The Last Warning (1928) The Masters of Cinema Release
Updated: Feb 5
Like all of history, the silent era is filled with so many ‘what ifs’. What if Valentino hadn’t died so young? What if Roscoe Arbuckle hadn’t taken that trip to San Francisco and ended up at THAT party? What would have American cinema looked like if F. W. Murnau had not died in 1931?… and the same can be said of Paul Leni who died a year after the release of The Last Warning (1928) aged 44.
Leni was part of that first export of artists from the German film industry to Hollywood in the 1920s. A shipment of talent which included the likes of Ernst Lubitsch, Michael Curtiz, Conrad Veidt, F. W. Murnau, Alexander Korda and E. A. Dupont. Not all of them survived Hollywood, Dupont left almost instantly, Korda high tailed it back to Europe in 1931 while Veidt hopped between America and Britain until his untimely death in 1943. A second shipment would arrive in the early 1930s but it was the likes of Lubitsch, Curtiz and Murnau that evolved the way Hollywood looked in the 1920s and it was those initial changes that would influence Hollywood for the next thirty years… and Paul Leni was there alongside them.
From the outset, don’t expect your standard murder mystery or (dare I say it) horror film here. In fact, throw that aspect of horror out of the window as The Last Warning is not in any way shape or form, a horror film. Due to the success and continued appeal of Leni’s calling card to America, his last German feature Waxworks (1924), many connected all of his films to horror; this is just not the case.
Adapted from Thomas F. Fallon’s 1922 Broadway play of the same name and based on Wadsworth Camp's The House of Fear, The Last Warning is centred around an unsolved murder that occurs during a live Broadway performance. The film itself is a tongue in cheek murder mystery which gives us the same kind of subtle sprinkle of comedy that we would see in later films such as Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes (1938), Arsenic and Old Lace (1944), Robert Altman’s Gosford Park (2001), the great El Secreto de Sus Ojos (2009) and most recently, Rian Johnson’s Knives Out (2019).
Paul Leni is playing with us, he wants us to be on edge at points, but at the same time, he’s telling us “Please, don’t take all of this too seriously!” Fans of Leni’s The Cat and the Canary (1927) will totally understand this approach and if there is a film which really does need a future Blu-ray release it is his Hollywood debut.
But The Last Warning is a great piece of entertainment infused with murder and violence throughout. With the help of Leni’s use of the camera as well as the showmanship and production values of Carl Laemmle and Universal Studios you really can’t go wrong. The film also finds itself at the peak of silent film production in Hollywood; 1928 alone would be the year of other masterpieces such as Chaplin’s The Circus, both of Buster Keaton’s Steamboat Bill Jnr and The Cameraman, King Vidor’s The Crowd, Josef von Sternberg’s The Docks of New York, William Wellman’s Beggars of Life and Leni’s earlier 1928 film The Man Who Laughs (also available via Masters of Cinema).
This particular Region B release via Eureka’s great Masters of Cinema is a copy of the earlier Region A locked Flicker Alley release. So the same fantastic 4K restoration of the film from Universal is here. However, MOC have gone one step further and expanded the extras to include a very fun audio commentary with film historians Stephen Jones (who doesn’t like silent films apparently) and Kim Newman. On top of that, there is a new essay by Philip Kemp plus a great visual essay about Leni and The Last Warning by John Soister.
The accompanying music by Arthur Burrow is good but it does, at times, overpower the film itself and really does undermine the action on the screen. Less is more on occasions and this is a case in point, otherwise, good. Overall however; a fantastic release by MOC as always!
It’s a sad fact that The Last Warning was the final film by Paul Leni. Those last four films which he made in Hollywood (The Cat and the Canary, the now lost The Chinese Parrot (1927), The Man Who Laughs and The Last Warning) were very much the stepping stones to a new era of his career as well as a new era of cinema in America. We are lucky to have his contemporaries like Michael Curtiz, F. W. Murnau and a little bit later, Fritz Lang to carry on influencing Hollywood the way in which Leni would have.
But as you re-watch any of his films, whether it being his last German film or his last Hollywood film there will be one question on your mind… what if?
The Last Warning is title number #243 in Eureka's The Masters of Cinema series and will be released on 15th February 2021 and can be pre-ordered via their website.
Thanks to The Masters of Cinema's team we have a brand new copy of The Last Warning up for grabs; just send us your answer to the question below via our contact page by mid-night on Tuesday 16th February 2021 to be in with a chance. Good Luck!
Question: Paul Leni's final German feature film was released in 1924, what was the name of it?