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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

THE LAST COMMAND (1928)

Even in an era loaded with classic films, the late-silents of Josef von Sternberg stand out. This famous film, the only survivor of the six films German actor Emil Jannings made in Hollywood, is a masterpiece of mood, melodrama & masochism. He plays a once great general of the Czar’s Imperial Army, now a shabby movie extra, grateful for a day’s work as a make-believe general in a costume. He doesn’t know that his director (William Powell) knew him from those revolutionary days of 1917, or that he’s out for revenge. In the long flashback that takes up most of the film, we see how they first crossed paths. And we meet the beautiful, morally indifferent woman who was fated never to leave Russia (Evelyn Brent). Sternberg’s distinctive way with studio artifice creates a dreamlike vision of Russia, WWI and the Revolution in Bert Glennon’s ravishing b&w lensing, carefully reproduced on the current Criterion DVD which includes an unusually interesting visual essay in Tag Gallagher’s overview of Sternberg’s silent film career. Of the two musical scores on the disc, the fuller symphonic one arranged by Robert Israel is preferable until the final sequence, back in Hollywood, where the Alloy Orchestra track bests it. (04/04/11)

Here are Emil Jannings’ missing Hollywood films:

THE WAY OF ALL FLESH/’27 - directed by Victor Fleming - LOST

STREET OF SIN/’28 - Mauritz Stiller; co-starring Fay Wray - LOST

THE PATRIOT/’28 - Ernst Lubitsch - LOST

SINS OF THE FATHERS/’28 - Ludwig Berger; co-starring Ruth Chatterton & Jean Arthur - LOST

BETRAYAL/’29 - Lewis Milestone; co-starring Gary Cooper - LOST

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