Gwynplaine is a horrifyingly disfigured man who was surgically deformed with a grotesque, "hideous" smile. Gwynplaine was featured some of the earliest monster movies in history, such as The Man Who Laughs made in 1909 in France by the Pathé film company and produced by Albert Capellan. Although no copies of this film survived, it inspired a remake of the same name in 1928 starring Mary Philbin and Conrad Veidt and the 1921 Austrian horror film Das grinsende Gesicht. Gwynplaine is most famous for inspiring Batman's main villain, the Joker, in 1940 Detective Comics.
The Man Who Laughs (Novel)
Victor Hugo wrote The Man Who Laughs, or the Laughing Man, over a period of fifteen months while he was living in the Channel Islands, having been exiled from his native France because of the controversial political content of his previous novels. Hugo's working title for this book was On the King's Command, but a friend suggested The Man Who Laughs. The novel centers around political corruption and prejudice.
The Man Who Laughs (Silent Films)
Taking place in England in the year 1690, The Man Who Laughs features Gwynplaine, the son of an English nobleman
who has offended King James II. The monarch sentences Gwynplaine's father to death in an iron maiden, after calling upon a surgeon, Dr. Hardquannone, to disfigure the boy's face into a permanent grin. As a title card states, the King condemned him "to laugh forever at his fool of a father."
The homeless Gwynplaine is seen wandering through a snowstorm and discovers an abandoned baby girl, the blind Dea. The two children are eventually taken in by Ursus, a mountebank. Years pass and Gwynplaine falls in love with Dea, but refuses to marry her because he feels his hideous face makes him unworthy. The three earn their living through plays highlighting the public's fascination with Gwynplaine's disfigurement. This gains them attention from the Queen, who demands that Gwynplaine marry an official who is living in his inheritance. Gwynplaine escapes and leaves in exile with Dea. In the novel, Dea dies while at sea and Gwynplaine drowns himself. This ending never made it in the final film.
In 1940, comic book artist Jerry Robinson used Gwynplaine's lanky physique and grotesque grin as the visual inspiration for the Joker, Batman's archenemy. There the similarity ends, however; Gwynplaine is an embittered hero, while the Joker is a psychopathic criminal.
In the 1970s, Bob Kane acknowledged the inspiration for the Joker, and it was later explicitly referenced in the graphic novel, Batman: The Man Who Laughs. Comic book artist Brian Bolland said that watching The Man Who Laughs was one of his inspirations for drawing the graphic novel Batman: The Killing Joke (1988). In the 2003 "Wild Cards" episode of the Justice League animated series, The Joker infiltrated a TV station by using the alias "Gwynplaine Entertainment".