"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: