The Last Command
Josef von Sternberg
Emil Jannings won the first Academy Award for Best Actor for The Last Command, one of the most powerful of Hollywood's self-portraits. Jannings plays an aristocratic Russian general who barely escapes the Bolsheviks in 1917 and ends up in Los Angeles, living on a pittance as a film extra. A Russian expat director (William Powell) recognizes the shabby actor as the imperious czarist oppressor who once tortured and jailed him when he was a young Soviet revolutionary, and stole his girlfriend in the bargain. Partly out of revenge, the director hires the pathetic old man for a role in his new film, playing (what else?) a czarist general during the Russian Revolution. Von Sternberg encouraged Jannings' histrionics in a role that anticipated the actor's later turn as the mortified professor in The Blue Angel. Ingeniously constructed and overflowing in visual richness, The Last Command is "the first Sternberg masterpiece … the sheer sophistication of Sternberg's visuals makes nearly all current releases look old-fashioned" (Tony Rayns).
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