The Last Warning | Paul Leni’s 1928 cinematic swan song gets a Blu-ray restoration release

From Eureka Entertainment, comes Paul Leni’s murder-mystery The Last Warning, presented on Blu-ray from a 4K restoration as a part of The Masters of Cinema Series.

Based on a 1922 play of the same name and the 1916 Wadsworth Camp novel The House of Fear, 1928’s The Last Warning centres on a Broadway producer attempting to reopen a theatre, that was closed after one of the actors, John Woodford, was murdered during a performance, by staging a production of the same play with the remaining members of the original cast and crew. But strange things are afoot. Could Woodford’s ghost really be haunting the theatre or is someone playing nasty tricks?

This was Waxworks director Paul Leni’s fourth film for Universal (following The Cat and the Canary, Chinese Parrott and The Man Who Laughs) – and it proved to be his cinematic swan song before his untimely death. The scenario spoofs the musty murder-mystery genre, while the casting features Leni’s trademark gallery of eccentrics (like the scary-looking Ella McKenzie) as well as Universal’s leading lady of the day, Laura La Plante (who also starred in the director’s The Cat and the Canary).

But what makes this 1928 film special is how the German-born Expressionist director lets loose his camera to create highly inventive and highly energetic visuals (montage, shadows, titled angles, distorted perspectives, etc) and how the reused theatre set from The Phantom of the Opera becomes one of the characters in the film.

If Leni had not died (in September 1929 from blood poisoning at the age of 44), one can only imagine how his next project, Dracula starring Conrad Veidt, would have turned out. It marked an end of era as Hollywood bid goodbye to the silents and said hello to sound.

Restored as part of Universal’s silent film initiative, The Last Warning was originally release with talking sequences, sound effects, and a Movietone music score (much criticised on its release) and as a silent feature with musical cue sheets for orchestral/piano accompaniment. Eureka’s release features the later, with a new score from composer Arthur Barrow.

Extras include a commentary from Stephen Jones and Kim Newman (on the film and Universal’s early years), a visual essay by film historian John Soister (who tracks the film’s production), stills gallery and a 24-page booklet with essays by Philip Kemp (on Leni and the film) and Arthur Barrow (on his score).

About Peter Fuller

Peter Fuller is an award-winning print, radio and television journalist and producer, with over 30 years experience covering film and television, with a special interest in world cinema and popular culture. He is a leading expert on the life and career of Vincent Price and actively promotes the actor's legacy through publications, websites and special events.

Posted on February 15, 2021, in Must-See, Silent and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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