The Last Laugh
(Der letzte Mann)
Emil Jannings, Maly Delschaft, Max Hiller, Hans Unterkirchen,
A powerful study of the enduring status symbol of the uniform and a piercing critique of its importance in German society, The Last Laugh is the story of a proud hotel doorman’s demotion to lavatory attendant and his fall from grace in the eyes of neighbors and relatives who had previously respected him. Working in close collaboration with writer Carl Mayer, cameraman Karl Freund, and actor Emil Jannings, F. W. Murnau fashioned a genuine tragedy out of this simple tale, translated into a remarkable film language in which the character’s turmoil is expressed through imagery and Jannings’s expressionist use of gestures, which make intertitles virtually unnecessary. The film, which brought international recognition to the German cinema of the 1920s, is justly famous as a showcase for Freund’s new camera-on-wheels, for which it was specifically designed. As the camera dollies through hotel lobbies and corridors and out into the shimmering night, following prolonged stretches of continuous action, one still marvels at the unity of this film, whose final shape was clearly determined before, not after, shooting.