The Last Laugh

Rated 5.0

In production stills for the visionary 1924 German silent The Last Laugh, director F.W. Murnau and cameraman Karl Freund are seen wearing what appear to be white laboratory smocks. Their attire is utterly appropriate for the experimental nature of the film, with its groundbreaking, intoxicating use of point-of-view shots, set design and even handheld cameras. The story is bone thin, but Murnau’s telling is so efficient, he doesn’t even use intertitles. Emil Jannings plays a poor, aging hotel worker with a ridiculous, self-defining pride in his spangled uniform; he gets mercilessly demoted to bathroom duty, and his world instantly crumbles. It’s a bleak story—the Germans were never known for their lighthearted teen sex comedies—but Murnau also liked to experiment with contrasting moods, and The Last Laugh features a dreamy, upbeat coda.