by Sam Juliano
Batman’s arch-nemesis the Joker was based on the lugubrious and sinister physiognomy of German actor Conrad Veidt, who played the titular character in Paul Leni’s 1928 silent masterpiece The Man Who Laughs. Batman creator Bob Kane confirmed this and further opined that Cesar Romero’s 1960’s original series incarnation most compellingly aped the Gwynpaine character from the silent film, much as the lead character in Roland West’s The Bat (1926) had inspired the look of Batman himself.
Leni’s film was based on Victor-Marie Hugo’s L’Homme Qui Rit – which was perennially regarded as one of the prolific and towering author’s lesser works. In France it was significantly less popular than Notre Dame de Paris (1831) and Les Miserables (1862), in part because Hugo had sought to exploit some unusual trends among 17th Century royalty, leading to him to set “‘Homme Qui Rit (The Man Who Laughs) in England instead of France – a move that alienated a good part of the French readership. It was hoped the tortured and deformed soul of the book’s title, much like the grotesque Quasimodo in Hunchback, would win audience empathy. In the end the specter of the evil Comprachicos could not match birth deformity in audience sympathy. Still, The Man Who Laughs came to be seen as one of the cinema’s great masterworks, easily trumping any of the multiple film versions of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. (more…)