A professional clown and a self-indulgent count learn to help each other with their problems, but then become romantic rivals.A professional clown and a self-indulgent count learn to help each other with their problems, but then become romantic rivals.A professional clown and a self-indulgent count learn to help each other with their problems, but then become romantic rivals.
Herbert Brenon, known as a despotic director, directs the film. It's a bittersweet romantic melodrama, a film with a similar theme that Chaney did in 1924's He Who Gets Slapped. The fifteen-year-old Loretta Young (only 14 at the time of shooting) is 45-year-old Lon Chaney's leading lady. Young started in showbiz at the age of four as an extra, but this was her first major role. The film proved to be popular; MGM had it shot with an alternative happy ending to its sad ending and let the individual movie houses decide which version they wanted. No surviving copy of the happy ending seems to have survived. It's taken from a 1923 play by David Belasco and Tom Cushing based on the Italian play Ridi Pagliacci by Gausto Martino, Elizabeth Meehan is the screenwriter. The play had a successful run in New York with Lionel Barrymore in the Chaney role. It was shot on location in Elysian Park, a suburb of Los Angeles by the legendary cinematographer James Wong Howe.
The film is simply about Tito (Lon Chaney) a clown in a traveling circus, a performer who once drew in massive crowds with his skills. When he was younger, he found himself in a most unusual situation, however. He and his friend Simon discover an abandoned young girl, who has no chance of survival on her own. Out of kindness, the two take her in and she is raised on the road with the two performers. As time passes and the years roll on, the girl blossoms into a beautiful young woman, known as Simonetta (Loretta Young). Tito's prime has passed, which has him in a depressed state at the outset. He and the self-indulgent Count Luigi Ravelli (Nils Asther) learn to help each other with their problems, but become romantic rivals when Simonetta falls for the rich count. Tito then falls into a spiral of sadness, due his mixed emotions.
Probably the first thing you'll notice about Laugh, Clown, Laugh is how little attempted dialogue there is. The title card is used infrequently. The vast majority of this movie is told in near pantomime: gestures, facial expressions, and stage direction. It is also eloquently plotted, so we understand the situations and dramatics instantly and inherently.
Without Chaney though, this film just would not work. It would seem forced or flashy, almost hyperactive in some ways. Chaney is the anchor, the solid center whose pure motives move quickly over to the mixed when he realizes the emotional bond between Simonette and himself is growing more "physical." Without the seriousness, the emotional concrete that Chaney provides to tie the movie to a core concept, the flighty nature of Loretta Young or the overacting of Simon and Count Lavelli would forever damage the narrative. Chaney is the epitome of a clown laughing on the outside as he is dying on the inside, and Laugh, Clown, Laugh is a classic film.
- Jun 27, 2007