Screened as part of NZIFF 2003

He Who Gets Slapped 1924

Directed by Victor Sjöström

95 minutes 35mm


Carey Wilson, Victor Sjöström. Based on the play He Who Gets Slapped by Leonid Andreyev


Milton Moore


Hugh Wynn


Lon Chaney
Norma Shearer
Marc MacDermott


“If, like the villainous Baron Reynaud, you ‘hate clowns!’, then be warned – there are 60 of the blighters in this bizarre circus melodrama which was MGM’s very first production. Along with The Wind, this is Swedish actor/director Victor Sjöström’s best American film, and it is certainly very near the top in the Lon Chaney canon… Chaney is a brilliant scientist who escapes into anonymity as a circus clown (called ‘He’) after being robbed of both his reputation and his wife by the aforementioned Baron. His schtick, which makes him famous, is to get serially slapped by all the other clowns to the hysterical delight of the paying (and baying) public. When the Baron makes a move on Consuelo, a circus rider, ‘He’ contrives a nasty but self-sacrificial revenge… In less assured hands than Sjöström’s, this study in degradation and pessimism might have been unbearable; instead, it has surprising reserves of humanity and satire, brought out in part by remarkable production values punctuated with dazzling and innovative visual effects…” — Clyde Jeavons, London Film Festival