The Last Command

Director: Josef von Sternberg
Year Released: 1928
Rating: 3.5

A former general in the Russian Army (silent film staple Emil Jannings) seeks work as an extra in Hollywood and gets hired by a director (William Powell) that he imprisoned back in the Motherland - the majority of the movie, however, is an extended flashback to the days of the Russian Revolution. Though a bit too hammy for my taste (no one can tremble and appear aghast quite like Jannings), it's a strong picture, and the ever-astute von Sternberg was smart enough to draw sharp parallels between the role of the General-as-military-leader and film/theatre director-as-dictator, even dressing up Powell's character to look like himself: when the Revolution takes over, they depose the upper-ups; when a picture flops, they hang the filmmaker. Jannings' final 'performance,' recreating his 'former life' in front of the camera (and perishing), speaks of acting's function as a perverse kind of personal catharsis.