Friday, July 01, 2016

The Last Warning (2016 digital restoration by Universal Pictures)

Viimeinen varoitus! / Le dernier avertissement / Die letzte Warnung. US 1929. D: Paul Leni. Based on: dal romanzo The House of Fear di Wadsworth Camp. SC: Alfred A. Cohn, Robert F. Hill, J. G. Hawks. Cinematography: Hal Mohr. ED: Robert Carlisle. AD: Charles D. Hall. M: Joseph Cherniavsky. C: Laura La Plante (Doris), Montague Love (McHugh), Roy D’Arcy (Carlton), Margaret Livingston (Evalinda), John Boles (Qualie), Mack Swain (Robert), Slim Summerville (Tommy). P: Carl Laemmle Jr. per Universal Pictures Corp. DCP. 78′. B&w.
    2016 digital restoration by Universal Pictures (see restoration bulletin beyond the jump break)
    DCP from Universal Pictures
    Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna
    Universal Pictures: The Laemmle Junior Years
    ♪ electric piano Maud Nelissen (not Donald Sosin as announced)
    E-subtitles by Sub-Ti Londra
    Cinema Jolly, 1 July 2016

Dave Kehr (Bologna catalog): "Merrily rifling through a whole bag of tricks, from animated intertitles to careening camera movements, director Paul Leni seems to anticipate the cinematic exuberance of Orson Welles in this comedy thriller from the tail end of the silent era (although the film was released with a score, sound effects and a dialogue sequence, the print that survives, and has been beautifully restored by Universal’s in-house digital team, is the silent version Universal provided for theaters not yet equipped for sound)."

"A veteran of the German expressionist cinema in its humorless hard core years (Hintertreppe, Waxworks), Leni revealed a lighter side when he arrived at Universal in 1927 to direct the ‘old dark house’ comedy thriller The Cat and the Canary. The Last Warning features the same star, Laura La Plante, in a similar context, though this time the murder mystery is set backstage at a haunted Broadway theater – Leni’s imaginative redressing of Universal’s already-venerable Phantom of the Opera stage."

"Secret passageways, trapdoors, a masked villain, clutching hands – The Last Warning has them all, served up in high style by Leni and cameraman Hal Mohr. Even the identity of the killer is, by the standards of the genre, a delightful surprise. Sadly, it would prove to be Leni’s last film – the director died of sepsis a few months after its release, at the age of forty-four."
– Dave Kehr

The Last Warning. Margaret Livingston as Evalinda.

AA: Paul Leni was a veteran artist – artist blacksmith, painter, graphic artist, caricaturist, illustrator, adman, Expressionist, and perhaps a member of Der Sturm, who had worked for Max Reinhardt, Joe May, Ernst Lubitsch, and the military film unit Bufa – before he started to direct after WWI. He kept getting better. He mastered the Kammerspiel in Hintertreppe with Leopold Jessner. He directed the beautiful horror dream fantasy Das Wachsfigurenkabinett, for Kracauer the last summit of the golden age of Weimar cinema. With Guido Seeber he designed animated short riddles (Rebus-Filme). At Universal Studios he launched the haunted house trend with The Cat and the Canary and The Last Warning. He also directed the Charlie Chan thriller The Chinese Parrot (believed lost) and the Victor Hugo masterpiece The Man Who Laughs. Paul Leni died young but he left a mark on both Weimar cinema and Universal horror.

I only saw 30 minutes from the beginning of The Last Warning due to an overlap with one of Bologna's Anno uno screenings. Paul Leni displays his delight in animation and art graphics from the start. The camera is unhinged, there is a whirlpool, caleidoscope impression of the bright lights of Broadway with neon montages, dancing follies, and superimpositions. The acting is overdone, there is a bit too much of eccentricism. There is an image (see above) that feels like an anticipation of Mummy Bates (a central figure in the Universal Studio Tour).

(I rushed to see that Anno uno screening. It started 30 minutes too late, and there were so many introductions that I never got to see the films I wanted to see before I had to leave again to the next appointment. I should have stayed to see The Last Warning to the end).

A top restoration job from Universal Pictures. The visual quality of the sources used is variable. In the beginning the quality is weak, but it gets much better.


Universal Premieres Restored Last Warning

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Mon, 06/06/2016 - 14:05 -- Nick Dager

Universal Pictures has restored the 1929 classic mystery The Last Warning.Universal Pictures premiered the restored 1929 silent film classic The Last Warning June 4 at the Castro Theater as part of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. Directed by Paul Leni and starring Laura La Plante, The Last Warning is a dramatic horror centered on an unsolved murder during a theatrical performance and the revival production meant to solve the mystery. This restored version is a part of Universal's silent restoration initiative announced last year.

"The Last Warning is significant in Universal's history as it was Paul Leni's last film and a key role for Universal's leading lady of the 1920s, Laura La Plante," said Michael Daruty, senior vice president, NBCUniversal Global Media Operations. "Through the silent film initiative, our two goals are to preserve the films for the future and share them with audiences."

Beginning in March 2015, Universal's team of restoration experts conducted a worldwide search for The Last Warning's available elements. After extensive exploration, a 35mm nitrate dupe negative was located at the Cinémathèque française, and was loaned to the Studio. This French negative became the base element.  However because of its origin, the negative contained French title cards. In order to obtain the English title cards, Universal turned to a 16mm English print from the Packard Humanities Institute Collection in the UCLA Film & Television Archive. Universal's restoration team then replaced the French title cards with the English.

La Plante, a prominent Universal contract player, was known for her celebrated roles in Skinner's Dress Suit (1926), The Cat and the Canary (1927), Show Boat (1929), and King of Jazz (1930).  In this horror film, a producer reopens a theatre production, where one of his former actors had been murdered during a performance. The producer proceeds to stage the show exactly as it was with the exception of the murdered actor. The film was adapted from the 1922 Broadway play by the same name written by Thomas F. Fallon based on the story The House of Fear by Wadsworth Camp, the father of the writer Madeleine L'Engle. 

The Last Warning first premiered in 1929 and was popular with audiences of the time.

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