The Last Command starts from a brilliant script idea: a Czarist general, defeated in the Russian revolution, finds himself down and out in Hollywood, working for peanuts as a bit-player in movies; he is spotted and hired by his former adversary, a Mayakovskian stage director turned Hollywood film-maker; and both men loved the same woman ten years earlier. (Goodrich's script was apparently from an original story by Sternberg, based on an incident told by Ernst Lubitsch to Lajos Biro...) Half the movie is an acid vision of the gap between success and the breadline in contemporary Hollywood, and the other half is a long flashback to revolutionary Russia, with the general seducing the woman Communist, imprisoning his rival, falling from power, and discovering abject humiliation. In other words, this is the first Sternberg masterpiece, the first of his glitteringly stylised rhapsodies of commitment and betrayal, expertly poised between satire and 'absurd' melodrama. The cast are fully equal to it; Jannings, in particular, turns the characteristic role of the general into an indelible portrait of arrogance, fervour and dementia. Even more incredible, the sheer sophistication of Sternberg's visuals makes nearly all current releases look old-fashioned.
Cast and crew
Josef von Sternberg, Hans Dreier
John Goodrich, titles Herman J Mankiewicz