The Last Warning (1928) – Film Review
Director: Paul Leni
Cast: Laura La Plante, Montagu Love, Margaret Livingston
by Sarah Morgan
Are you a fan of horror and suspense who’s looking for something groundbreaking and stylish that you’ve probably never seen before? If your answer to that question is yes, then The Last Warning is for you.
Made just as sound was beginning to take off in Hollywood, it originally had a handful of dialogue scenes and audio effects. Sadly, they’ve been lost in the midst of time, and now only a silent version remains – but as the visuals are all-important here, it doesn’t feel as if viewers are particularly missing out too much.
Based on a hit play by Thomas F Fallon, which was an adaptation of Wadsworth Camp’s novel The House of Fear, The Last Warning was the final film of celebrated director Paul Leni, who died aged 44 nine months after its release. The man who brought us such classics as The Man Who Laughs and Waxworks was, at the time, at the very top of his game.
The Last Warning was designed as a companion piece to The Cat and the Canary, an earlier Leni hit which was also set in a theatre.
Here, a Broadway stage falls silent for five years after the mysterious death of leading actor John Woodford during a performance. A new ‘producer’ decides to get to the bottom of what happened by restaging the fatal play with the original cast.
However, the production is beset by problems, not least several sightings of what appears to be Woodford’s ghost. But all will be revealed before the curtain falls once more…
The plot isn’t exactly awe-inspiring, but Leni’s treatment of the subject turns it into a classic. While many silent movies look like filmed stage plays, he believed in pushing boundaries; the grand finale features an incredible set-up in which the camera, then a heavy and usually immovable object, suddenly becomes airborne – it’s a sequence that would still look amazing if filmed today.
Leni also uses montage and some genuinely chilling imagery to move the story along – audiences back in 1928, when the film was released, were probably astonished and perhaps even genuinely frightened by what they saw.
Who knows what Leni might have gone on to produce had he lived, and how the use of sound might have impacted on his work. Rumour has it he may even have been entrusted with such horror classics as Dracula and Frankenstein – a chance to see his take on them both would be mouthwatering indeed.
1080p presentation on Blu-ray from Universal’s 4K restoration, available for the first time ever on home video in the UK
Score by composer Arthur Barrow
Brand new audio commentary with horror and fantasy authors Stephen Jones and Kim Newman
Paul Leni and “The Last Warning” – video essay by film historian and author John Soister on Leni’s final film
Rare stills gallery
PLUS: A Collector’s Booklet featuring a new essay by Philip Kemp and a short essay by composer Arthur Barrow on his score for the film
The Last Warning is released on Blu-ray by Eureka, £20.99