The character Joker in the D.C. comic world has its own fan following. For the past couple of years, there have been quite a few adaptations to the character. The Joker first appeared in DC Comics’ Batman series in 1940 and made his screen debut in the 1960s.
But did you know that the Joker’s appearance was inspired by the character of Gwynplaine in The Man Who Laughs? This 1928 silent film was directed by German filmmaker Paul Leni and the movie was based on the 1869 novel of the same name by Victor Hugo.
It was Conrad Veidt’s performance as the ever-grinning Gwynplaine that gave birth to DC Comics’ iconic villain, the Joker. Gwynplaine is a disfigured human with a permanent grin on his face so that he will “laugh forever at his fool of a father.” Sound familiar?
So, in this 1928 film, the story begins with the capture of Lord Clancharlie, a political enemy of King James II. The King’s conniving jester sentences Clancharlie to death in an iron maiden. And the jester tells the Lord that his son Gwynplaine was sold to a band of child-sellers, comprachicos. They were the ones who surgically disfigured the boy with a permanent grin so that he will always laugh at the foolishness of his father.
Bill Finger, Bob Kane, and Jerry Robinson, who created the Joker, all agreed the villain’s permanent horrifying grin was inspired by Veidt’s Gwyplaine in The Man Who Laughs, according to Hollywood Reporter.
The Joker’s swept-back hair may have also been inspired by the silent film’s character.
Does this look remind you of Heath Ledger’s look as the Joker in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight? Because it is!
In The Dark Knight, the Joker narrates several stories to explain his permanent smile—one of them includes his childhood trauma, similar to Gwynplaine.
The Joker says his father was a “drinker” and abusive to his mother and him. In one domestic incident, the Joker says, his father put a blade in his mouth and said, “Why so serious?” and “Let’s put a smile on that face” before disfiguring him.
In fact, Jared Leto’s new look for the film, Justice League (Zack Snyder) is quite similar to Gwynplaine. Isn’t it interesting how Gywnplaine’s character inspired this iconic villain?
What do you think?