starring Emil Jannings


May, 1925

"The Last Laugh" sneaked into New York with scarcely the whisper of a press notice. Unlike Mr. Sternberg's "The Salvation Hunters," it wasn't endorsed by anybody but Carl Laemmle, who purchased this German picture for Universal. Hugo Riesenfeld, our local manager, brought it into his Rivoli Theater for one week, where it proved so popular with the critics and with the public that it was held over for a second week.

They tell me that a New York verdict means nothing out of town, so "The Last Laugh" may die the death of a dog in remoter cities. However, I hope it will share the fate of "Abraham Lincoln," which was first set down as a failure and emerged triumphantly as a success. And I rather think "The Last Laugh" will be popular, not because it is an advance in the art of picture making - that doesn't mean anything to anybody - but because it has a quality that audiences will find hard to resist - it has the good old human appeal.

Properly speaking it has no definite story. It is merely a character study of an old fellow who is employed as carriage starter at a Berlin hotel. The old fellow is played by Emil Jannings, who knows more about camera acting than any man, woman, child or dog on the screen. The poor old man's life is centered upon the gorgeous coat, all buttons and gold lace, which he wears in the performance of his dignified office.

Old age comes upon him and the manager of the hotel takes away his job and his coat and transfers him to the menial situation of attendant in the washroom. It is a though a general had been demoted to the rank of a private; Napoleon at St. Helena was not a more tragic figure. The idea of returning to his home without the coat and the consequent salutes of the neighbors break him down. He steals the coat and wears it on the sly.

But he is caught in his deception. His miserable friends find that he is no longer a glittering carriage starter. He tumbles down the social scale and settles down to an old age of poverty and decline. But here the Ufa company, makers of the picture, decided to take pity on the American public. They decided to give the picture a happy ending.

This happy ending is a masterpiece of satire. A Mexican millionaire leaves all his money to the old man so that he can end his days in a riot of feasting and splendor.

The production of the picture is the most brilliant I have ever seen. It is told without subtitles and you don't miss them. i have never seen such eloquent and beautiful camera work. Where did the Ufa company find such an instrument and such a camera man? The camera is centered almost entirely on Mr. Jannings; it read s his thoughts; it follows his footsteps; it acts as his eyes; it interprets his emotions. With the help of this marvelous camera, you live the character with him.

Technically, "The Last Laugh" has 'em all guessing. No one seems to know how the night scenes were taken. Nor can we guess how the scenes were enacted on the streets of Berlin. And if some of the scenes were taken in a studio, how were the lights arranged and how did the director make them so amazingly natural?

"The Last Laugh" marks the only important technical advance in pictures since D.W. Griffith invented the close-up and the flashback. It is so startling and dazzling an experiment, that it will be a long time before any one gathers up the nerve to imitate it.

However, the technical side has but slight interest for the public; it is so radical that many people are apt to be confused by it. The appeal of "The Last Laugh" lies in the performance given by Mr. Jannings which is overwhelmingly fine. I use the word "overwhelmingly" on purpose because it ought to overwhelm a lot of other actors into going back and playing charades.

I don't know why I have such a deep affection for Mr. Jannings. Perhaps because he is far away, across the ocean. I have never seen him photographed with Frau Jannings and the "kindchen." He has never posed before the fireplace with a book. Elinor Glyn has never selected him as her ideal man. He has never been married in Tia Juana or Mexicali. He has never been reported engaged to Barbara La Marr. I have a strong notion that the is an artist and gentleman. I hope he stays in Germany.

starring Emil Jannings
March 7, 1925

So different is "The Last Laugh" from an American-made, American-played film, that it is hard to tell whether or no it will appeal to an American film public, not always open to the extremely novel in pictures. It is the simplest sort of a study of an old German porter whose habiliments and badge of office win him the respect of his neighborhood and who carries his uniform and homage with squared shoulders, flashing eyes and erect carriage. On account of his age, he is transferred to a minor position in the hotel, and with the loss of his position comes the loss of his neighbor's regard. His step becomes feeble, his head bowed and his heart breaks. Very slow-moving is this German-made film, filled with tragedy and pathos, but marvelously well acted and marvelously well directed, without the aid of a single sub-title. An explanatory note and an additional reel, when we thought the picture ended, gives the story one of the most humorous twists we have ever witnessed

Emil Jannings, who plays the leading role, is an artist, and although we may feel doubtful of the picture's general reception, we highly recommend it as "one of those photoplays no one can afford to miss."

Contributed by Eryn Merwart

Return to reviews page