He Who Gets Slapped (1924)

Genres - Drama  |   Release Date - Nov 9, 1924 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 85 min.  |   Countries - United States  |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Hans J. Wollstein

Chosen to inaugurate the new production combine of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, He Who Gets Slapped, from Leonid Andreyev's 1921 Russian play, went on to gross $881,000 in its initial run and only added to Lon Chaney's stature as Hollywood's foremost character actor. Chaney played Paul Beaumont, a happily married scientist on the verge of a great breakthrough. But when his big moment arrives, both Paul's discovery and his wife (Ruth King) are cruelly stolen by the man Beaumont considered his benefactor, Baron Regnard (Marc MacDermott). The latter takes credit for Beaumont's breakthrough before the entire scientific community and when Paul loudly protests, he is publicly humiliated by a slap in the face. Taking the consequences of the resulting laughter, Paul leaves science behind to become a circus clown known only as "He Who Gets Slapped." Soon, he is the show's biggest drawing-card, provoking laughter by letting himself be slapped by a coterie of fellow clowns in response to such declarations as "Gentlemen, the Earth is round!" But when he discovers that the dissipated Count Mancini is literally selling his daughter Consuelo, the circus bareback rider (Norma Shearer), to none other than Baron Regnard, the former scientist contrives a terrible revenge. Chaney's Pagliacci-like clown earned well-deserved accolades from contemporary reviewers and his performance remains the film's centerpiece. But He Who gets Slapped also belongs to veteran character actor Marc MacDermott, whose chilly baron emerges as the film's second tour-de-force. Next to Chaney and MacDermott, Norma Shearer and John Gilbert, as the romantic ingenues, are merely routine. For his role as the suffering clown, Chaney was coached by George Davisand Swedish artist Erik Stocklassa, both of whom appear in the film along with such veteran Hollywood clowns as Ford Sterling and Clyde Cook. Directing his second American film, Swede Victor Seastrom was so taken with Chaney's performance that he got entirely carried away and publicly lauded him as "the finest actor in the history of films and the stage."