in an era when many directors churned them out at a rate of a dozen or more per year. The degree of a director’s conscientiousness is always evident on the screen, and it is always a pleasure to view a Murnau film, because it is clear that his commitment to his work was always second to none.

  • bagogsun

    I loved this movie. It was such a simple story, shot so brilliantly and true so true to human nature. Composer Timothy Brock has composed and recorded a new score to this film and it is great. Cello is the doorman’s instrument, it brings his character to life. And hearing how the solo cello is weaved in and out through the score is quite a pleasurable experience.

  • ing-cecilia-sotelo
    ing cecilia sotelo

    At first, I wasn’t very excited about watching this movie, since I am from a DTS sound’s and colorful movie’s generation. But well, if I got used to watch black and white movies, why not the mute ones? My father recommended me to watch this movie, so, in the night of a rainy Wednesday, I was decided to follow his recommendation.”Der Letzte Mann” is a touching and sad story. It’s about a doorman who works at the Atlantic city hotel, and is very proud and satisfied with his position at work, until one day, he has been replaced as doorman, going to work as a washroom attendant. What makes the movie sad, is when he starts to be humiliated by the people he know, included his family.Also his sadness,makes you wanna cry.I was all sad, thinking that the movie would end with this tragical plot, but it finished in a very nice way: Thanks to his humiliating new job, the doorman becomes a millionaire. A very wealth man dies at the bathroom, and the person who is going to have all his money as an inheritance, is the one who will be close to him when he dies; lucky for the doorman, was him who was there. 🙂

  • boris-znelaze
    boris znelaze

    There are lots of films that have been made in the last 110 years of cinema. Most of them are made with certain goals. Some aim at sheer entertainment; some at conveying morals; some are made in educational purposes; some are vehicles for stars; yet some of them attempt to spread art. There are, however, films that serve most of these goals. An example of the film which combines all prestigious aspects of cinema is, without any doubt, THE LAST LAUGH (1924) by a master F.W. Murnau. It is a film that a lot of people consider one of the most artistic films ever made. Although its content may seem sad and its silent form dated, there are very few people who do not find this movie worth seeing. Here, it seems significant to state that it is one of the few silents that have been watched and admired not only by silent movie fans but foremost by people who are not knowledgeable of silent cinema and who are not keen on it whatsoever. Is there some magical spell that Murnau and his cast put into this film more than 80 years ago that it does not seem to fade? Here are some of the factors that make the film highly recommended.First of all, THE LAST LAUGH is the film which could boast the very innovative movement of the camera, a great invention of Murnau and cameraman Karl Freund. It does not only move leftwards and rightwards but also forward and backwards. The best example is the famous final shot of the main character (Emil Jannings) leaving the hotel in which he has had such extreme experiences. As he gives money to the people in the row waving him goodbye, the camera beautifully moves together with the movement of Jannings. This was really something extraordinary for the 1920s, people were particularly astonished by the camera possibilities and the film was a smashing success. Therefore, even now, thanks to this aspect, the film does not seem as dated as other films from the early 1920s (we must keep in mind that this was 1924 and silents were less developed than the later ones with Garbo, for instance). Secondly, the film differs from most other silents in another aspect. While many films from 1910s and 1920s had subtitles as to what is being said by particular characters, THE LAST LAUGH does not have them. Everything is so beautifully conveyed by the players that it seems to be absolutely unnecessary to have it written what they say. Jannings gives a marvelous performance as a humiliated man, deprived of everything, even his dignity, who had to replace his honorable position of a luxurious hotel Porter with a guardian of its toilet. It is difficult to express it fully with words but when you look at Jannings, there is such a feeling that you can read his mind. I had this impression throughout the whole movie. Others also play very well but it is Jannings who is in the main role, who is given most time on screen and whose portrayal is the most memorable. I haven’t seen THE LAST COMMAND (1928) but it is undeniable that his role in LAST LAUGH was a milestone of his career. Moreover, he is an absolute model of male silent performance.The whole content is also not much dated. The main idea of what happened to the Porter of the Atlantic Hotel is pretty universal. Who knows what the future will bring? Therefore, it was easy to feel empathy with the main character for the 1920s audiences and it is still possible for us. Perhaps, you may consider my opinion exaggerated, but I think that Murnau made his film everlasting partly thanks to this very content. How can a viewer skip the empathy with the poor old man when he reads a letter that fires him or when the gossip spreads to his district? The dreams that he has even more intensify the tragedy that takes place around him and in his mind. The additional final 15 minutes that show events which, unfortunately, never take place in life, appear to be the result of the author’s compassion with the main character. They are, indeed, unreal but HIGHLY ENJOYABLE. That is the quintessential of the whole art that Murnau’s is and its peak of entertainment. But it is caused by one more important advantage of the whole film, particularly these final 15 minutes.The film’s perfect flaw is humor. Although the content is quite saddening, the film is full of very amusing moments. Who can forget the Porter’s last visit to the toilet or his facial expression while sitting at the table in his new role? I also loved the whole sequence of his niece’s (Maly Delschaft) wedding. It was the last chance for him to wear a uniform, which was so honorable in the eyes of people. WONDERFUL IN NO WAY DATED HUMOR that still serves its purpose.Finally, music by Giuseppe Becce! That is something that makes you thrilled throughout. I have to admit that when I saw THE LAST LAUGH for the first time, I was glad that it is a silent film. It was destined to be made in the 1920s since dialog would destroy its whole magic together with gorgeous music that provides a viewer with marvelous experience. Although there was a remake of the film in the 1950s, it never deserved the attention of the original.To sum up, THE LAST LAUGH (1924) is a marvelous innovation for its time and still an unforgettable experience for the present generation audience. Everyone, no matter if keen on old films or not, will find something great in it. Definitely a great masterpiece, a legend of early cinema, and a must on the list of 10 all – time best movies! 10/10!

  • stacy-horn
    stacy horn

    F.W. Murnau, along with compatriot Fritz Lang, was and remains one of the most influential German directors of all time, his surviving work – including ‘Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922),’ ‘Faust (1926)’ and ‘Sunrise (1927)’ {the latter of which I have regrettably not seen yet} – continuing to inspire new generations of film-goers and filmmakers more than eighty years later. In 1924, Murnau released what it often held as one of his masterpieces, ‘The Last Laugh’ {though the director’s original title was ‘The Last Man’}. However, in no small part due to the interference of Universum Film (UFA) Studio, I must admit that I found this effort to be slightly underwhelming, an unfortunate result for a motion picture that I had felt sure I’d adore. Frequent collaborator Emil Jannings is undoubtedly the star of the film, occupying almost the entire screen time, and playing the character about whom the story revolves. Performing with a passion that transcends the technical boundaries of the silent film, Jannings gives a truly heart-breaking performance that is worth the price of admission alone.’The Last Laugh’ was the newest addition to a short-lived movement of film-making known as Kammerspiel, or “chamber-drama,” which often concerned itself with the lives of the working-class, and rarely used intertitles to create spoken dialogue or narration. I found myself likening the style to that of the Italin neo-realism movement, if only for showing an average, not-particularly-important man overwhelmed by the cruelty of upper-class society. However, several scenes diverge from this mould, most specifically a dizzying, wondrous dream sequence, and a tacked-on optimistic ending imposed by the commercially-insecure studio. Though it was not the first film to exploit a moving camera, I’ve rarely seen a silent film making better use of the technique. The camera, with no small thanks to cinematographer Karl Freund {who went on to work on such American films ‘All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)’ and ‘Key Largo (1947)’}, swoops gracefully through Murnau’s specially-constructed sets, an effect that is both invigorating and captivating. In one ingenious sequence, the camera even passes through a glass window to achieve a close-up of our protagonist.Hints of German Expressionism {in which Murnau had dabbled in previous years} are also easily noticeable, most notably in the entrancing dream sequence, in which a feverish hand-held camera captures Emil Jannings fancifully holding a hefty trunk high above his head, hurling it an impossible distance into the air and then catching it again with an outstretched arm. Also worth mentioning is a brief scene in which the downcast hotel porter, ashamed at having lost his prestigious job, imagines the tall building collapsing on top of him, representative of the enormous pressure that he feels has been thrust upon his life and respectability. The sneering collection of low-life gossipers, each sporting ridiculous sly grins of mischievous satisfaction, have a tendency to get annoying after a while, and I’d much rather be spending that time with Jannings’ warm, kind and quietly proud hotel porter, even if his happy ending {introduced with an openly sardonic intertitle side-note from the director} is more of a crushing disappointment than anything else.

  • floor-lieshout
    floor lieshout

    From the very first shots of this movie, my friend and I were just in awe of the way Murnau uses the camera to set up his situation. There’s an intimacy to it, he brings us close to the characters. Also the way he uses the angles and straight lines of the windows, doors and buildings to frame his shots impresses us immediately with the dehumanizing nature of the city much as it did in his Oscar Winning American film “Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans.” As if the impressive direction and photography weren’t enough to distinguish this as one of the most impressive films I’ve seen from the early 20s, the whole affair is anchored by a brilliant performance from Emil Jannings. He plays a man who is retired from his position as a hotel doorman and demoted to the washroom, which leads to a sort of nervous breakdown imaginatively filmed and a fetishistic attachment to the uniform of his former office.This isn’t a plot heavy film or a drama heavy film, basically it’s a character study. It’s remarkable for the fact that there are no dialog title cards, and only 2 or 3 informational title cards relating to various events and anchored to specific informational devices interior to the film (e.g. we see the boss’ letter telling him of his demotion). The quality of the acting not only from Jannings but from the entire cast (perhaps with the exception of a broadly played gossip woman) we see very natural performances that you often don’t in silent films.Of the 3 films I’ve seen by Murnau, this film impressed me the most. It doesn’t have the melodramatic elements that make “Sunrise” a bit more predictable, and it doesn’t have the languid pace that slows “Nosferatu” for me. It reminds me in some ways of the films I’ve seen from the 30s by Jean Renoir — there’s this fantastic way that the camera follow the actors around on the streets, pulling ahead of them momentarily and then allowing the main actor to zip through the frame while it focuses on incidental details. I’m thinking specifically of the scene where Jannings escapes after stealing back the uniform, but there are several scenes along these lines.Essentially I saw this film as a message of hope, interestingly couched with an explanation from the film-makers that “in reality” it would not have ended happily. It’s too easy to see this card, one of as I said only 2 or 3 in the entire film and the only one that’s not tied to a specific device, as Murnau’s way of eating his cake and having it too. Is there a touch of the ending from this movie, with the two former bums riding off together, that comes to mind when you see Wilder’s “Some Like It Hot”? Or has this been filtered by way of Mssrs. Lubitsch and Renoir et al? Either way I would describe the movie overall as purely cinematic, miles and miles beyond normal film-making techniques and taste of the early 20s and even arguably of today.

  • casey-castro
    casey castro

    Switching from expressionism to kammerspiel was only for the best for F.W. Murnau. Turning from pure fiction to reality, the director and his cinematographer Freund introduced, quite revolutionarily, moving camera (and also POV-shots) and abandoned intertitles. Intertitles do often kill film’s dynamics, and “Noseratu,” which is apparently the most famous Murnau’s title, was in a way spoiled by texts of all kinds. To abandon intertitles completely was an obvious decision, but difficult to realize and demanding a great skill. Murnau did a brilliant job: there isn’t a sequence or a shot which is hard to get despite no lines heard or seen and no explanation given.Admirably, even from external difficulties Murnau managed to benefit. I mean the ending forced by the movie producers. Murnau had to obey; but he made an obviously unrealistic farce instead of regular happy ending, and also preceded it with a sardonic commentary. As a result, the final sequence underlines picture’s message: the second change of protagonist (now to a tux and a top hat) is not a random detail. Furthermore, it’s not Hollywood-like idealism we feel here, but a hysterics, some desperate hope. We can even suppose that everything after the only intertitle with Murnau’s commentary is a dream, protagonist’s insane fantasy.Funny enough, this forced ending not only gave an additional dimension to “Der Letzte Mann,” but also would be used as a narrative technique on its own right by other filmmakers: see Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver” and Kusturica’s “Underground,” both featuring corresponding unrealistic epilogues.

  • zacharie-mathieu-bouvier
    zacharie mathieu bouvier

    F.W. Murnau’s “The Last Laugh” was the climax of Kammerspiel with its outstanding cinematography, composition and naturalist acting. However, due to the director’s remarkable production of the darker variant, the film is often mistaken as a masterpiece of expressionism. As an entirety, the film works as a perfect expression of the mentality and mood that prevailed in Germany between WWI and WWII. The injustice and gloomy atmosphere which finally led to Hitler’s rise to power. The film was written by Carl Mayer who was not only the father of Kammerspiel but has also often been considered as the most prominent filmic author in the Weimar Republic. Mayer’s scripts are literate film poems, all of which are characterized by profound but yet simple psychological structure. For Mayer, film was, first of all, meant to give form to primitive passions. Moreover, Murnau’s unique ability to “think and feel directly in images” gives the film a poetic dimension which drills down into the depths of the human soul.The protagonist of “The Last Laugh” is a respectable doorman who enjoys great appreciation at home and neighborhood. On one day, however, he gets a discount to a lavatory cleaner, and experiences a poignant social humiliation. Unfortunately, he is unable to accept the situation and, therefore, sinks into the dim abyss of self-loathe. The scene in which the protagonist loses his job, represented by the doorman coat, tears the viewer’s heart apart with its authentic emotion of despair, submission and loss. He becomes a living dead, so to speak. In fact, all the action built around the coat highlights the ever-worsening existence of the protagonist — on both social and existential levels.Already in the beginning, Murnau defines the contrasts of the class society, commonly for Kammerspiel, through the visual polarization of architecture: the glowing skyscrapers and the luxury hotel (where the doorman works) meet the gruesome aesthetics of the bleak block where the poor live in misery. The latter is definitely a milieu of deceit and exploitation whereas the former consists of elements — the elevator and the revolving door — which enable the hectic lifestyle of the hotel’s quests. As a matter of fact, the revolving door becomes a fantastic visual motif of the film. It’s the quick doorway of the class society which, at random, let’s people inside while leaving others outside. It is made very certain that at any moment any one, who has once got in, can, in future, be thrown out.When it comes to progressive cinematography, “The Last Laugh” was a marvelous achievement. Total mobilization of the camera was presented for the first time on the screen hence the film had a tremendous influence on Hollywood cinema. The camera tracks, pans and heels all being. This not only creates brilliant narrative but also makes it possible for the spectator to observe reality from various vantage points. Specifically, the film was revolutionary because the subjective perspective was transformed to the camera-work. Yet, technique is never self-deliberate for it is constantly related to the film’s theme of humiliation. During long takes, the camera shares the experience of social abasement with the protagonist. It goes through the emotions of shame and guilt. The camera might even displace the protagonist if Emil Jannings wasn’t so outstanding and superb in his performance. As a genre or avantgardist movement, Kammerspiel produced a great amount of touching and progressive films with minimalist settings even if it never reached the aesthetic level of German Expressionism. Nonetheless, visually speaking, Murnau depicts humiliation, pride and shame in an utterly beautiful fashion. To my mind, Murnau even achieves to give the visual form for Marx’s idea of the relation between work and human consciousness. And, in this sense, “The Last Laugh” is a poignant analysis of hierarchy in the class society, and a study on the significance and loss of social status — its authoritarian and destructive impact on both the community and the psyche of the individual. At its heart, “The Last Laugh” is a portrayal of a man’s slow and painful process of abasement, sinking lower and lower.

  • maandiip-paattil
    maandiip paattil

    Emil Jannings is the doorman of the elegant Atlantic Hotel. He is proud of his uniform and function, and respected by his community. When he reaches the old age, he has difficulties to carry trucks and suitcases. The hotel manager decides to change his function to washroom attendant. This apparently simple action is enough to destroy him as a human being. He loses his self-respect and when his neighbor finds that he is janitor of the hotel, he loses the respect of his neighbors and friends. “Der letzte Mann”, a.k.a. “The Last Laugh”, is another masterpiece directed by F.W. Murnau. It is an authentic study of the vanity and cruelty of mankind. The gossip and lack of respect to the elders is also shown in this fantastic film. The performance of the great Emil Janning is top-notch and the plot is based on his character and corporal expressions. The talent of Murnau is impressive, since he changes the heartbreaking narrative and turns into a comedy, with the doorman receiving the inheritance of an America millionaire and becoming “the last laugh” of the title of the movie. My vote is ten.Title (Brazil): “A Última Gargalhada” (“The Last Laugh”)

  • arne-thor-tveit
    arne thor tveit

    There can be no doubt that costumes were highly important in The Last Laugh. The topic was actually build upon a costume anywise. The doorman’s uniform was a symbol for prestige, high-honor, the key to be well treated in every situation. He was giving extreme importance to his outlook while he was working as a doorman. We saw this when he was twisting his mustache in front of the hotel. Not only him but also his family and his neighbors even show great respect to his uniform as well. Neighbors stop patting their carpets not to spread dust on his uniform, men bow and take out their hats when he passes by, at home niece’s mother sews the button of the uniform with great care… It seems that by doing all this, they are appreciating the prestige the costume has brought to their lives and in a way showing appreciation by keeping it in perfect shape. Last Laugh there wasn’t much of a contrast in terms of colors. The contrast was in terms of the different treatment the doorman received after his job loss. It was clear that after the loss of his job, nobody was friendly to him anymore. Also the contrast between the rich and the poor was underlined. There was a parallel editing of the ex-doorman drinking his soup in the toilet and the rich people having their dinner at the hotel’s restaurant.There were lots of dolly ins and outs, tracking movements, dialectical montage, close-ups and parallel editing in it. Dollies are often used in shocking situations. It is used when the ex-doorman’s relative sees him working at the toilet. As it is a shocking situation, camera dollies-in very fast to the woman’s horrified face. The same function of dolly-in occurs when the ex-doorman comes to the hotel in the morning and sees from far away the new doorman. It is a fast dolly as well. With these unexpected dollies, the audience is always kept tense knowing that the reality may strike at any moment. Dialectical montage is seen quite a lot of times as well. It occurs when the doorman looks left and then we see the wedding dress. Therefore we understand that it is the dress he is looking. On the whole doorman’s uniform seems to be controlling his life and that he is blindly obeying what the uniform brings to him. In this way, he is like a citizen unquestioning the authority of the government. Finally, Last Laugh is a classics which have influenced and will continue to influence other artistic works through generations.

  • sergeeva-fiokla-leonidovna
    sergeeva fiokla leonidovna

    F.W. Murnau often spoke of his belief in pure cinema. The capacity to tell a story visually without the need for words. The Last Laugh is probably the closest he came to achieving this ideal. It is a film of exquisite beauty that tells an incredibly moving story without the use of inter-title cards or “dialogue” to propel it. Well, there is one which the studio inflicted upon Murnau when it ordered the addition of a rather misplaced happy ending. Something I shall come to later. The tale is a simple but painful one. An ageing, pompous porter at a high class hotel (Emil Jannings) finds his World falling apart when he is demoted to the position of lavatory attendant. Stripped of his grand doorman’s uniform and his pride, the porters life disintegrates as the humiliation of his new, lesser position dawns on him. Feeling unable to return to his home in such shame, he steals the uniform which means so much to him (and gives him an inflated sense of his own importance) and then proceeds to live a lie with his family and his neighbours by wearing it to and from work each day. Of course, such secrets can’t stay hidden forever and eventually the awful truth is discovered. Returning to his apartment that evening he endures the mockery of those neighbours he once strode proudly amongst and, most heartbreakingly of all, he is coldly rebuked by his family for the shame he has heaped upon them. By this time he is near cataclysmic and he returns to the hotel to finally return his uniform as a broken man. This is where Murnau originally ended his tragic tale. And rightly so. The final images of a harrowed Jannings curled up motionless in a darkened lavatory fittingly capture the bleak reality of mans expendability and downward emotional spiral brought about by (false) pride. Yet the film does not end here. The studio insisted on a happy ending. As it is, the final fifteen minutes of the film completely jar with everything before. We learn through the films sole inter-title that the porter is left a vast inheritance by an eccentric millionaire who died in his arms and what follows is a sequence of opulent decadence as the now gentleman porter dines and entertains at the very hotel where he was previously employed. It’s an unfortunate way to close the film and completely unnecessary. For what Murnau presents us with in those crucial seventy minutes of the porters tragedy is up there amongst his best work. Of course Jannings is massive in the central role. The non-use of “dialogue” meant that he had to convey every thought and every emotion with sensitivity and clarity. His transformation over the course of the film from a wide shouldered, straight-backed almost militaristic figure to a decrepit, shuffling, wild eyed old man is a testament to his talents as well as the make up department. Yet, it is the stunning expressionist camera-work which dominates this film. Beautifully designed and lit sets are seeming haunted by the use of moving cameras that roll through the shadows and windows and across apartment blocks whilst cameraman Karl Freund strapped his camera to his chest in order to achieve the films revolutionary POV shots. Similarly, the use of multiple and smeared lenses add a wonderful sense of of distortion to the films innovative dream sequence as well as an ingenious hangover sequence also. All in all, this is another fine achievement by one of the very few genuine geniuses of cinema. The studio imposed ending may jar more than slightly and some might find the story at worst a little weak or insignificant, but The Last Laugh is a film designed as an expression of Murnau’s belief in imagery as a storytelling form. Something he achieves with undeniable success.

  • olah-antal-terez
    olah antal terez

    Der Letzte Mann is nothing short of the epitome of viewing pleasure. Beautifully shot, the urban landscape in which a noble doorman earns his keep (and humanity) is throughout dream-like, infused with a decidedly ethereal quality. Added to a magical visual backdrop is a haunting musical score, highlighted by sweeping cello chords which cut straight to the heart. With regard to prominent themes, the picture speaks volumes about the fragility of human existence and, specifically, human dignity. The shallow and arbitrary nature of a society bent predominantly on the acquisition and elevation of pecuniary wealth, as well as the perseverance of the individual through it all, is illustrated masterfully through both the zenith and nadir of the doorman’s existence, as documented in this truly excellent work of the interwar period.

  • martim-da-pinheiro
    martim da pinheiro

    More than anything, F.W. Murnau’s movie “Der letzte Mann” (“The Last Laugh” in English) seems to be a metaphor for inter-war Germany. Much like how the doorman (Emil Jannings) gets demoted to washroom attendant, Germany went through something similar in the wake of WWI: the reparations demanded by the Allied Powers destroyed the country economically, which unfortunately led to Hitler’s rise to power. In fact, the cynical end of the movie — in which the doorman inherits a bunch of money — seems to foretell the worst kind of “salvation” that Germany could have (which it eventually did). To be certain, Jannings gladly starred in Nazi propaganda movies, while Georg John (who plays the night watchman here), got sent to the Łódź Ghetto, where he died in 1941.But even ignoring that, this exercise in expressionism is a masterpiece beyond description. The lack of inter-titles is especially eye-opening, forcing all concentration on the action. Murnau followed up “Nosferatu” with the same sorts of surreal imagery, going one step further this time. He later had a great achievement with “Faust – Eine Deutsche Volkssage”. All of these are definitely worth seeing.

  • michael-romero
    michael romero

    Although the Golden Twenties of German cinema, a golden age corresponding approximately to the era from the making of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari in 1919 to Hitler’s absorption of the German film industry for the purposes of the Nazi regime, has come to be widely associated in public consciousness with the grotesque, the mystical and the fantastic of German Expressionism, indeed with such iconic figures to spearhead it as Nosferatu, the Somnabulist, Dr. Caligari, Mephisto and the Golem, all of them having their roots in the folklore or a fantastic reimagined past, there was also a more realistic, if no less tragic, depiction of a middle-class present with a focus on a psychological, as opposed to metaphysical, aspect.By 1924 the acceptance of the Dawes Plan by Germany had lulled the German Republic into a sense of economic stability that was to last until the stock market crash in 1929. It was that same stability that most hurt the German film industry, as the Dawes Plan imposed the reduction of all exports, leaving many independent production companies without foreign markets for their product. In the years to come Hollywood would seize this unique financial opportunity to break down its only European rival, but before major box-office flops like Fritz Lang’s epic rendition of Die Nibelungen (1924) and Metropolis (1927) and FW Murnau’s Faust (1926) would bring UFA to its proverbial knees in debt to German banks, little films like The Last Laugh (1924) and Varieté (1925) were the toast of the town in both sides of the Atlantic.Emil Jannings plays an aging hotel porter who takes great pride and pleasure in his job and especially the lavish uniform that comes with it. In the miserable middle-class neighborhood he lives, being able to wake up in the morning and go to work dressed like in such a prestigious uniform is like being a general. That is until a younger man is hired in his place and he’s demoted to the, undignified in his mind, job of lavatory attendant. Not bearing to lose face back home with gossiping neighbors and relatives, the old porter steals back his uniform and returns home as if nothing happened, the uniform a symbol not only of his social status but also of purpose in life.What is most striking about The Last Laugh is the way Murnau externalizes the psychological in a grand, theatric way that could only work on stage and in silent cinema. Watch for example the look of pure anguish and horror in Janning’s face when he’s asked to turn in his uniform, stripping it off like he’s being skinned alive. Recoiling without it into a state of defeat and abandonment like a man stripped of his own identity, with nothing to live for.Obsessed with artistic control and exercising complete authority over the minutest details of lighting and décor, German directors pushed for an increasingly studio-bound cinema to the point that UFA in the years between 1919 and 1927 became the best equipped movie studio in the western world. The Last Laugh is no exception. The facades of apartment blocks in the background with light slanting over them, the low-class neighborhood, the busy street in front of the hotel, all of them replicated in great detail within studio limits. It’s within this geography that Murnau transposes Jannings’ internal world. As is proper for the inward journey of the self the protagonist faces, the aging porter starts at the busy front of the hotel only to find himself exiled in the dark bowels of the basement where he remains hidden, that is until the film’s tacked-on happy ending.The only false note in an otherwise perfect film is the happy ending Murnau and scriptwriter Carl Mayer (of Caligari fame) were forced to devise by UFA executives anxious for the box office success of their movie. It’s not that it doesn’t work because such a tragic tale precludes a happy ending, after all one of the most memorable endings in all cinema is that of Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life and it doesn’t get any more saccharine than that, but because it happens in such a tacked-on deus-ex-machina fashion that it feels like a complete cop-out. It’s lame now and it was lame then and Murnau no doubt understood that as he flashes a title card (the only title card in the film) more or less apologizing that “that’s how the movie would’ve ended if I didn’t have a boss to keep happy so here’s a they-lived-happily-ever-after epilogue, take it with a pinch of salt or ignore it altogether”. It’s noteworthy however that it’s not pure schmaltzy tripe. It feels as though Murnau is taking a perverse, vulgar pleasure in delivering what was asked of him.Exceptionally photographed, with a modern feel to Murnau’s camera-work that places it well ahead of its time compared to other silents, a great example of purely visual storytelling without the cumbersome crutches of the title cards, The Last Laugh stands not only as a triumph of Weimar cinema but as masterpiece almost 100 years later.

  • nowbar-at-ayan
    nowbar at ayan

    People seem compelled to speak in superlative-terms when talking about the great directors; which film is their greatest, which ones are underrated, etc. But this is a film so simple in its themes, so modest in its methods, that it doesn’t lend itself to these labels very easily.”Nosferatu” was revolutionary, but based on intensity, something that doesn’t age very well. Other directors took up this notion of visual intensity (Leni, Boese) but structuralized it, and created the real German Horror masterpieces (“Waxworks,” “Golem”). Murnau’s discovery came later, with this film. That film narrative wasn’t something that you followed linearly, but something you become immersed in. The lack of title-cards is not a gimmick, but a conscious decision not to interrupt the flow of this immersion. Reading is rational (hearing, slightly less so) and prevents this from taking place.Add a Gogolian tale of aging and dignity, and Murnau makes magic. This is what “touching” and “moving” films should be like.4 out of 5 – An excellent film

  • sandra-montgomery
    sandra montgomery

    F.W Murnau is best known for his expressionistic horror movies, such as ‘Nosferatu’ and the excellent ‘Faust’. This movie is somewhat different from those, as it’s a more personal and down to earth sort of tale. Still, despite this not being a member of the horror genre; Murnau’s style still allows for much of the great visuals that made his horror movies great. The story itself has definite horror elements, which although they don’t involve vampires or the devil; are arguably more frightening, as it dictates and event that could well happen to anyone. The film tackles the idea of ‘downfall’, and as the prologue states; one can be a prince one day, but what is he tomorrow? This tale is told through the story of a hotel porter that has worked hard all his life but loses his job through incredible bad luck when the manager catches him taking a break. Heartbroken and humiliated, our hero is offered another job; but it only allows for his humiliation to continue, as the job is that of a lowly bathroom attendant. We then follow his struggle as he comes to terms with his loss and the reaction of his family and neighbours.F.W. Murnau uses no story cards for this silent film, which shows his flair for storytelling. Imagining some of today’s ‘great’ filmmakers telling a story without dialogue is preposterous, but Murnau shows his prowess by doing just that, and doing it down to a fine art. People often cite ‘Citizen Kane’ for being the film that took storytelling to the next level, and although it did do that; surely some of the credit has to go to F.W. Murnau. This film features what is perhaps the first ever fantasy sequence, a sequence that is, of course, a favourite of today’s cinema. Murnau’s technical mastery is also shown in many other sequences, including one in particular that sees a scene appear in the middle of a letter. It’s quite unbelievable that this was made over eighty years ago, just due to the amazing work on show in the film.The film falls down a bit towards the end, because of an ill-advised twist. This was put upon F.W. Murnau by the studio releasing the film, who wanted a happy ending. This is just another example of a studio spoiling a great movie, and even before I saw that piece of information in the trivia section for this movie; it was evident to me that it isn’t the way that Murnau wanted to take the story from the way it almost appeared to be tacked on to the end of the film. Still, the hour and ten minutes running up the ending are almost as good as silent cinema gets, and in spite of the studio’s best efforts to ruin it; The Last Laugh stands tall as on of Murnau’s finest films.

  • eileen-gomez
    eileen gomez

    I just viewed this film on the pristine Kino video release, having seen a poorish print years ago.One of the great classics of the German silent cinema, hugely influential, this true work of art not only displays the seemingly limitless resources of the UFA studios, but dares to break constantly with convention, particularly by being a “pure” film and dispensing with intertitles, but most spectacularly in its use of the “subjective” camera–creating as far as I know, the first sustained use of “point of view” in the history of movies, which had hitherto shown us action objectively, as it were: the spectator had always merely “observed,” as in a third person narrative. Even Griffith and Bitzer’s trucking shots, while including “us” in the action, did not represent another character’s point of view. Well, after “the Last Laugh,” P.O.V. turns up again and again. (See Abel Gance’s “Napoleon.”) Today the technique is common (necessary!). The most famous shots in “Der Letzte Mann” include the drunken swaying of the room seen through the Doorman’s bleary eyes (cinematographer Karl Freund seated in a large swing and pushed back and forth); the opening shot coming down into the lobby by elevator and exiting the gate; and the astonishing vision of the hotel toppling in slow motion over on the poor doorman after his demotion. And can you believe that first night cityscape with the driving rain was all constructed and shot INDOORS?However, I must say there is an unfortunate message in this drama, that of the merciless German stereotype: fawning before authority and deriding weakness–humiliating the powerless, admiring, almost worshiping the powerful. This is shown by the doorman’s vanity and puffed-up self-image, which hinges, it seems, on a splendid uniform and the deference it alone inspires. Position is everything to him, his family, employers, hotel guests and neighbors. This is a shallow world, indeed, a social mentality that I can imagine, without straining too much, easily leading in a few brief years straight to the all-too-successful Gestapo! (I would add that the ending seems to contradict this, but the ending must be discounted; it is a sheer fantasy, “tacked on,” really unrelated to the rest of the film and completely out of character.)

  • robert-scott
    robert scott

    SPOILER ALERT! F W Murnau (1888 – 1931) was one of the masters of early German cinema, and two or three of his films have every right to be included in any top 100 selection of all time: both Nosferatu (1992) and Sunrise (1929) are remarkable artistic achievements, which still hold the viewer today. Immediately behind these is The Last Laugh, which was produced as something akin to a calling card by Murnau and his studio UFA, and which duly created a stir when it was exhibited overseas. So successful was the film that both star and director were offered American studio contracts. If Nosferatu’s subtitle is ‘a symphony of horror’ and Sunrise’s ‘a song of two humans’, then The Last Laugh is more of a concerto, a three movement showcase for the larger-than-life presence of legendary German actor Emil Jannings. Jannings, who also worked for Murnau in such productions as Faust (1926) and specialised in towering figures such as Peter the Great, Henry VIII, Louis XVI, Danton and Othello on screen, often balanced precariously between inspirational character acting and outrageous ham. In the present film he plays an unnamed hotel porter – a character that’s miles away from the grand historical personages he regularly portrayed. Self-important and proud, he is chief doorman at the Hotel Atlantic (itself a superbly realised set, which anticipates the studio-fabricated glories of Sunrise) until, on the excuse of a perceived infirmity, he is abruptly demoted, humiliated and given a much more lowly position as a lavatory attendant. For most of its length The Last Laugh is a tragedy, its pathos made all the greater by the fact that contemporary audiences were only too used to associating Jannings on screen with great and powerful men. More than this, his tragedy “could only be a German story,” wrote the critic Lotte Eisner as “it could only happen in a country where the uniform (as it was at the time the film was made) was more than God.” The porter’s grand uniform is seen as source of power, as evinced by the respect he receives from his friends and neighbours. Once stripped of status, he just as quickly loses his dignity and suffers collapse. Jannings gives a marvellous, if characteristically ripe, performance as the old man, ranging from magniloquence to humbleness, and from trauma to ironic exultation. Much of this is achieved in the emphatic silent manner, familiar from cinema of this period, but Jannings was a great enough actor to reveal character just as effectively through the slope of his shoulders or the mere bend of a leg. His porter is an unforgettable creation, whose downfall and recovery stays in the mind long after the film is finished, and 80 years after it was completed. If that wasn’t enough, then The Last Laugh also demonstrates a technical brilliance that marks it out as one of the greatest films of its day. Murnau and his cameraman, the legendary Karl Freund, worked together to come up with what they called ‘the unchained camera’ – a cinema which liberated the image through a succession of dollys, tracking movements, dialectical montage, close-ups as well as some experimental set ups, which can still astonish today. From the very first shot of the film (a stunning image, taken from inside of a lift before the camera descends out in the lobby of the hotel) it announces its visual audacity, which reaches its celebrated zenith during the porter’s drunken celebration of his niece’s wedding where Freund uses avant-garde POV shots, taken with the camera strapped to his chest, before progressing onto the porter’s dream shot crazily, through lenses smeared with Vaseline. The Last Laugh is also noticeable for an almost complete absence of intertitles, revealing Murnau’s predilection for creating ‘pure cinema’, free of all distraction. American producers and directors were fascinated by the results, and perplexed as to how some of the effects had been achieved. Viewers today, used to Industrial Light and Magic, are more likely to have their curiosity exercised by the last act of the film, which marks a sudden departure from the source, Gogol’s The Overcoat. After an hour of deepening tragedy, we are told by the film that “Here the story should really end for, in real life, the forlorn old man would have little to look forward to but death. The author took pity on him and has provided a quite improbable epilogue.” Jannings suggested an end to the film that was accepted, and which still surprises audiences. It has attracted critical discussion almost as much as does the similarly disorientating end does in The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari (aka: Das Kabinett des Doktor Caligari, 1920), also scripted by Carl Meyer: in a sudden turnabout, the ex-doorman inherits all the wealth of an eccentric millionaire who dies in his lavatory, and departs the hotel in triumphant luxury. How one accepts the end of the film is a matter of preference. As an inversion of natural expectations, through an outrageous deus ex machina, it certainly works as ironic commentary on all that has gone before. There’s an element of wishful thinking about closing events even suggests a dream sequence, which would be an apt closure given what we have already experienced in the film. Some critics have seen the ending as a deliberate parody of a ‘happy ending’ or even as a metaphor for the money due to the struggling UFA studio from the talent-sharing deal with American studios. However interpreted, the old man’s timely fortune remains a satisfying conclusion to a film which, without some last injection of hope into the narrative, ran the risk of being too dour. The original German title to the film was Der Letzte Mann (‘The Last Man’), which was changed for the English language release, as another film already existed with this name. The original German title, with its connotation of “the least of men,” puts the emphasis squarely back on the main part of the film – surely Murnau and Meyer’s principal intention. The Last Laugh remains one of the most important films of the silent screen, a testimony to several major talents working at the height of their powers, and in the newly restored DVD reissue it can be highly recommended.

  • photeinos-euaggelinos
    photeinos euaggelinos

    F. W Murnau works are rare things – he made very few compared to other directors of his day, and many of those he did make have been lost. The reason he made so few can perhaps be understood by watching The Last Laugh. Like Chaplin, Kubrick and Leone, the effort that went into a single picture was the same effort another director might spread across ten. Nosferatu, his famous Dracula story, is great, and i hear his Faust and Sunrise are also things to behold – but many regard “The Last Laugh” as his masterwork, and also one of the greatest movies of all time. Lillian Gish once said that she never approved of the talkies – she felt that silents were starting to create a whole new art form. She was right, but the proof of this can not be seen in the work of Griffith, who was her frequent collaborator, and who she probably was thinking about when she made this statement – but in the work of German director F. W Murnau.D. W Griffith is usually shunned for his stance on racial issues and praised for his abilities as an influential film artist. I believe he doesn’t deserve this praise – and this movie is why. Not only was Griffith about as subtle as a migraine, but watching a Griffith silent, you get more words than images. There’s a title card telling you what is about to happen in every image before it does. The images themselves are almost unnecessary – his style is more literary than cinematic. The difference between watching Griffith’s Intolerance and watching F. W Murnau’s The Last Laugh is like the difference between watching a silent comedy by Hal Roach and one by Charlie Chaplin. The latter of each pair (Murnau and Chaplin) were visualists and artists, using few words, constructing beauty and high emotion through seemingly simple situations (a tramp who discovers a lost child, or a hotel doorman who loses his job, which is the basis of The Last Laugh).Silent directors strove to and were praised for their ability to tell stories through images alone, as much as possible, and this is one of the reasons silent cinema reached its pinnacle in F. W Murnau’s The Last Laugh – which tells the story of a proud hotel doorman (Emil Jennings), who, after many years of service, is demoted from his position to a mens’ bathroom attendant. Murnau tells an incredibly sensitive and human tale, showing how much the job meant to him by having him go to work instead of going to his daughter’s wedding. He shows how the position made him respected in his neighbourhood, and how he could not face the neighbourhood without his doorman’s uniform. And he tells the story almost entirely through images.There are no title cards telling us what the images are – they are allowed to speak for themselves. The few words used are worked in through letters and signs. Many silent directors cheated and used title cards to explain the images, but only in this movie did the art form of silent movies, which Lillian Gish refers to, take shape.I was amazed at the level of depth and emotional complexity that Murnau was capable of conveying without resorting to title cards (or their equivalent in talkies, the voice-over). This movie is also notable for its brilliant use of expressionism, and the first brilliant use of a tracking shot. In Murnau’s The Last Laugh, silent movies metaphorically were given movement, and learned to run.

  • stephanie-schroeder
    stephanie schroeder

    This classic is distinctive in several respects. The expressionistic style and creative camera work, along with a noteworthy leading performance by Emil Jannings, turn a simple story into a thought-provoking experience. It is also very interesting for its almost complete lack of title cards, demonstrating how a skilled practitioner of the art of silent cinema can convey all kinds of attitudes and emotions without employing dialogue of any kind.The actual story is very simple. Jannings portrays a doorman at a fine hotel, who takes enormous pride in his position, his work, and especially his uniform. One day the hotel manager passes by, misunderstands what he sees, and decides that the doorman is too old for the job. The next day, a new doorman takes his place, and he is relegated to working in the washroom. The rest of the film then shows the effect of this change on the doorman and on the way that others view him and treat him. The plot developments themselves are conveyed efficiently and succinctly, so that the emphasis is on the feelings and perceptions of the characters. The acting, camera work, and settings are all used very carefully to emphasize the changes that take place inside Jannings’ character and in the attitudes of others towards him as a result of his demotion. These changes are often very (deliberately) exaggerated, and there are times when they honestly strain credibility a bit too much. And it is not always easy to watch the doorman’s anguish, but it gives you plenty to think about – part of his suffering comes from the foolish attitudes of others, but much of it also comes from his own over-dependence on his position for his happiness. It is remarkable how much is expressed without even using title cards – there is just one in the entire movie, a note that introduces the last part of the film, when further developments occur that introduce a new set of themes.”The Last Laugh” is worth seeing for anyone who likes silent films, for its thought-provoking story and perhaps even more so for its creative and masterful use of silent film techniques.

  • auguste-de-boucher
    auguste de boucher

    The camera work and the sets in this film where so breathtaking and powerful that they changed the film language forever. It is in many ways the Citizen Kane of its time.It was so revolutionary that Hollywood (Fox) tried desperately to get Murnau to work for them and teach them how to do all these things (which he did some years later). The main revolutionary thing was the fluidity of the camera (or the unchanged camera, as it was called). There was no steady cam at this time, but still they managed to strap the camera to the body of the cameraman without getting a shaky pictures.The set is just amazing. It is difficult to believe that this is not a real city. All the special effects help also to make this believable (special effects that are still today astonishing and believable).The makeup is also great. Emil Jannings was only 40 years old when he made this film but he really looks like an old man (and acts like one too).But the greatest thing about this film is how much Murnau manages to say with out the help of inter titles. This is visual storytelling at it’s best.Murnau had come a long way from Nosferatu but he still had a long way to go and a lot to teach us before his untimely death. The Last Laugh is not only one of his best films, it is also most likely his most important one, and one of the most important films in film history.

  • david-svensson
    david svensson

    Warning – Possible spoilers lie within.This is the first silent movie I have watched in its entirety, having previously found myself becoming restless and distracted, I normally find them quite difficult to watch. I came across the Criterion edition of the movie in a large collection of Laserdiscs that I purchased recently, and decided to give it a try. I was speechless. ‘The Last Laugh’ (or ‘The Last Man’, as its translation would lead you to believe, is a touching story from director F.W. Murnau about an un-named Hotel Porter & Doorman (played excellently by Emil Jannings) who, through no fault of his own, is demoted to Lavatory attendant, and we hereby watch as his life collapses around him. It’s an incredibly emotional story – during his downfall, as his friends and family mock him, Jannings’ depressed, hunched-over figure can be painfully sad to watch. I found myself filling up in the scene when he finally hands his beloved porter’s uniform over to the night watchman.A landmark in the era of silent films, Murnau used some very clever camera tricks (such as smearing vaseline on the camera lens for ‘dream’ sequences). It was also one of the first films to use a completely free moving camera with no tripod, testimony to the success of this can be seen immediately in the first scene as the film starts. There are also no title cards in the film. Nor are they needed – The story is carried perfectly by the actors and on no occasion do you feel that you don’t know what is going on.I won’t give anything away here, but there are some people that may feel the ending is a little out of place – However, I had grown so fond on Jannings’ character that in a way, I was relieved to see the film move on from the final scene where he is sat hunched on the seat in the washroom – and for him to finally have ‘The Last Laugh’ so to speak :o)If you have any interest in old cinema, and have not seen this, or just fancy a change from all of the samey Hollywood flicks being churned out right now, I suggest you hunt out a copy right away. Highly recommended.