Josef vonSternberg's The Last Command was inspired by the true story of General Lodijenski, a Russian aristocrat who arrived penniless in the US after the 1917 Revolution and who supported himself by playing movie bit parts and managing a Russian restaurant. Emil Jannings stars as the Grand Duke Sergius Alexander, who in the last days of the Romanoff regime must decide the fate of two revolutionist actors, Leo Andreyev (William Powell) and the gorgeous Natacha (Evelyn Brent). Andreyev is carted off to prison, while Natacha becomes the Duke's mistress. She fully intends to kill him, but when the chance arises, she hesitates, having come to realize that the Duke is an essentially decent man who loves Russia as much as she does. Comes the revolution, and Natacha helps the Grand Duke escape the Bolsheviks, losing her own life in the process. The death of Natacha sends Sergius Alexander into a nervous shock, from which he never fully recovers. Years later, a shabby Sergius is eking out an existence as a Hollywood extra. Hired to play a Russian general in a crowd scene, Sergius discovers that his director is none other than former Russian revolutionary Leo Andreyev. The meaning of the title is clarified in the film's emotional climax. Plot inconsistencies aside, The Last Command is a stunning cinematic achievement, combining the harsh realities of Russia and Hollywood with vonSternberg's unerring sense of visual beauty.
by Hal Erickson synopsis