(kanopy/VOD/YouTube) Sure, F.W. Murnau directed NOSFERATU, FAUST, as well as one of the greatest melodramas ever with SUNRISE: A SONG OF TWO HUMANS, but my favorite film of his is THE LAST LAUGH.
THE LAST LAUGH is an extraordinarily depressing story of a hotel porter’s fall from grace starring Emil Jannings, an actor exceptional at portraying broken characters. While the tale is simple, it’s not simply told, as Murnau puts forward all of his talents with his ‘untethered camera’ as possible. Briefly put: the aging hotel porter (Emil Jannings) loves his job, loves the limelight of the front door and accommodating the hotel’s guests. However, his boss deems him too old and re-assigns him to be a washroom attendent. Despite the very slight story, it’s an expressionistic marvel, pure cinema, with Murnau’s camera visually and emotionally gesticulating all over the place, eschewing title cards except for one which is displayed upon Jannings falling asleep in his newly anointed washroom attendent’s chair. (Yes, yes, one might construe the following as a spoiler):
“Here our story should really end, for in actual life the forlorn old man would have little to look forward to but death. The author took pity on him, however, and provided quite an improbable epilogue.”
The last fifteen minutes of the film consists of an orgy of food, montage, and lower-class well-wishing. Talk about having your cake and eating it too.
The full film via YouTube (it’s in public domain, but there are restored editions out there that are worth your hard-earned cash):