He Who Gets Slapped
Thalberg, who had promoted Chaney to stardom at Universal Pictures, brought the "man of a thousand faces" with him to his new studio to play the tragic clown. He Who Gets Slapped was Chaney's first film at MGM, where he would continue a lucrative association until his death in 1930.
The film marked the American debut of Swedish director Victor Seastrom. Thalberg cast John Gilbert as the male horseback rider and Norma Shearer, in her first prestigious assignment at MGM, as the object of Chaney's unrequited affection. Within a few years, Shearer would become Thalberg's wife and, perhaps not entirely coincidentally, the studio's reigning female star.
The role of Paul Beaumont, a scientist who becomes a clown after being humiliated in his original profession, is considered one of Chaney's greatest acting opportunities. The actor himself would recall the part as one of his favorites. He would again play the clown with a broken heart in Laugh, Clown, Laugh (1928). He Who Gets Slapped was shot in 37 days at a cost of $172,000 and earned about $349,000 -- not a bad return at the time for a film of offbeat subject matter from a fledgling studio. It was critically acclaimed and was named one of the 10 best films of 1924 by The New York Times, which stated that, "For dramatic value and a faultless adaptation of a play, this is the finest production we have yet seen."
Of the star performance, the Times reviewer wrote that "Never in his efforts before the camera has Mr. Chaney delivered such a marvelous performance as he does as this character. He is restrained in his acting, never overdoing the sentimental situations, and is guarded in his make-up."
Producer: Louis B. Mayer
Director: Victor Sjostrom
Screenplay: Victor Sjostrom, Carey Wilson (based on the play He, the One Who Gets Slapped by Leonid Andreyev
Cinematography: Milton Moore
Film Editing: Hugh Wynn
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Costume Design: Sophie Wachner
Cast: Lon Chaney (Paul Beaumont, "HE"), Norma Shearer (Consuelo), John Gilbert (Bezano), Paulette Duval (Zinida), Harvey Clark (Briquet), Ruth King (Maria Beaumont), Tully Marshall (Count Mancini).
by Roger Fristoe