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  • This movie pops up on ebay once in a while and for fans of mystery or horror films, particularly those of Universal, this is a must.

    The plot is unimportant - it is about a haunted old theater where an old Broadway play is being brought back despite threats from the ghost of a dead actor.

    This film was the last directed by the great Paul Leni. It is really the work of a virtuoso working at his peak. It has everything The Cat and the Canary had and more. The version that seems to be relatively available on video has a good music track too, but unfortunately it seems that the experimental sound sequences the film originally contained have not survived.

    Nevertheless, we are lucky that this film has survived as it is such a joyous romp of horror cliches with inventive, wild camera moves and stunning lighting and spooky set design. It foreshadows the great horror classics that were less than two years away for Universal. It is just wonderful filmmaking from a forgotten great director who was at his peak, so if you are into old dark house mysteries or Universal horror movies - FIND IT! - It is one of the best!

    8/10 - even better than The Cat and the Canary.
  • Last Warning, The (1929)

    *** 1/2 (out of 4)

    Paul Leni (The Cat and the Canary, The Man Who Laughs) directs this Universal horror film, which has been forgotten over the years but if you've seen some of the studios bigger pictures then you've can tell what all this film has influenced. A popular show on Broadway, inside a creepy theatre, is closed down after the mysterious murder of one of the actors. Years later the police reassemble the original cast and bring them back to the theater to see if they can trap the murderer but it might be a ghost they're dealing with. This film mixes elements of The Phantom of the Opera with the old dark house themes of films like The Bat and delivers a terrific entertainment. This film has never been officially released so I had to view it via what appears to be a 16mm print and the quality was pretty bad throughout so if I get a chance to see a pristine print then I'll probably bump my review up. The technical eye of Leni, who died after this film, is untouched by nearly everyone as he's constantly trying new and different things with the camera. I love how he'll have a medium shot and then move the camera in to show some evidence before moving it back out to let the action role. The film runs just under 80-minutes and goes by very fast with some exciting action but also a great story to work with. The actors, including John Boles who would later appear in Frankenstein, all do nice work as well. There are a few twists and turns along the way that actually work well within the story. This film works on a technical level as well as the story level and that makes this a wonderful little gem that needs to be rediscovered. The only thing people know about this movie nowdays is that it was a huge influence on James Whale and this is easy to see. There's a woman here, used as comic relief, which is later a carbon copy in Una O'Connor. The Old Dark House also lifts some shots here but I won't say which ones since it'll ruin scenes in both movies. The score here was also later reused in Dracula and this film was shot on the same sets as The Phantom of the Opera so there's a lot of connections here.
  • Essentially this is part "Cat and the Canary" and part "Phantom of the Opera" - also silent Universal properties. It has some slack parts but the visual atmosphere helps to cover them up, and it has some very inventive title cards where the writing may be initially blurry and come into focus, or the writing may start up clear and then appear to melt down the page, or it may appear to be underwater.

    The film is about an actor, John Woodford, in a theatre on Broadway, who dies suddenly when he gets to the part of the play where he is backed into the fireplace by another actor and picks up a candlestick. The lights go out, and when they come back on there is Woodford dead on the floor. The police come to question everybody who was present, then Woodford's body disappears before the coroner gets there. It is discovered by the police that Woodford and another actor, Richard Quayle (John Boles) were arguing in actress Doris Terry's (Laura LaPlante's) dressing room, and both were suitors of hers.

    So without a body, the investigation cannot go on, the theatre is closed, and the papers are shown having a field day with the "love triangle" that is insinuated to have something to do with the killing. Several years later, Woodford's close friend (Montagu Love as Arthur McHugh) decides to reopen the theatre with the same cast as the night of the killing and the same play. Why does the entire cast return? Because to not return would make them look guilty.

    But somebody does not want the play to open. Heavy scenery comes crashing down. Smoke bombs go off. Threatening letters are written to members of the cast that they perform at their peril, and some mysterious masked figure is running and jumping about the place and even stealing Doris' purse and putting her personal possessions in strategic places to make her look like she is in on all of the strange happenings. Is it the ghost of John Woodford trying to avenge himself? Well of course not. But it might be the real John Woodford, having faked his own death, and still mad at Boles and LaPlante for his romantic rejection. Watch and find out what is behind all of this.

    The visuals are just great here. The opening scene reminds me somewhat of 1929's Broadway with all of the pictures of the Broadway nightlife of 1929. Also, the theatre, from the outside, looks like the face of some frightening creature complete with eyes, a nose, and mouth. I just wish better prints were available.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Well silent movies tend to move slow but there are exceptions. We have Midnight Faces, The Bat, The Cat and The Canary and also this movie. Midnight Faces is just a chaotic mess. The Bat and The Cat and The Canary have the right pace, alternating between slow and fast sequences but still giving enough attention to introducing each character and giving them some kind of personality. The latter is a bit the problem with The Last Warning. It has plenty of atmosphere and the theatre is a great setting to have this murder mystery picture. However characters are barely given introduction or much depth. So often I was wondering OK who is who again. The director obviously went for visuals and action instead of a strong plot and proper character development. Still I think it's worth a re-watch.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    "Broadway - electric highway of happiness" and instantly you are treated to a golden (my copy was tinted) visual treat, a montage of high stepping chorus girls, glittering lights showing the Strand and Madison Square Garden that soon turn to police lights and sirens - there has been a murder committed at the Woodford Theatre!! Paul Leni and his cameraman Hal Mohr find some fantastic camera angles (Margaret Livingston is first glimpsed, from a camera positioned on the floor, stepping over a spider's web). Like "The Cat and the Canary" spider's webs feature prominently in the second half. Much of the film is set in an old theatre that was originally constructed for the Paris Opera sequences in "The Phantom of the Opera"(1925).

    The leading actor John Woodford has fallen dead on stage while clutching a candlestick and even though chloroform has been discovered dripping on stage it is still too baffling for the police to solve, especially as the body disappears!! There is another fabulous montage of newspaper headlines showing the police are baffled and the leading lady Doris Terry (Laura La Plante) and stage director Richard Quayle (a very young John Boles) once lovebirds, have now separated due to doubts and anxiety.

    Suddenly the theatre, after years of gloom, is due to open again with sunlight streaming through the musty windows and cobwebs filling the screen. And even though new owner, Arthur McHugh (Montague Love) has had an ominous warning from the ghostly John Woodford, he is determined to forge ahead by staging the last play presented, along with the original cast members. But is he who he claims to be? It is Montague Love after all, a master villain of the silent screen!! Another message "Beware, let the dead sleep" is ignored and Harvey Carleton (Roy D'Arcy) is given Woodford's old part and is thrilled - until he receives a ghostly calling card!!

    From then on hijinks abound - suspended scenery crashes onto the stage, a fire starts when all the cast are closeted in a dressing room, the chair on the stage disappears. La Plante must have felt a "Cat and the Canary" type deja vu, with wizened hands emerging from wall panels etc but really, after a while, the film takes on a "Phantom of the Opera" persona as a flitting figure climbs balconies, shimmies ropes and strides up rickety stairs, having a first hand knowledge of the ins and outs of the musty old theatre. Helped enormously by Leni's masterful direction and Hal Mohr's fluid camera-work. At times the camera seems attached to the rope as he swings from balcony to landing with hands grappling at the camera as he just evades their capture.

    An all star cast helped with La Plante perfecting her hand to mouth, stricken face and screaming stance. John Boles suitably wooden (was he any other way) and Margaret Livingston at her vampish best. Love the end title "It's a Universal Picture, how did you like it? Write to me with your opinion"!! Just too cute!!
  • Astute producer Carl Laemmle invited talented German director Paul Leni to join Universal. This proved to be a masterstroke. Before his untimely death in 1929 Leni directed four films one of which, 'The Chinese Parrot' is considered 'lost', the other three of which are superb. From its astonishing opening sequence 'The Last Warning' is a brilliantly inventive and imaginative piece that holds our attention throughout. A great deal of credit must surely go to cinematographer Hal Mohr who, although American born, had assimilated European film techniques during a brief sojourn in Paris. His greatest achievement is the 'Midsummer Night's Dream' of Max Reinhardt. The specially composed score although a little over-orchestrated, is far superior to the usual incongruous, excruciating, tacked on scores with which so many restored silent films are cursed. Such a sadness to lose a director of Leni's gifts but his influence on Universal's classic horrors of the 1930's is there for all to see.
  • I didn't enjoy this anything like as much as the wonderful The Man Who Laughs but then this is variation on the haunted house story and whilst novel enough at the time (more than 90 years ago!) not so interesting now. Also, at the time, it seemed still necessary to have a little bit of light relief every now and again and this can grate. On the positive side the opening and closing with kaleidoscopic and superimposed imagery is fantastic but does tend to make you wish there was a little more as we cut to a rather dreary stage stage-bound, repetitive and slow moving melodrama .
  • "The Cat and the Canary" (1927) must've been a popular entry in what was already a crowded field of old-dark-house horror comedies in the final years of the silent era. One need look no further for evidence of that fact than this followup film, "The Last Warning," which reunited director Paul Leni and star Laura Le Plante, as well as a couple of the same writers and art director, for a similar spooky murder mystery with the slight novelty that it's set in a theatre this time. Moreover, the next year, following Leni's death, Universal released a talkie remake of "The Cat and the Canary," the now-lost "The Cat Creeps" (1930). (Likewise, "The Last Warning" was later remade as "The House of Fear" (1939), which is the title of the book from which the play and, thus, the films were derived.) Although Leni's two films were based on different plays, it seems that many of these narratives tended to be strikingly similar, with perhaps the stage version of "The Bat" being the originator of the formula, which itself was made twice for the screen by Roland West ("The Bat" (1926) and "The Bat Whispers" (1930)). The other successful Universal property that "The Last Warning" clearly borrows from is "The Phantom of the Opera" (1925) by reusing its auditorium set, and like Gaston Leroux's story, the stage setting of "The Last Warning" features a play-within-a-play structure--offering a self-reflexive twist on the familiar old-dark-house formula.

    Personally, although I've been reviewing quite a few of these films lately, I'm not a fan of the formula--at least not until James Whale introduced a more campy sense of humor and more twisted subject matter with "The Old Dark House" (1932). Before that, they tended to be exceedingly silly, relying on characters' fear of ghosts, and the mysteries are hardly interesting, if not appallingly convoluted. That of "The Last Warning" is especially of little concern, with nary a clue offered throughout the proceedings before an intricate resolution clumsily ties everything together in the end. The main point of the construction, though, was to replay the antics of the 1927 film. So, once again, there's a whodunit, the body of which disappears, and a group of suspects are brought together under one roof, where they're excessively scared that a ghost is behind all of the horrors. As in "The Bat" and "The Cat and the Canary," there's a masked menace creeping through hidden passages haunting the place. By employing "The Phantom of the Opera" set, the similarity between these haunted house plays to Leroux's story becomes blatant, as well, with both featuring a masked menace terrorizing its occupants. Unlike Leroux's Phantom, however, this one has no Christine, but rather insists that no play be performed at all.

    Like "The Cat and the Canary," Leni's style here goes a long way in at least making them visually appealing. The superimpositions, including kaleidoscopic images, the moving title effects and moving-camera shots stand out. Originally, there were also sound effects and dialogue scenes, making this late silent film a goat gland and offering the additional technical marvelry of sound. More interesting, though, and why I like this a bit more than "The Cat and the Canary" and most of the other early old dark houses is the honesty of the self-reference of how shamelessly this film imitates its predecessors. In it, the same cast and crew are brought back together to perform the same play they performed years ago, when the original murder occurred, and this is essentially what Leni and the rest of the Universal staff were doing in making the film--bringing back the same cast and crew to perform basically the same play they performed years ago. Even where the cast isn't exactly the same in the two films, the different actors mimic some of the same types of the prior one--so much so that I initially thought that at least a couple others besides Le Plante had appeared in "The Cat and the Canary" as well. Appropriately, the play-within-the-play is titled "The Snare," the play itself being a snare to uncover the murderer in the narrative. In fact, the most we ever get of the inner play is from the point-of-views of the producer and stage hands as spectators of the culprit being lured in by their ruse, and not of the actual play performed for the theatre audience, whose perspectives we don't share. But, the real snare is the trap set by the filmmakers to lure audiences back for the same film in a new guise.

    (Note: The reduction prints out there for home viewing are horrendous, but there is a restored version that has appeared at festivals. Hopefully, it'll receive a home video release someday like its companion piece, "The Cat and the Canary.")
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Another idiot plot, similar to that of "London after Midnight": An actor is killed on stage. The theatre is shut down and rumored to be haunted by the actor's ghost. Long after the murder, a policeman with 'way too much time on his hands reopens the theatre to restage the production with the original cast (uh, with a new leading man). A couple of people refuse to go along but are scared that if they don't, it will make them look guilty. (Huh?) Someone terrifies the actors in ways that would terrify nobody, e.g. by leaving notes like "Do not do this play--Signed, my ghost." A mysterious figure skulks around in a creepy mask. The policeman's plan in re-creating the production is to bring the murderer to light; what he has in mind is unclear, but luckily for him the murderer obligingly duplicates the crime--like there's a rule he has to. His motive and means seemed unlikely to me, but who knows with these theatre people?

    In short, a silly, silly plot. But Leni directs it very deftly. I'm not a fan of his "Cat and the Canary," despite some inventive shots: the lead is unfunny, the tone keeps varying, and the play (none too great to start with) is fragmented. The movie looks to me as if it had undergone much re-editing. By contrast, this and "The Man Who Laughs" are just as inventive but much more sure-handed. Of course "The Man Who Laughs" is serious and this one isn't, but it's visually lively all the way through and the actors are well used. Montague Love is as good as always and John Boles gives the leading man more depth than he probably deserves. Laura la Plante's wide-eyed close-ups remind me somewhat of Fatty Arbuckle's, but Leni may have had his tongue in his cheek there.

    Now, if someone will resurrect "The Chinese Parrot"....
  • Warning: Spoilers
    I don't have too much to say about "The Last Warning." It's not much of a horror film. There's certainly some horrific elements floating around. The story revolves around an actor dying mysteriously on-stage during a theatrical performance. Years later, a man reopens the theater and decides to restage that play, in hopes of luring out the murderer. This plan is wildly successful.

    Sometimes, the only difference between a murder mystery and a horror film is the delivery. "The Last Warning" is focused on sleuthing. A large portion of this short film is devoted to sneaking around the theater, investigating things. There's plenty of cobwebs, reported ghost sightings, creepy old prop dummies, and a killer in a weird mask with monster claws on. However, all of these things make up a small portion of the film.

    Because of the lousy condition of my copy, the inappropriate musical score, and the silent format, I had trouble sousing out the individual details. The man responsible for the investigation seems to give a good performance. An old man who constantly yells at a stage hand for dancing or singing is funny. But other details, such as who exactly everyone is and the obligatory love story, got lost among the static.

    This was the second teaming of director Paul Leni and star Laura La Plante, after "The Cat and the Canary." Leni's visual sense continues to be strong. An opening montage establishes the Broadway spirit in a surreal, interesting way. Shots, like a grasping hand appearing over the action, a wounded man stumbling out of the shadows of a secret passageway, or a bump appearing in the carpet from under the floor, are nice touches. La Plante has even less to do here as she isn't involved much in the action. The film's Broadway setting made me think Universal was hoping for a cheaper "Phantom of the Opera." The climatic sequence, involving the cops chasing a murderous man in a creepy mask across the theater, certainly recalls that film. Perhaps not coincidentally, it's also the best moment in the movie. Generally speaking though, I don't think "The Last Warning" has much to offer horror fans, classic or otherwise.