'Joker,' 'The Man Who Laughs' and the Birth of a Villain

“What a lucky clown you are! You don’t have to wipe off your laugh,” one clown says to a second. This second clown, Gwynplaine, bows his head into shadows, masking the permanent grin stretched across his face in a failed attempt to convey, if not sadness, then anything other than mirth, joy and laughter. Though often classified as a horror movie, The Man Who Laughs (1928) stretches wider than that. Paul Leni’s silent film, based on Victor Hugo’s novel of the same name, is a romantic melodrama steeped in German expressionism and body horror. Universal’s ...
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