Lon Chaney gives another unforgettable performance in HE WHO GETS SLAPPED, which is directed in high style by the distinguished Swede Victor Sjostrom, and is historically notable as being the very first film ever produced by the newly merged Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
French scientist Paul Beaumont (Lon Chaney) has been working for years to prove his theories on the origin of mankind with little success until the wealthy Baron Regnard (Marc MacDermott) becomes his benefactor. But when Beaumont goes before the Academy of Science to present his discoveries,
Regnard takes all the credit and claims that Beaumont was merely his assistant. When Beaumont pleads his case, Regnard slaps him and the audience of scientists roars with laughter. Beaumont seeks consolation from his wife Marie (Ruth King), only to be crushed when she reveals that she's leaving
him for Regnard, with whom she's been having an affair. She calls him a clown and slaps him, then laughs hysterically.
Years pass and the shattered Beaumont has become a circus clown known as "HE--Who Gets Slapped," playing a character whose act consists of being repeatedly slapped by other clowns. One night, Regnard attends the circus and becomes infatuated with the bareback rider Consuelo (Norma Shearer). The
daredevil rider Bezano (John Gilbert) is in love with Consuelo, but her impoverished father, Count Mancini (Tully Marshall), makes a deal with Regnard to marry her. Beaumont locks Regnard and Mancini inside a room and sics a lion on them. They're both killed, but Beaumont is mortally wounded after
being stabbed by Mancini. Beaumont staggers out to the circus and performs his act, then dies in the ring as the crowd bursts into laughter and applause.
HE WHO GETS SLAPPED may be an antique (the MGM Lion doesn't even roar at the beginning, he merely looks around confusedly), but there's nothing antiquated about it. It bears the stamp of cinematic artistry and psychological complexity that marked all of Sjostrom's films, as it deals with such
concerns as the nature of sadism and masochism and the human impulse to laugh at the pain of others. Visually, the film is remarkably sophisticated, featuring a number of startling images, such as Beaumont's distorted perception of the laughing circus crowd turning into the laughing group of
scientists, and the recurring shot of a clown spinning a large ball which dissolves into a globe, with a troupe of tiny clowns sitting on the globe's ring, which then dissolves into a circus ring. Chaney is magnificent as Beaumont, another of his memorably deranged characters whose innate goodness
and hyper-sensitivity turns to murderous vengeance after being betrayed. The film was a huge commercial and critical hit, not only justifying MGM's often spurious motto of "Ars Gratia Artis" ("Art for Art's Sake") and consolidating the new studio's success, but also making a star of Norma Shearer,
whose husband was MGM production chief Irving Thalberg. (Adult situations.)
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- Review: Lon Chaney gives another unforgettable performance in HE WHO GETS SLAPPED, which is directed in high style by the distinguished Swede Victor Sjostrom, and is historically notable as being the very first film ever produced by the newly merged Metro-Goldwyn-… (more)