New owners get 'Last Laugh'

After a dramatic three-month pause following its sale, the Silent Movie Theatre reopens tonight with a classic of the genre, "The Last Laugh" (1924).

Then things get scary.

"The Last Laugh" is about the humiliating demotion of a hotel doorman, whose job is his life. Despite the title, it's a tragedy — at least until the last 10 minutes. Even preeminent German Expressionist director F.W. Murnau, it seems, needed to create a crowd-pleasing ending. But he wasn't happy about it. After 60-plus minutes with not a single intertitle card, there is finally one: "Here the story should really end ... " Leave then, if you like. Or see the doorman have that last laugh. Either way, silent-film aficionados should be pleased.

"It's really one of the most beautiful silent pictures," says Dan Harkham, who with brother Sammy Harkham bought the theater in June. After initially planning to add sound films and reopen in mid-August, the new owners found they needed more time to adjust equipment. Dan Harkham says they'll mix in sound programming later this year or in early 2007.

For tonight, they'll be screening a 35-millimeter print, with Bob Mitchell on organ, and a pre-show program of shorts, cartoons and vintage trailers.

The rest of October will be filled with horror films, starting Oct. 14 with a special Saturday night screening of "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" (1920) starring John Barrymore. Boston-based trio Devil Music Ensemble will provide the soundtrack to film, as well as Luis Buñuel's surreal silent "Un Chien Andalou" (1929).

Rounding it out: "The Penalty" (1920) with Lon Chaney on Oct. 19; Murnau's "Faust" (1926) on Oct. 26 and "Nosferatu" (1922) on Oct. 29; and "The Phantom of the Opera" (1925) with Lon Chaney on Oct. 31.

-- Robin Rauzi

Silent Movie Theatre, 611 N. Fairfax Ave., L.A. (323) 665-2520, www.silentmovietheatre.com. Doors open at 7:30, film at 8 p.m. $9. Sunday matinees, 5 p.m. +

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