Steve Simels
June 03, 1994 AT 04:00 AM EDT

The Last Laugh

type
Movie
Current Status
In Season
mpaa
Unrated
runtime
90 minutes
performer
Maly Delschaft, Emil Jannings
director
F.W. Murnau
genre
Drama

We gave it an A-

F.W. Murnau’s celebrated silent film The Last Laugh is a study in contrasts: a cynically naturalistic story (the humiliations of an elderly hotel doorman) capped with a sentimental happy ending; a deliberately modernist attempt at pure cinema (a then-revolutionary moving camera, few title cards) with a florid, old-fashioned melodramatic performance by Emil Jannings. Somehow it all works, and this new laserdisc (which runs about 10 minutes longer than most previous tape versions) introduces a contrast of its own. Taken from a print in generally good condition, the video image is soft, vaguely defined, unreal. Timothy Brock’s new orchestral score, on the other hand, has been recorded in such devastatingly realistic digital stereo that you hear the musicians rustling in their seats. The juxtaposition is jarring yet somehow fitting — and one can’t help but suspect Murnau himself would have approved.

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