Influence of "He Who Gets Slapped" on later films

From: David P. Hayes
Newsgroups: alt.movies.silent
Date: Friday, September 11, 1998 4:57 PM

Given that a certain 1953 Swedish film reminescent of "He Who Gets Slapped" will be on TCM later this month, the following notes seem to be in order:

The 1924 release of "He Who Gets Slapped" brought to film audiences a type of drama they had not seen before. Perhaps it should be needless to say that there would be a few more films of its kind -- beginning with an MGM release.

1926 saw "Slapped" leading lady Norma Shearer returning to the "genre" with "The Devil's Circus." This superb film (which I've seen engross a live audience at two 35mm screenings in the last 15 years) not only brought Miss Shearer back to a traveling entertainment troupe as a setting, but also again involved her in the same emotional sensibilities.

Victor Seastrom, recently arrived from Sweden, had directed "He Who Gets Slapped" from a story by a Russian-born Finnish playwright Leonid Andreyev. "The Devil's Circus" credits its story and direction to Benjamin Christensen, originally of Denmark. Both works depart from the self-glory and ego- protective emotions common to circus stories and instead present a rich story of sorrow, betrayal, guilt, penance and redemption.

Reportedly, the influence extended to Scandinavia's most celebrated director -- Ingmar Bergman -- who I understand has acknowledged "He Who Gets Slapped" as an influence on his work. The themes common to the two silent films are evident in much of Bergman's output, and at least one film stands out as just as similar to "He Who Gets Slapped" as "The Devil's Circus" had been. That Bergman film is "Sawdust and Tinsel" (1953). ("Sawdust and Tinsel" is also called "The Naked Night," not to be confused with Bergman's later religious drama "The Naked Light.")

TCM will run "Sawdust and Tinsel" September 25th/26th at 1 am Pacific Time.

Bergman's "The Magician" again brought Bergman back to depict traveling entertainers living out of their wagon. Max Von Sydov would be in that one.

David Hayes


Return to Table of Contents

Go to next article