“What a lucky clown- you don’t have to rub off your laugh.”
A lord named Clancharlie has been arrested by King James II. The royal jester is no good and in on many evil plots. He wakes the King in the night to tell him that Clancharlie has been brought in. The doomed lord is told that his young son has been given over to a group of gypsies called Comprachicos who perform evil surgeries. The poor boy was given a permanent smile. The lord is sent into a device called the Iron Lady and killed. Meanwhile, his son is left behind by the gypsies who are forced to leave England. It is cold and snowy. The boy, Gwynplaine, walks away from the water’s edge. Gwynplaine sees a woman with a baby. Unfortunately the woman has died but her baby is alive. He takes the baby and finds a house. The old man Ursu lets the boy and the baby inside. Ursu sees the baby is blind. Gwynplaine took off his scarf he was hiding his face with and Ursu keeps telling him not to laugh at the blind baby.
Years later Ursu has taken Gwynplaine (Conrad Veidt) and the girl Dea (Mary Philbin) with him as part of a traveling group of performers. Gwynplaine is known as The Man Who Laughs and is the most popular part of the show.
Even though the King died years prior, the jester is still part of the court. He causes trouble by creating scandals. His newly created scandal concerns the duchess Josiana and a duke. The jester also brings to attention that Josiana’s money is running out and she will only gain money if she were to marry Lord Clancharlie’s heir.
Josiana goes to the fair to see The Man Who Laughs since the whole of London is talking about him. Everyone finds Gwynplaine funny. They do not know that he a tortured soul. Dea, since she cannot see his face, is the only one who truly loves Gywnplaine. What Josiana sees of The Man Who Laughs she likes and wants him to come to her that night. He is brought to Josiana’s home and as soon as he is brought to her she immediately tries to seduce him. At the same moment Josiana receives a letter stating that Gwynplaine has been found to be the lost heir and that she has to marry him to keep her money.
After his meeting with Josiana, Gwynplain feels terrible for what had happened. He goes to Dea and for the first time lets her touch his face. Dea at first scowls at what she feels and then tells him “God closed my eyes so I could see only the real Gwynplaine” and he loves her all the more for that.
The Duke who was supposed to be marrying Josiana comes to the fair to arrest Gwynplaine. He is taken to a prison that is notorious for people going in and never coming out. Ursu tells everyone not to tell Dea that Gwyplaine has been arrested and has the people pretend that Gwynplaine is going on stage. Gwynplaine is fortunately not brought to jail. Since he is a lord he has to be made to look like one and brought to the House of Lords and presented to the Queen. Gwynplaine is immediately laughed at by the other lords. A man had brought Dea to the House of Lords to hear the people laugh at the man she loves. She cannot take their cruelty and collapses and taken away. Gwynplaine saw what happened. He has enough, he does not want to marry Josiana, he does not want to be forced to marry someone not even by the Queen. He runs away out of the House of Lords and to the docks where he has learned that Ursu and the fair are to leave England from after being banished. The lords and other people chase after Gwynplaine for what he has done.
Gwynplaine manages to get to the boat with the fair and Dea. As soon as Dea sees Gwynplaine she is revived and better.
I was not crazy about The Man Who Laughs. I found it to be a bit too long. The plot was boring. I feel like with most stories that deal with fairs or circuses and weird looking people are all the same. Lon Chaney’s films, to me, are mostly like that. I suggest watching The Man Who Laughs only if you are a fan of Conrad Veidt or Mary Philbin.