Der letzte Mann (The Last Laugh) is our second pick from F.W.Murnau’s filmography. Considered by many critics one of the most influential movies ever made, the story is centered around a porter played by Emil Jannings. The uniform means everything to him, it brings him respect and prestige among his customers and in his poor neighbourhood. This revolutionary piece of cinema brought to life a few inventions for which we will be forever grateful. One of them was the minimalist use of intertitles (usually excessively used in many silent pictures). Then we have the ‘Kammerspiel’ or chamber-play tradition, which, along with the Expressionism, were two main influences in Murnau’s art. The ‘Kammerspiel’ is characterized by emphasis on intimate, psychological content, minimum of characters, sparse décor and atmospheric lighting.
F.W.Murnau’s supreme talent lay in composition and lighting and a direct result of this capacity was making his visual style closer to the world of paintings than that of most other directors. The collision between the real and unreal is highlighted by daring camera angles, pans, tilts, tracking shots, trolley shots and dolly shots. A wonderful cinematographer, Karl Freund, was able to achieve Murnau’s goals by strapping a camera to his chest and following Emil Jannings everywhere, even riding a bicycle. Another cinema figure who was a pupil then and sat next to Murnau while filming ‘Der letzte Mann’ was Alfred Hitchcock. You will recognize Murnau’s influence in Hitchcock’s masterpieces. To conclude with, UFA studio forced the director to end the movie with a happy end.