Though oft categorized as horror it succeeds more as a gothic romance. Taking ques from german expressionism the images are more striking perhaps than the story itself. Though it has much rewarding metaphoric implications, like the elephant man we are tricked when He who is meant to horrify us instead reaveals us, the people to be the horror, and she who is without sight is the only one to see the truth. Recommended.
I haven't had the opportunity to read Victor Hugo's novel so I can't compare this to its source material. I must say there were some scenes that were unnecessarily long but I thought it was an entertaining film overall. Conrad Veidt is heartbreakingly great, and Mary Philbin and Olga Baclanova were also very good. And a shout-out to Homo, for being a stone cold killer.
Conrad Veidt is expressionism personified. It's haunting and hypnotic how his eyes convey sadness and longing despite that ridiculous contradiction - the constant laugh. Gwynplaine, a familiar face today in the form of the Joker, is an embittered hero unlike his psychopathic counterpart.
Veidt speaks with his eyes. It's inconceivable how even with that ridiculous grin on his face he can still convey sadness and despair. The story, however, is a typical romantic melodrama that doesn't have the same pull as Hugo's other more famous stories. I haven't read the book, but at least Leni's version didn't convince me, despite the small Expressionist touch.
Definitely one of if not the best silent film I've seen yet! Feels so modern/timeless! Very well done and creepy/thrilling/touching. One can also see so many influential aspects of this movie/era that are present in many movies since.