The Last Warning (1928)

The Last Warning

Directed by Paul Leni [Other horror films: Das Wachsfigurenkabinett (1924), The Cat and the Canary (1927), The Man Who Laughs (1928)]

Much like Paul Leni’s previous mystery/horror, The Cat and the Canary, The Last Warning takes a moderately cliché plot (even for the time) and dresses it up in a way that makes the movie a special and enjoyable treat.

While this film contains some comedic portions (just as The Cat and the Canary did), I feel it’s noticeably toned down, and for most of the film, I think the plot’s played pretty straight. Which is only a positive, as this mystery, boasting no less than something like ten possible suspects, has a lot of potential from the beginning, and too much comedy would bring it down. Luckily, that didn’t happen.

As aforementioned, the cast of this film is rather large, all the more to make the mystery identity of the killer more fun to figure out. It wasn’t uncommon to see five, six, as much as ten or eleven, characters all in a single shot. Of course, trying to keep track of everyone throughout the film is close to impossible, but it still helped out the feeling of pandemonium, especially toward the end (during a deeply enjoyable chase sequence).

Laura La Plante (who also starred in The Cat and the Canary) didn’t get as much screen-time as you might hope, but still played her character sympathetically (which, given how unlikable she was at the beginning, was sort of necessary). Her love interest, played by John Boles (who later appeared in Frankenstein), was quite competent in his role. As most of the cast members were. In fact, all of the follow actors and actresses stood out positively as their roles: Montagu Love, Margaret Livingston, Roy D’Arcy, Burr McIntosh, Mack Swain, Bert Roach, and Carrie Daumery. Perhaps, out of all these names, the true standouts are Love, Livingston, and McIntosh.

Perhaps one of the reasons I like this film as much as I do (when I first saw it years back, I was quite happy, and luckily this rewatch hasn’t changed that) is because of the large amount of suspects. True, given the film is only an hour and 17 minutes, there’s not enough time to flesh out every single character and potential motivation (which, while in theory would be welcomed, it more likely than not would come out dull), but still, it’s the thought that counts. The mystery was fun, more fun than many old dark house flicks (since this film takes place in a dilapidated theater house, the setting made it even more unique), and certainly still comes across as strong.

The most common print for this movie is far from perfect, with a very scratchy feel, and general lack of great preservation, but at the same time, in this case, I think it helps give the movie additional character. It does help, though, that the score is mostly solid, without any real issues.

The Last Warning is a favorite of mine from the silent era, and sadly, I think it’s mostly overlooked. The Cat and the Canary and Waxworks are both far more widely-known Leni films, and how many other silent flicks are more well-known than this one? From Nosferatu to The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, from The Phantom of the Opera to The Bat, The Last Warning has sort of been overlooked (not as badly as 1926’s Midnight Faces, sure, but The Last Warning is, at least, a Leni movie), which is a great shame. Leni died in 1929 due to blood poisoning, and did fantastic things for the genre, and his final movie is no less a great addition to horror.

8.5/10

The Man Who Laughs (1928)

man laugh

Directed by Paul Leni [Other horror films: Das Wachsfigurenkabinett (1924), The Cat and the Canary (1927), The Last Warning (1928)]

Directed by Paul Leni, The Man Who Laughs is a masterfully moody, occasionally tragic, piece of melodrama, with a few spices of horror thrown in.

The historical nature of the plot did the movie well, as the set pieces and costumes all looked rather authentic. The brooding nature of the story was well-done too, helped by the score, which, while not perfect, felt as though it could have been the score when first this movie came out, over ninety years ago.

It’s the actors who should get the most accolades, though; Conrad Veidt, Mary Philbin, Brandon Hurst, Cesare Gravina, and George Siegmann all make this movie a film well worth watching.

Veidt, by this point, may need no introduction. He was in a plethora of silent horror classics, including Furcht (or Fear, from 1917), Unheimliche Geschichten (Eerie Tales, 1919), Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, 1920), Orlacs Hände (The Hands of Orlac, 1924), Das Wachsfigurenkabinett (Waxworks, 1924), Der Student von Prag (The Student of Prague, 1926), and The Last Performance (from 1929). That’s not even counting the unfortunately-lost Der Januskopf (The Head of Janus, 1920), which was an unauthorized version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (much like Nosferatu was to Dracula).

Conrad Veidt got around, and it’s clear, from this movie, to see how. He possessed an extraordinarily emotional range, and his character, the tragic figure of Gwynplaine, was very well-acted. Throughout the film, Veidt’s performance is truly a treat to watch.

Philbin wasn’t in all that many films, but she did co-star in the 1925 Phantom of the Opera, with Lon Chaney, and again, with Veidt, in the 1929 The Last Performance. Here, she plays a beautiful blind woman, named Dea, who is deeply in love with Gwynplaine, despite never having seen his disfigured face. Playing her role convincingly, Philbin stood out strong.

Brandon Hurst, who had small roles in various early horror flicks (such as 1932’s Murders in the Rue Morgue, 1923’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, 1920’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and 1932’s White Zombie) gets credit for playing one of the slimiest silent characters with his portrayal of Barkilphedro. Sinister, yet suave, Hurst did well in showing the sleaziness of his character throughout the whole of the film, and from his very first scene, you can’t help but hold Barkilphedro in abhorrence.

Gravina isn’t much known outside of this movie. He had a few uncredited roles in classics like The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Phantom of the Opera (1923 and 1925), and mainly dabbled in early Italian shorts. Here, he doesn’t get a whole lot of screen-time, but during one scene in particular, his performance broke my heart. Such sad, moving scene generally aren’t what I’d expect from silent films, but that one just killed me.

Siegmann, who I spoke about also in my review for The Cat and the Canary, isn’t that big a name insofar as horror is concerned, though he did appear in the 1909 short The Sealed Room and 1914’s The Avenging Conscience. Here, he played Dr. Hardquanonne, a rather sadistic individual who disfigured Gwynplaine. I wish that he got more screen-time than he did, because like Hurst, he was a dark force to be reckoned with, but still, this being his final role before his early death, Siegmann did quite well.

The cast of this movie is amazing, and the film, as a whole, is an atmospheric, moody piece of art. While it would be unfair to call it a horror film in the purest definition, The Man Who Laughs is a dark classic, and while the ending is not nearly as tragic as one might expect, there are plenty of sad scenes throughout. I didn’t really appreciate this when I first saw it, and even now, it makes a better drama film than a horror film, without a doubt, but even so, this Leni classic is one that any movie fan should look out for.

8.5/10