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).
Hot on the heels of Eureka Entertainment’s 4k Blu-ray release of Paul Leni’s The Man Who Laughs comes the German director’s seminal 1924 anthology, Waxworks, presented in a new 2K restoration print on Blu-ray as a part of The Masters of Cinema Series.
This was Leni’s final directorial effort in Germany before he moved to Hollywood where he would helm not only The Man Who Laughs in 1928 but also The Cat and the Canary, The Chinese Parrot and The Last Warning before his premature death, aged just 44, in 1929.
Waxworks is expressionism in its purest form, featuring highly-stylised sets (all designed by Leni), chiaroscuro lighting, and stunning, early performances from future legends: William Dieterle, Emil Jannings and Conrad Veidt.
Leni’s silent (Das Wachsfigurenkabinett) centres on a writer (Dieterle) who is hired by the owner of an amusement park wax museum (John Gottowt) to pen some backstories of his key exhibits: Caliph Harun al-Rashid (Jannings), Ivan the Terrible (Veidt), and Jack the Ripper/Spring Heeled Jack (Wener Krauss). Adventure, history and horror then unfold, with the writer and the museum owner’s daughter (Olga Belajeff) also becoming characters within each ‘startling’ tale.
As there is no surviving original negative of the German print of Waxworks, this newly-restored presentation is composed of the 1926 British print from the BFI and additional film materials (all scanned in 4K and restored in 2K). It’s amazing how much effort has gone into this 2019 restoration, and the end result is truly stunning.
There are also two soundtrack options: a traditional silent movie piano score by composer Richard Siedhoff, or an avant-garde instrumental one by the Ensemble Musikfabrik (which is the one I prefer, check it out in the trailer below).
Amongst Eureka’s special features is Leni’s short films Rebus-Film Nr. 1 (1925-1926). These were animated crossword puzzles originally shown in German cinemas before the main feature. The one presented here comes with English translations, so you can try them out yourself.
BLU-RAY SPECIAL FEATURES:
- 1080p presentation on Blu-ray from a new 2K restoration, with stereo and 5.1 surround sound options
- Audio commentary with film critic Adrian Martin (this scholarly presentation is a perfect primer for students studying Weimar cinema)
- Paul Leni’s Rebus-Film Nr. 1
- In search of the original version of Paul Leni’s ‘Das Wachsfigurenkabinett’ – An informative interview with Julia Wallmüller (Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna 2020), who looks at the film’s production and restoration
- Kim Newman on Waxworks: The film critic and fiction writer explores the legacy of Waxworks within cinema history
- Booklet featuring new essays, notes on the restoration process, production photographs and promotional material
The Man Who Laughs | The influential silent classic starring Conrad Veidt gets a lauded 4k restoration release
From Eureka Entertainment comes 1928’s The Man Who Laughs on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK, and presented from Universal’s 4K restoration, as part of The Masters of Cinema Series.
Following the success of The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) and The Phantom of the Opera (1925) which turned Lon Chaney into a superstar, Universal chief Carl Laemmle decided the studio’s next Gothic film super-production would be drawn from another Victor Hugo novel, The Man Who Laughs.
Set in England in the 1680s, the story centres on a young nobleman, Gwynplaine (Conrad Veidt), whose face was mutilated into a permanent grin when he was a child by his executed father’s royal court enemies. Joining a travelling carnival as The Laughing Man, the now-adult Gwynplaine falls in love with his blind companion Dea (Mary Philbin), but his disfigurement causes him to believe he is unworthy of her love. When his royal lineage is discovered and he is granted a peerage, he must choose between marrying a duchess (Olga Baklanova) or fleeing with Dea.
When Lon Chaney became unavailable to play Gwynplaine, Laemmle brought in the ideal alternative – Conrad Veidt, who was also a master at physical performance as witnessed by his iconic turns as Cesare the somnambulist in Das Cabinet des Dr Caligari (1920) and as Ivan the Terrible in Waxworks (1924).
At the helm was German Expressionist director Paul Leni and cinematographer Gilbert Warrenton, who had scored a big hit with Cat in the Canary the previous year. Also on board was Jack Pierce, whose startling makeup on Veidt would echo through the decades – becoming the inspiration for The Joker in the 1940 Batman comic.
Tragedy, romance, and even swashbuckling swordplay all have their part to play in this incredible piece of silent cinema, which features excellent performances from Veidt (whose mannerisms are paid homage to by Joaquin Phoenix in 2019’s Joker), Philbin and Baklanova (who would go on to play another sleazy character in Tod Browning’s Freaks in 1932) and some truly astonishing imagery (especially the fantastic character faces that Leni assembles).
A silent classic that needs repeated viewings, and a great addition to Eureka’s The Masters of Cinema Series
• 1080p presentation on Blu-ray from Universal’s 4K restoration
• Uncompressed LPCM 2.0 (stereo) score by the Berklee School of Music
• Uncompressed LPCM 2.0 (mono) 1928 Movietone score
• Kim Newman on Paul Leni (informative as usual)
• The Face Detectives: video essay by David Cairns and Fiona Watson (well-researched with some arty editing – a highlight)
• Paul Leni and The Man Who Laughs – video essay by John Sioster (also well researched)
• Rare stills gallery
• Collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Travis Crawford, and Richard Combs