Director Paul Leni, whose career was cut short by his death from blood poisoning in 1929, is best remembered for his creaky, campy haunted-house movie The Cat and the Canary, but this elegant Victor Hugo adaptation (1928) gives a much better sense of his considerable dramatic and pictorial talents. Conrad Veidt (the sleepwalking killer in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari) plays an English noble who was kidnapped and mutilated by Gypsy slavers as a child and has grown to manhood with his lips carved into a hideous grin. (Veidt's chilling makeup became the primary inspiration for Batman's nemesis the Joker.) Mary Philbin is the blind girl who loves him; Olga Baclanova is the duchess who's trying to tighten her grip on his rightful estate; and as usual in Hugo, love is measured in sacrifice, yielding a sincere and extravagant sense of romance.
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