I found myself awake late one night this past week watching a film I’d seen a couple of times before. It was He Who Gets Slapped, a silent film from 1924 which was the first film made by the then new movie studio MGM. It stars Lon Chaney in a pretty grim and tragic story ( it is based on a Russian play after all) that is sometimes hard to watch and hard to turn away from at the same time. On this particular night I couldn’t look away.
The basic premise is that Chaney plays a brilliant scientist who is screwed over by a wealthy man who steals both his ideas and his wife, humiliating him before a crowd of the foremost scientists who laugh at him. This humiliation spurs him to retreat and become a clown called He whose act is to be masochistically slapped by an entire troop of clowns, his pain sparking the laughter of the crowd night after night. Of course, there is wonderful revenge and the rich guy gets his just reward but it is by no means a happy ending or a feel-good film.
But a great film it is. The imagery of the clowns in the film is quite remarkable and haunting. Whenever I see this film or Chaney’s other dark clown classic, Laugh, Clown, Laugh,(it was on right after He but I couldn’t take that much pain in one sitting) I am not surprised that many people have coulrophobia, the fear of clowns. It made me do a quick search for some GIF’s with clowns and putting them together is quite creepy.
Try to have a great day after taking a gander at these joymakers.