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.
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.
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.
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.
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