The Late Show Intertitle: Curtain Up!

From Paul Leni’s final movie, aptly titled THE LAST WARNING.

Leni, a successful director in the expressionist school, whose best-known work in his native Germany was WAXWORKS, made two celebrated films in Hollywood, THE MAN WHO LAUGHS, and THE CAT AND THE CANARY. Like Murnau, he died before he could make a full sound film, but his last movie does contain a few early soundie moments: background crowd chatter and the like.

The movie is also a cornucopia of trick titles: intertitles swim into focus, zoom out at us, or appear shrouded in cobwebs, mirroring dramatic developments in the story. And the Bunce brothers, owners of the haunted theatre where the action transpires, even get a duplicate title where everything is said twice.

A proto-Una O’Connor gets some shrieking in.

THE LAST WARNING is a comedy thriller very much in the vein of THE CAT AND THE CANARY, and it stars Laura LaPlante, who appeared in THE CAT. It was apparently cited by James Whale as an influence on his comedy horror film THE OLD DARK HOUSE. Indeed, Leni has one character enter the room backwards, like Colin Clive in JOURNEY’S END and Boris Karloff in FRANKENSTEIN, and at one point shoots Laura LaPlante from three increasingly close angles, for dramatic emphasis, foreshadowing the way Whale presents the Frankenstein monster’s first appearance, and also the first entrance of THE INVISIBLE MAN in his bandages, and Colin Clive in ONE MORE RIVER.

A very BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN lighting effect.

And while THE LAST WARNING doesn’t have the same black-hearted, sepulchral wit as Whale’s best work, it’s more amusing than most horror comedies of the period, and in formal terms its very inventive indeed. As with THE CAT AND THE CANARY, Leni has fun with multiple images, spooky camera movements that creep in or out, with a slight lurch, upon his array of red herrings (Torben Meyer, Mack Swain and Slim Summerville are among the throng of grotesques and stereotypes).

Here is Laura LaPlante nude, for no real reason.

GENUINELY scary masked killer!

With its spookshow effects (at one point, the killer scales the walls of the theatre at Keystone Kop velocity, and later he appears in a balcony for an instant before dropping from view at a speed faster than gravity could account for) and florid stylistic touches, THE LAST WARNING is still a very entertaining movie, with a sensationally exciting climax, a barrage of tricks and tropes from Leni — it’s to be deeply regretted that he never got to apply his zany skills to a talking picture.

The blogathon is now open! Send me links in the comments section and I’ll make a post about them.

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12 Responses to “The Late Show Intertitle: Curtain Up!”

  1. I love Paul Leni’s work, but still haven’t been able to catch THE LAST WARNING. Your descriptions are really making me salivate. And who knew that Miss LaPlante was such a shameless hussy!

    I’ve posted an entry to THE LATE FILMS BLOGATHON at my site, BOILING SAND, on the final film by Herbert Wilcox: THE LADY IS A SQUARE.
    Here’s the link —
    http://www.postmodernjoan.com/wp02/?p=6774

    Congrats on the Blogathon. Can’t wait to read the postings!!!

  2. Laura LaPlante was fifteen when she joined the Follies. Not sure when that photograph was taken, but let’s all be very careful what we think.

    Great news re your post: I’ll link to it at once!

  3. I’ve got some late Dennis Potter up here:
    http://deeperintomovies.net/journal/archives/5388

    Didn’t know how to deal with the banner thing at top – I’ll see what other people do, then change it up if needed.

  4. Feel free to adapt the banner any way you like, or only use it if it’s useful.

  5. Considering that Glenda Farrell was a married woman (so to speak) at 15, I really don’t know how bad I should feel about LaPlante’s photo (I’d already seen one of a very youthful Bessie Love). But please, please, if you find a picture like that of Ruby Keeler in her Texas Guinan days, keep it to yourself. I might get nightmares of her clomping nude in one of her numbers.

  6. Galumphing nude save for tap shoes, her twinkly eyes and sappy smile the adornments on an abomination. Brr.

  7. Here’s my entry, on Eric Rohmer’s The Romance of Astrea and Celadon:
    http://mendthiscrack.wordpress.com/2010/12/12/eric-rohmer-and-loves-madness/
    The movie was a lot of fun to watch & write about, so thanks for doing this blogathon! Also, thanks for spreading the Paul Leni. Like Murnau, he died way, way too early and I’m sure he could’ve contributed so much to the wave of 1930s horror films, if only he’d had the chance.

  8. Hi!
    First time commenting here!
    And I wanna say how interesting this will look.
    On my own, I have a conventional entry on two very good last ouvres from two well liked directors. The link is here:

    http://exodus8-2.blogspot.com/2010/12/dos-ultimos-suspiros.html

    Thanks!

  9. Christopher Says:

    wasn’t Marion Marsh 17 when she appeared nude in Svegali?..I dunno.I’m old fasioned..none of this really phases me.
    lol..I did watch the great underrated (it would appear)Borzage-Gaynor -Farrell classic silent,LUCKY STAR,and was amused when Farrell’s character wants to give Gaynor’s character a bath(thinking she must be anywhere from 12-16)untill he learns shes 18!..uh oh..a woman..can’t see that!

  10. Whereas bathing a 16 year old would be JUST FINE, presumably!

    Jaime, thanks! Will add to the linkspost.

  11. dogsear Says:

    Cool post. Never heard of this film (nor can I find it anywhere). Have seen Waxworks and The Man Who Laughs, though. Good films.

  12. You can see some clips in the excellent documentary Universal Horror, which is probably easier to get.

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