Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM), Pordenone.
Viewed at Teatro Verdi, grand piano: Donald Sosin, 10 Oct 2015
Kevin Brownlow (GCM catalog and website): "Emil Jannings’ first Hollywood film, selected by D. W. Griffith as one of the 50 greatest ever made, was hailed by Photoplay as “a powerful psychological drama”, with Jannings’ acting described as “the most artistic performance ever”. Indeed, with The Last Command, it won him the first Academy Award for Best Actor."
"But Paramount allowed it to decompose, and this fragment (copied from the 1935 short Movie Milestones no. 1, released by Paramount Varieties) is all that is left."
"The AFI Catalog of Feature Films 1921-1930 provides the plotline of the final release; the action in the surviving fragment is in boldface:"
"“The world of bank cashier August Schiller centers chiefly around his patient wife [Belle Bennett] and six children, and he prides himself on being an ideal father, a faithful worker, and a loyal husband. For the first time since his honeymoon, August leaves Milwaukee to deliver thousand-dollar bonds in Chicago, and on the train he innocently becomes involved with Mayme [Phyllis Haver], an adventuress, who seduces him and during a drunken revel steals his bonds. Her lover, the Tough [Fred Kohler], and his gang beat him and attempt to take his watch, but August in his fury grapples with the Tough, who is killed by a passing train. August changes clothing with the Tough and is reported as having died a hero’s death defending his employer’s trust. Years later, a broken derelict, he learns that his oldest son has become a famous violinist, and he hoards to buy a gallery seat at a concert. He follows the boy home on Christmas Day, catching furtive glimpses of his happy family, who fail to recognize him.”"
"Screenwriter Frederica Sagor, who had written for Clara Bow, claimed that she and her husband wrote this story as Beefsteak Joe and that Paramount stole it. Whatever the truth of that allegation, Furthman’s script has helped itself to recognizable elements from The Whispering Chorus, Humoresque, and Stella Dallas (Belle Bennett, who played the title role in that picture, plays the wife in this)."
"Both scripts were set in the German-American community. Sagor’s anti-hero was a restaurateur, Furthman’s a bank teller. The Furthman script took weeks to get right – with Jannings earning around $1,000 a day. Meanwhile, the Paramount art department acquired old German furniture from Milwaukee, polished walnut with twisted legs and tassels, typical of neat middle-class homes in the Fatherland. And for the final scenes, the costume department obtained clothes for Jannings from the Los Angeles morgue."
"Jannings had been promised that despite working in Hollywood, he would have the finest talent from Europe, Mauritz Stiller as director and Erich Pommer as producer. But West Coast studio head B. P. Schulberg couldn’t get on with either of them, and replaced them with Fleming."
"British critics wondered why the title was taken from Samuel Butler’s book, while the plot was closer to East Lynne."
"“In the last scenes,” wrote Clive Brook, “Jannings had his face covered with fish skin and when I saw the rushes with him, the difference was amazing; there I was, sitting next to a healthy man of about forty, and on the screen was a worn-out, tottering figure. I was told that when he was playing this character, he had eight pounds of lead attached to the lumbar region of his back and four pounds of lead in each of his boots.” (Murnau used similar weights for George O’Brien’s boots for a scene in Sunrise.)"
"The same editor, Eda Warren, would work with Fleming on Wolf Song and Abie’s Irish Rose (both 1929)."
"Pare Lorentz found it depressing that Hollywood tried to please Europe “by apeing its tricks”. (People said the same about Sunrise.)"
"Luis Buñuel: “Although technically excellent, this film shares with many others the distinction of appealing more to our tear ducts than to our sensibilities.” Adolph Green probably came nearest the truth when he described it as “Stella Dallas with a man in it”." – Kevin Brownlow
AA: The only surviving fragment of a high melodrama, a real tearjerker. Like Orson Welles later, the forte of Emil Jannings was the story of the magnificent man who perishes utterly.
In this remaining fragment Jannings is already a shadow of his former self, a man from the gutter who sneaks into the humblest gallery seat of the biggest concert hall to hear his son, a violin virtuoso, play.
The tune the son selects for an encore is a song his father taught him as a child: "Wiegenlied" by Johannes Brahms (Brahms' Lullaby).
An invaluable sample from a horribly duped source.