The Last Command, was inspired by a true story
sort of. Legendary director Ernst Lubitsch was invited by a friend to dinner at a Russian restaurant where he was introduced to the owner, one General Lodijenski. This General had fought in World War I, but lost an important battle and fled west shortly afterwards opening a restaurant called The Double Eagle on Sunset Boulevard.
Several months later, Lubitsch was at MGM working on The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg when he noticed an extra in costume of a Russian General. "I know you from somewhere," said Lubitsch. "I met you before," the extra replied. "I am General Lodijenski." Turns out his restaurant had closed and he was forced to now take extra work in the movies. "Funny, isn't it," he said, "that I should be playing a walk-on bit as a Russian general."
Mulling the encounter over, Lubitsch began to see it as a perfect scenario for Emil Jannings, whose gift for portraying tragic, masochistic characters had long since been established. Lubitsch told the story to Jannings, who expressed interest. A few weeks later, Lubitsch ran into writer Lajos Biro, who mentioned that Jannings was not only a brilliant actor but had good story ideas as well. Biro then proceeded to tell Lubitsch about the script he was working on, at that point entitled The General. It was the same story Lubitsch had told Jannings.
The script was written and given to Josef von Sternberg to direct. Sternberg made some brilliant changes to frame the main story as a flashback, giving the narrative a quality of retrospection, with the implications of loss from the beginning. It was re-titled, The Last Command and what happened to General Lodijenski? He was given a small part in the film and I am told he can be observed as a thick-set, middle-aged man with short hair.
Now we have the seeds of the story, a Russian General once a cousin to the Czar ends up a mere extra in a movie about a Russian General – irony. But there is much more irony, the symbolism of the peasants being mistreated by those above them is the same as the extras being mistreated by the Hollywood elite.
The films star, Emil Jannings was a Swiss born actor known for portraying imposing historical figures like Henry 8th, Othello, Louis the 15th and Nero. In the mid-1920's many considered him the world's greatest screen actor. He was often cast in films designed to showcase his gift for tragedy as in F.W. Murnau's 1924 feature THE LAST LAUGH where Jannings played a proud but aged hotel doorman who is demoted to restroom attendant. Or the silent version of FAUST made in 1926 where he played Mephistopheles. The Last Command was his 57th film silent and later his first talkie, THE BLUE ANGEL also directed by Josef von Sternberg was a huge international hit and made a star out of Marlene Dietrich.
When I recently re-watched this film I was amazed to see this old, feeble and broken man shaking beneath the weight of his memories juxtaposed against him as he was young, virile handsome commanding an entire army as well as every room he entered.
Notice the tenderness the director pulls out of this gentleman when he explains why he shakes, because he had a great shock once and then we look with him into a mirror that leads us back to the story of a once great man.
In the flashback we see William Powell and Evelyn Brent as revolutionary spies pretending to be actors. Evelyn Brent was a dark haired beauty with sultry looks that led to her being typecast exotic, dangerous roles as a sex addict who did drugs everyday. Her break thru role was as an alcoholic in the play THE RUINED LADY. Just before tonight's film she had made UNDERWORLD in 1927 with the same director Josef von Sternberg, it is considered the first major gangster film. On a trivia note her husband's name was Harry Fox for whom the foxtrot dance was named for.
William Powell was one of the most popular leading men in Hollywood for over four decades but I bet you didn't know he started in silent films mostly playing heavies and bad guys! In his first film he was a criminal to John Barrymore's SHERLOCK HOLMES in 1922! LAST COMMAND was his 27th silent film and before this he was never a top star but on the strength of his reviews from this feature he was soon cast as the lead role in a talkie called THE CARNARY MURDER CASE where he played Philo Vance, a detective. He was so good in it he never played a bad guy again. Unlike many silent actors, sound boosted Powell's career. He had a fine, sophisticated voice and his stage training and comic timing greatly aided his introduction to sound pictures. He's best remembered today for his work with the charming Myrna Loy in six THIN MAN pictures.
The very first Academy Award ever presented was given to Emil Jannings (he received his award early due to the fact that he was going home to Europe before the ceremony) for his performances Best Actor in a Leading Role for: The Last Command (1928) and for The Way of All Flesh (1927). That first year they gave it for the whole years work and not just a single performance. Sadly THE WAY OF ALL FLESH is a lost film so we have nothing to compare it with.
Sternberg is best remembered today for his amazing lighting and cinematography of Dietrich but I saw watch the actors eyes in this film and you'll see he was also a director of great performances in amazing stories I do you seek out and enjoy THE LAST COMMAND!
The Last Command
Drama / History / Romance / War
The Last Command
Drama / History / Romance / War
A decorated, aristocratic Czarist General is reduced to penury after the collapse of Imperial Russia. An old adversary, now a successful director hires the general to re-enact the revolution which deposed him.
Uploaded By: FREEMAN
May 27, 2021 at 05:36 PM