Sunday, September 6, 2009

He Who Gets Slapped (1924): A fool is always laughing

"Life is but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more; it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

The melodramatic story of a scientist who after being robbed of his discoveries and his wife by a bourgeois swindler becomes a circus clown, He Who Gets Slapped, directed in Hollywood for MGM by Swede Victor Sjöström starred Lon Chaney, Norma Shearer, and John Gilbert, and was based on a  Russian play Tot, kto poluchayet poshchechini by playwright Leonid Andreyev.

A wonderfully expressionistic work which uses the circus ring cum spinning globe as a deeply pessimistic metaphor for life, love, and death.  A deeply profound performance by Lon Chaney in the lead role as He, the clown whose act is built on his being slapped for laughs as he repeatedly falls and gets up for more. Before a tragic finale he wreaks a terrible revenge on his tormentors. The final scene sees his limp body at the front of a spinning earth ringed by clowns unceremoniously swung into the void...