THE LAST LAUGH (1924/Germany). Director: F. W. Murnau.
The head doorman at a prestigious hotel is demoted to basement wash room attendant on the day of his daughter's wedding, and we watch his despair and disintegration as he tries to cover up the disgrace and is rejected by friends and family when the truth is uncovered. Although slow at times, this is a powerful film, greatly aided by the strong lead performance of Emil Jannings, who can be broad at times but is always effective and moving. The film has to be taken as a fairy tale of sorts, as on some occasions it stretches credulity [that only one person, the night watchman, has any sympathy for Jannings, for instance], and the ending is the purest fantasy. Yet the ending has its own quiet power and charm, and can also be taken as a mere expression of the defeated, desperate Jannings innermost desires. The new orchestral score by Timothy Brock is evocative and excellent and adds immeasurably to the film's modern-day impact. A masterpiece. [Karl Freund, who photographed the film, later worked on I Love Lucy which might be seen as a comedown -- at the very least a big change in tone -- were it not for the fact that he helped revolutionize the way TV series were filmed and became an important part of one of television's most enduring and memorable programs.]
Verdict: A near-masterpiece. ***1/2.