Monday, September 13, 2010

Gilbert-O-Rama #2: He Who Gets Slapped (1924)

"What is Death? What is Life? What is Love?"

I can't remember who said (if it was you, please tell me!) that Victor Sjöström was the forerunner to Ingmar Bergman, but boy were they spot on.  This is a surreal, sadistic, dreamlike film about Paul Beaumont (Lon Chaney), an inventor who is wronged by both his mentor and wife, and becomes a clown to wallow in his cynicism and torture - "HE", who relives his betrayal and is slapped every night.  There is only one bright spot in his new life:  Consuelo (Norma Shearer), the beautiful new bareback rider, who unbeknownst to her is being sold by her horrendous father to the highest bidder (a man with whom "HE" is quite familiar).  Bezano (Jack Gilbert) is the daredevil rider and the man Consuelo falls in love with, and with whom, after much sorrow, "HE" is dead set on saving Consuelo from a cruel fate.

Lon Chaney is one of my favorite actors, and becomes more wonderful with each film.  Even though this could easily become a syrupy melodrama, he makes it work with heartbreaking intensity.  You can feel the knife's edge he walks on, between madness and pain.  The scenes with Shearer are particularly touching, with Chaney doing what he does best - loving from afar.  Other scenes are nightmarish, with deliberate overcranking enhancing the terror; you are trapped in the automaton of Beaumont's broken dreams.  An absolutely fantastic and highly recommended film.

I give this one: 



Artman2112 said...

i love this film, truly unique and ummm, bizarre to say the least! and clowns are so weird anyway, lol! Chaney was one of the masters, no doubt about it. If you havent seen "The Penalty" or "The Unknown" be sure and check them out!

Avalon76 said...

Haven't seen "The Penalty" yet but "The Unknown" was AMAZING. I think that was the first Chaney movie I ever saw - and I was instantly hooked. ^_^

At the top of my notes for this film: "CLOWNS ARE CREEPY" LOL

Artman2112 said...

The Unknown is a great plce to start for Chaney that's for sure! its so bizarre, i love it! my first Chaney was the Phantom, waaaay back when i was just a kid of like 8 or so, lol. when i watch it today i find much of it drags but man ALL of Chaney's scenes are incredible and more than make up for its flaws.
def check out the Penalty, he plays a brutal underworld boss with no lower legs!
also very worthwhile is West of Zanzibar and Where East is East. those last 2 are not on dvd as far as i know but TCM does show them on rare occasions.
its very sad so much of Chaney's work is lost but i guess we gotta be thankful for what did survive!

YES clowns are creepy!!!

Jump_Raven said...

I was the one who told you that about Victor Sjöström. I'm glad you liked the movie.

See The Penalty for Chaney who got permanent nerve damage from the performance.

See The Wind for another great Sjöström if you haven't yet.

Artman2112 said...

i'll second that, The Wind is one hell of a film!! the Scarlet Letter is the only other one of his films I've seen, unless you count the remnants of the lost film The Divine Woman with Garbo.