The Last Command (1928)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Period Film, Film a Clef, Melodrama  |   Run Time - 88 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Brendon Hanley

Josef von Sternberg's films are known for their sumptuous atmosphere; his evocative lighting and shadows made Marlene Dietrich a sex symbol for the ages. Though some critics find his films to be inconsequential exercises in style, 1928's The Last Command demonstrated that he was capable of more. The picture features his typically stunning photography, but, in this case, the plot and performances are equally interesting. Much of the credit for the film's lasting impact goes to venerable German actor Emil Jannings. In the kind of "fallen man" role that he was known for (as in The Last Laugh and von Sternberg's later The Blue Angel), Jannings' gift for forlorn tragedy matches the movie's perceptions about the cruelty of life. He won the first-ever Academy Award for Best Actor for this part, as well as for his role in The Way of All Flesh. The glory was short-lived, as his heavy German accent hindered his career in Hollywood talkies.