Laugh, Clown, Laugh

Laugh, Clown, Laugh is a 1928 American silent drama film starring Lon Chaney and Loretta Young. The movie was directed by Herbert Brenon and produced and released through MGM Studios.

Laugh, Clown, Laugh
Theatrical release poster
Directed byHerbert Brenon
Ray Lissner (assistant)
Written byJoseph Farnham
Elizabeth Meehan
Based onLaugh, Clown, Laugh
by David Belasco and Tom Cushing
Ridi, Pagliaccio
by Fausto Maria Martini
StarringLon Chaney
Loretta Young
CinematographyJames Wong Howe
Edited byMarie Halvey
Distributed byMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Jury-Metro-Goldwyn (England)
Release date
  • April 14, 1928 (1928-04-14)
Running time
73 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageSilent (English intertitles)

The film is based on the 1923 Broadway stage production Laugh, Clown, Laugh, by David Belasco and Tom Cushing, based on a 1919 play Ridi, Pagliaccio by Fausto Maria Martini.


Tito (Lon Chaney), a traveling circus clown, finds an abandoned child. Tito adopts her and raises her as his daughter, naming her Simonetta after his brother Simon (Bernard Siegel). One day the now teen-aged Simonetta (Loretta Young) encounters Luigi (Nils Asther), a wealthy man who falls madly in love with her, but upon seeing that he already has a girlfriend, she rejects him. She returns home to the circus and Tito suddenly realizes she is no longer a child. Tito further realizes he has feelings for Simonetta, but also knows his feelings are improper because he raised her as his daughter.

Luigi begins having fits of uncontrollable laughter because Simonetta has rejected him. Tito falls into melancholia because of his conflicted interests about Simonetta. They both see the same doctor about their conditions and meet for the first time. They share their respective troubles and believe they can help each other, not knowing they both love the same woman. Nonetheless, the three eventually develop a strong friendship until Luigi asks Simonetta to marry him. Simonetta eventually accepts Luigi's proposal, which throws Tito into an even deeper melancholy. Simonetta learns of Tito's affections for her before she marries Luigi. She tells Tito she loved him before she loved Luigi, then goes to break her engagement with Luigi.

While Simonetta is breaking her engagement, Tito and Simon begin rehearsing some new material for their Flik and Flok act. Tito does not believe Simonetta's love is genuine, but that it is just pity and at the same time, he knows that as her adopted father - it would not be right to have her as his wife. Driven insane by his internal conflict, he decides to practice his new routine from the act without protection. Despite his brother Simon's protests, he continues with the stunt and falls from the highwire.

Tito dies from his fall, freeing Simonetta to marry Luigi.

Alternate ending

The film survives in an incomplete print, but the missing footage does not critically affect the storyline. The surviving print seems to end rather abruptly, as the last few seconds of the fadeout are among the lost footage. The alternate happy ending - wherein Tito survives his fall and Simonetta marries Luigi, and they all remain close friends - shot at the studio's insistence, has also been lost.




The film is based on the 1923 Broadway stage production Laugh, Clown, Laugh that starred Lionel Barrymore and his second wife Irene Fenwick in the role of Simonetta. The play by David Belasco and Tom Cushing, based on a 1919 story Ridi, Pagliaccio by Fausto Maria Martini, ran at the Belasco Theatre from November 28, 1923 to March 1924, for a total of 133 performances. The production also featured Lucille Kahn in a supporting role.

MGM delayed production of this film several years, because Chaney had already appeared as a clown character in the 1924 film He Who Gets Slapped and due to speculation that Lionel Barrymore might reprise his role from the stage production. As a substitute, MGM would pair Barrymore with Chaney in West of Zanzibar.


As a trouping comic stage actor in his youth, Chaney would have been acquainted with clown performers of lesser-known fame. In preparation for this film and He Who Gets Slapped Chaney also studied the clown makeup of circus performers and legendary 19th-century clown stage actors like Joseph Grimaldi and George L. Fox, the latter of Humpty Dumpty fame. The film was said to have been Chaney's favorite of all his roles.

This film was Loretta Young's first major movie role, at the age of fourteen. In interviews near the end of her life, she expressed her gratitude toward Chaney for his kindness and guidance, and for protecting her from director Brenon's sometimes harsh treatment.


An eponymous musical theme was written specially for the film.[1] It was seemingly played for audiences in movie theatres [in the minutes before screenings of the movie].[2] It became a hit record. Chaney's set musicians played the song at his 1930 funeral.[3]


Critical reception

Author and film critic Leonard Maltin awarded the film three out of a possible four stars, calling it " the perfect example of Chaney's unmatched talent for turning tearjerking melodrama into heartbreaking tragedy."[4]


The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

2002 re-score, 2003 release

In January 2002, the third annual Young Film Composers Competition sponsored by Turner Classic Movies awarded the right to re-score this film to a college student named Scott Salinas. In November 2002, he scored it at Todd-AO, with the film first aired in February 2003.


  1. "Laugh Clown Laugh (sheet music)". 1928. Retrieved 17 June 2018. Theme Song of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Production Laugh·Clown·Laugh Starring Lon Chaney
  3. "Laugh, Clown, Laugh Played at Lon Chaney's Funeral". The Register-News Pictorial. 30 Aug 1930. Retrieved 17 June 2018.
  4. Leonard Maltin (2015). Classic Movie Guide: From the Silent Era Through 1965. Penguin Publishing Group. pp. 380–381. ISBN 978-0-14-751682-4.
  5. "AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-19.
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