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Film / The Last Laugh

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The Last Laugh (Der letzte Mann) is a 1924 German Silent Movie directed by F.W. Murnau. Emil Jannings, who later won the first Academy Award for Best Actor, plays a doorman at a fancy Berlin hotel. The doorman takes great pride in his job, in the hotel, and in the fancy uniform that he gets to wear. However, he is old for a doorman, and one day he comes to work and finds out that another employee has been given his job. The former doorman is demoted to washroom attendant. Humiliated, he tries to conceal this from his neighbors and family.

Has a place on the Roger Ebert Great Movies List. Ebert's review is here.

Compare A Page of Madness, a Japanese silent film made two years later that also did without title cards.

This film provides examples of:

  • As You Know: The newspaper starts off with "As you may recall.."
  • Chewing the Scenery: Actor Emil Jannings as the doorman, especially in his portrayal of a severe Heroic BSoD.
  • Circle of Shame: All the faces of the doorman's neighbors laughing at him after they found out he lost his job.
  • Deus ex Machina: Just when the doorman is in the depths of despair, the happy ending comes out of nowhere — he inherits a large sum of money from a millionaire who dies in the hotel bathroom. The only title card in the film lampshades this, actually apologizing for the ending and stating that in the real world, the only thing the doorman would have to look forward to is death. Sources differ on whether the ending was a result of Executive Meddling or was a bit of satire by Murnau.
  • Dream Sequence: The doorman, who lost his job when his boss noticed he couldn't handle a large trunk, dreams of tossing around a huge trunk easily, with one arm.
  • Epic Tracking Shot: Murnau and cameraman Karl Freund did things that were extraordinary for 1920's cinema. The opening shot is a tracking shot from an elevator through the hotel lobby and out the door, accomplished by putting the camera in a wheelchair. For another shot, Freund and his camera were suspended in mid-air.
  • Heroic BSoD: The doorman is in this state pretty much continually after getting demoted.
  • Impairment Shot: When the doorman wakes up hung over after the wedding.
  • The Last Title: The title.
  • Nameless Narrative: Well, the hotel is called The Atlantic, but that's the only name we get.
  • Pride: The doorman's flaw. His life is destroyed when he's demoted, and he can't bear to admit it to anyone.
  • Silence is Golden: This film has a claim to be the most silent movie ever made. Not only does it not have dialogue, it doesn't even have any title cards, except for one very close to the end, and that one doesn't even provide any exposition. The story is told almost entirely through pictures. The only exposition in the film comes from a note, a newspaper, and an inscription on a cake.