A political satire done well, done so well that it haunts us even now, the truth is not afar anymore.
Paul Leni, the early 20th century’s most ambitious director, creates an iconic figure, unknowingly. And I say unknowingly, for this was the era where Dark Universal had already animated varied creature or mutants or any other beast-alike figurines as a loving protagonist that sold tickets just as Marvel does now. To be fair, this interwoven storytelling was started by them, back then. And is now the hottest idea on a plate, easily a century later. And Leni might be singing along, if looked from above, to those successfully printed films. But there is a major difference in the way, he brings life to this more-than-human character.
Something you can find in David Lynch’s classic The Elephant Man. And it is that the protagonist is never in charge of the room. The film runs and runs and never do you see him in control of anything or anyone. And this is how Leni draws empathy from you. That and, of course, Conrad Veidt’s sensational performance. And it would stand alone to those aforementioned Dark Universal films.
For if they have an anti-hero in their driver’s seat, the complexity is right there and then, thickened by the plot setting. For you are with those characters till the last stop and their actions, if inadvertently then inadvertently, casting a chaos on society. And Leni is aware of that nature that his lead, The Man Who Laughs, possess. That duality that Dark Universal walks along all the way, Leni instead ignites it like a time bomb. A time bomb that you are waiting to tick off. No wonder that the comic book artists saw Joker in this potentially powerful character. That suppressed emotion was so powerful that it latter boiled out from the film and poured itself in the comic book, Gotham City and Batman’s radar.