Laugh, Clown, Laugh (1928)

Article #1388 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-1-2005
Posting Date: 5-31-2005
Directed by Herbert Brenon
Featuring Lon Chaney, Bernard Siegel, Loretta Young

A roving clown rescues an abandoned girl and raises her as his own. When she reaches womanhood, he discovers that he’s fallen in love with her, but cannot tell her becuase of his age and his belief that she loves another.

I’ve covered several of Chaney’s extant films for this series, but this one is perhaps the most marginal in terms of its fantastic content. The closest qualifications I could think of are 1) the presence of Chaney himself, who, though not really a horror actor, has been adopted by horror fans as one of their stars, and 2) the Chaney character does go a little mad towards the end of the film. Other factors often found in Chaney films that edge them closer to horror (horrible revenge and physical handicaps) are singularly missing in this one.

However, it is a tremendously moving movie, and it’s one of Chaney’s very best. His ability to project emotion is phenomenal; you feel his joy and pain every second he’s on the screen. The movie is filled with powerful scenes; the scene where Chaney tries his best to get the newly-saved child to laugh; the scene where he discovers that he’s lost the woman he loves to another right after he’s given a bravura performance on stage but right before curtain call, and the scene where the juxtaposition of his tragic life and his stage persona drives him into a fit of madness are all unforgettable. Horror fans will find little here, but Chaney fans will find plenty.

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