The Last Command

1928, Movie, NR, 90 mins

Review

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One of acclaimed German actor Emil Jannings' first American pictures, directed by Austrian expatriate Josef von Sternberg and tailor-made to suit Jannings' skills and screen persona.

Sergius Alexander (Jannings) is a broken-down old man, living in a Hollywood rooming house and working as a $7.50 a day extra, barely able to keep up with the vicious competition for work. Expatriate Russian director Leo Andreiev (William Powell), once a revolutionary agitator, recognizes the old man's photo: He was once a high-ranking general in the Russian army, the commander-in-chief of the Czar's army. Alexander was also in love with a young woman named Natascha (Evelyn Brent), a spy. Alexander and Andreiev came face-to-face during the Russian Revolution, and Alexander beat the younger man with a whip. But he was overcome by a revolutionary mob, and lost his will to live when he saw the train on which Natascha was traveling plunge into a river. The spiteful Andreiev casts the pathetic Alexander in the role of a Russian general in his new film, and the old man regains something of his former authority when he hears the Russian anthem played. But Andreiev then orders him to perform a scene in which his own troops rebel against him. The scene brings back a flood of painful memories, and Alexander collapses under the strain, dying on Andreiev's set.

Viewers who know Powell only from his sound films, in which he started out as a light leading man before graduating to his signature role as the suave detective Nick Charles, will be surprised to see him as THE LAST COMMAND's nasty Russian director. Actress Evelyn Brent had just worked with Von Sternberg on UNDERWORLD, in which she played gangster's moll Feathers. Though hugely melodramatic, THE LAST COMMAND was generally considered a fine showcase for Jannings' talents. leave a comment

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