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Quarterly Review of Film and Video (2006) - Murnau's The Last Laugh and Hitchcock's subjective camera


  • article: Murnau's The Last Laugh and Hitchcock's subjective camera
  • author(s): J.N. Bade
  • journal: Quarterly Review of Film and Video (2006)
  • issue: volume 23, issue 3, pages 257-266
  • DOI: 10.1080/105092090503349
  • journal ISSN: 1050-9208
  • keywords: Composition, Film, History, Mentors, Motion picture criticism, Motion picture directors & producers, Professional relationships, Technological Advancements



In 1924, Alfred Hitchcock came to Berlin as assistant director of an Anglo-German co-production, The Blackguard, to be filmed at the UFA studios in Neubabelsberg. This visit was to have a profound effect on Hitchcock's subsequent film production-not because of the film he was involved with, but because of his encounter with Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau, who was making his masterpiece of silent cinema, The Last Laugh (Der lezte Mann) on the neighboring set. What was it about The Last Laugh that so fascinated Hitchcock? Judging from the films that Hitchcock produced in the years after the encounter with Murnau, it appears to have been primarily Murnau's pioneering camera techniques that attracted his attention. The German films of the 1920s that dealt realistically with the lives of ordinary people were characterized by the use of the camera "in ways never before attempted or even dreamed of," to quote Arthur Knight, and it was Murnau's The Last Laugh which "brought on this revolution." This film, which tells the simple story of a hotel doorman (played by Emil Jannings) who is demoted to a basement lavatory attendant, expresses a complex range of reactions to the doorman's new situation by the revolutionary use of the camera.