The story takes place in Milwaukee during the early 1900s with a bank clerk named August Schiller who is happy with both his job and his family. He is tasked with transporting $1,000 in ... See full summary »
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.Written by
W. Louis <email@example.com>
In 1985 German composer Siegfried Franz reconstructed the original musical score of the film. A version of the film with this score was released in life performances in theaters and shown on television in the eighties. See more »
The last year of silent movies saw so many classics that old-timers of long ago thought that Hollywood had peaked. After all, in 1927 there was "Metropolis," "Sunrise," "The General," and "Napoleon." In 1928 there was "The Passion of Joan of Arc," "The Crowd," "Steamboat Bill, Jr." and "The Cameraman." Josef von Sternberg's drama, "The Last Command," certainly belongs to this group. The Austrian-born director's classic focuses on former Russian Grand Duke Sergius Alexander (Emil Jannings), who immigrated to the US following the Russian Revolution of 1917. In the movie, Hollywood director Lev Andreyev (William Powell) casts the ex-aristocrat as a general in creating a movie about the revolution of ten years earlier.
A lengthy flashback, which occupies at least one-half of the film, shows the Grand Duke's high status as it was in 1917. The man was no less than the commander of the Russian armies on the Eastern Front in World War I. Then revolution breaks out, along with all of its chaos, which sets up professional and personal tragedies for the imperial general. Somehow he does manage to escape embattled Russia, winding up in Hollywood. Impoverished, he survives as an extra. The Hollywood director, Andreyev, was a former Russian revolutionary opposed to the conservative Czar Nicholas and former Grand Duke. In former times the latter had even struck the revolutionary and sent him to prison. Now, ironically, Sergius has to take orders – a last command – from the director!
The movie was based upon real events, as a former Russian general named Theodore Lodigensky really did find some work in Hollywood after fleeing the Bolshevik uprising after World War I. Jannings is outstanding as the traumatized general – complete with a head-twitch – a tragic character who tumbled a long way down from his high perch and who eventually becomes insane. Thus he shows his range, from authoritativeness to infirmity to dignity. The Swiss-born actor would win the very first Academy Award for Best Actor (1927-1928). Evelyn Brent, who certainly passes as a Russian, is fair enough in the role of revolutionary Natalie Dabrova, lover of Andreyev who later falls for the ruined aristocrat. Finely cast is William Powell as the revenge-minded director of Electra Studios. Note how impeccable he appears in his light suit. Powell was made for sound movies, though, and not only would he easily make the transition from the silent screen era, but would also become a major star.
Movie pluses are the well-constructed scenes of the cataclysmic revolution in Petrograd, which may have been powerful eye-openers for 1920s audiences. The Lionel trains are used in certain scenes, but they work well enough for the time. However, there are two instances where one can question the realism of the picture: (1) revolutionary Natalie's supposed falling in love of the Grand Duke (although he does love Russia) and (2) the last line, where the Bolshevik director proclaims, "He was more than a great actor, he was a great man." It is quite arduous to believe that a maligned Communist – with extreme political leanings – would make such a grand statement about the Czar's cousin and Grand Duke! Nonetheless the film is a good one.
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