DVD Review: The Last Command (Masters of Cinema)

Director Josef von Sternberg is best known for the films he made with Marlene Dietrich. Indeed, he’s often credited with being the catalyst behind her career. He cast the then unknown actress as his female lead in the first German talkie, The Blue Angel, which proved to be her big break. They went on to work together on six films. Emil Jannings starred alongside Dietrich in The Blue Angel and also starred in Sternberg’s The Last Command.

Sergius Alexander (Emil Jannings) is cast as an extra to play a General in a new movie, but after having difficulty shooting a scene, he recounts how he gained his nervous disposition. During the October Revolution, Grand Duke Sergius Alexander, the Tzar’s cousin and commander of his armies, is presented with two actor who are accused of being dangerous individuals. One of whom, Natalie Dabrova (Evelyn Brent), has a big part to play in his escape.

Inspired by a meeting with a former General in the Russian army, The Last Command was one of Sternberg’s last silent films. It was an astonishing achievement in cinematography for the time and Jannings won an Oscar for a combination of his performance in it and The Way of All Flesh. The Last Command is a great yarn in the classic sense and was rightly selected for preservation by America’s National Film Registry.

Special Features:

  • High-definition presentation on the Blu-ray
  • Original organ score by Gaylord Carter (uncompressed on the Blu-ray)
  • New video interview with critic Tony Rayns
  • Sternberg Till ‘29, a video essay by scholar Tag Gallagher
  • A 32-page booklet featuring an excerpt from von Sternberg’s autobiography Fun in a Chinese Laundry, two original reviews from 1928, a 1929 profile of Jannings, and archival images

The Last Command is released on dual format by Eureka as part of their Masters of Cinema collection on Monday.

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