F.W. Murnau’s The Last Laugh is special in many ways, but most noticeably is the film’s almost complete lack of intertitles. It was a rare example of a silent film told without this crutch of storytelling, and the film is arguably the best (and best known) example of this visual feat. The only intertitle to be had is narrative, and there is virtually no dialogue to be found in the film; indeed, this achievement would have this film make the list for that alone, but Murnau is too good a filmmaker to let that go by. The film stars Emil Jannings in one of the many roles that would make his career, a career that would lead to his winning the first ever Oscar for Best Actor.
The film’s lack of title cards means everything has to be told visually, so the film uses a lot of storytelling devices that would forever shape how films told their stories even to the modern day. Various objects and happening all have a greater meaning than mere superficiality, as they must in order to tell the story, and we are drawn into the film much more than we otherwise would be as a result, imagining dialogue for ourselves and reasoning story developments as they occur. Jannings plays his part wonderfully, completely becoming the role he is playing to an extent rarely seen among the oftentimes ham-handed portrayals of silent cinema, helped along I’m sure by some of the most obnoxious and awesome facial hair I’ve seen in a silent picture. Admittedly the film doesn’t have much in terms of actual plot, even for such a short picture, but the whole experience is so otherwise enrapturing that we barely take notice, and once events start happening we barely notice.
Another tidbit is the ending, which while noticeably tacked on to provide a happier ending than the film otherwise would’ve had, does help resolve the story in a more complete way than the film’s somewhat empty plot would have, and also gives the film its English title (the German translates to ‘The Last Man’). Even with the short change of the story department, this film is still compelling viewing, and succeeds in every way to be entertaining the whole way through. And like I said, the film is rather short, so you really don’t have anything to lose. F.W. Murnau’s visual prowess was at a height with this film, and he would go on to make the absolutely gorgeous Sunrise, which I was a big fan of. Definitely give this one a look; even with its lack of title cards, it is still a wonderfully told story with visual moodiness galore.
Arbitrary Rating: 8/10