Mask Up, Curtains Down

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I’ve raved about Paul Leni’s THE LAST WARNING before but this is quite an upgrade via Flicker Alley. Hey, I like tinting and toning when they’re done in a sensitive and historically correct manner, but maybe there should have been an embargo in the days of VHS because a big wash of colour makes it harder to perceive detail in the already-degraded image.

I enjoyed the film before but I could get much more involved this time. What remains of the play is a nonsense — a whodunnit where there are no clues, just sinister warnings, chases and murder attempts to disrupt the investigation — but there’s a great coup de theatre at the end, which must have been thrilling on stage. To unmask the masked killer, the fatal play during which he last struck is restaged, and at the crucial moment, all the set walls go flying into the air, exposing him. This is a movie, at last, where the stagehands are the heroes.

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But the rest of the time, the film is really Leni’s, and he seizes every opportunity to pull off exciting camera angles, with striking use of height, focus, lighting, and movement. It’s highly cinematic, but very comic-book also (the story is pure Michael Kupperman pastiche material, the images maybe Will Eisner).

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THE LAST WARNING STARS Magnolia; Colonel Weed; Vicomte Paul; The Woman From the City; Victor Moritz; Squire Bartlett; Big Jim McKay; Athos; The Duchess of Berwick; Tjaden; Dr. Kluck; Spirit of Christmas Future; and Sgt. Dickens.

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