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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.33:1 Standard
  • English Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono
  • English subtitles
  • 1 Disc
FEATURES
  • Six scores: one by Robert Israel for each film; two by the Alloy Orchestra, for Underworld and The Last Command; and a piano and voice piece by Donald Sosin for The Docks of New York
  • Two new visual essays: one by UCLA film professor Janet Bergstrom and the other by film scholar Tag Gallagher
  • 1968 Swedish television interview with director Josef von Sternberg, covering his entire career

The Last Command


Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Josef von Sternberg
1928 | 88 Minutes | Licensor: Paramount Home Entertainment

Release Information
DVD | MSRP: $79.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #530
RLJ Entertainment

Release Date: August 24, 2010
Review Date: August 24, 2010

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SYNOPSIS

Emil Jannings won the first best actor Academy Award for his passionate, heartbreaking performance as a sympathetic tyrant, an exiled Russian military officer turned Hollywood actor whose latest partóa czarist generalóbrings about his emotional downfall. With its brilliantly realized Russian Revolution sequences, virtuoso camera work, and grandly designed sets and effects, Josef von Sternbergís The Last Command is a gripping silent melodrama that grapples with tumultuous recent history, as well as a striking portrait of one manís increasing blurring of the line between fantasy and reality.

Forum members rate this film 9.2/10

 

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PICTURE

The second disc in Criterionís wonderful box set of 3 early silents by Josef von Sternberg presents his 1928 film The Last Command in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on a dual-layer disc. The picture has also been window boxed, with a black border around the entire frame.

The image here is weaker than what is found on the disc for Underworld, coming off fuzzier and softer, but it was still a pleasant surprise. Itís issues are solely because of the source materials and, other than a few moments, the image lacks definition and just looks out-of-focus. Iím sure some extensive restoration has been done (since it still looks far better than I would have expected) but there are still some problems remaining, none of them really being a surprise. We still get a number of scratches, frame jumps, pulsating, and flickering, but all things considered itís not all that bad and easy to look over.

But the digital transfer is very good, presenting next to nothing in the way of artifacts and noise. It looks superb upscaled, and even manages to handle the grain structure properly. Despite the number of flaws still present in the materials itís a lovely looking image, and it still exceeds my expectations.

6/10

All DVD screen captures are presented in their original size from the source disc. Images have been compressed slightly to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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AUDIO

The film is silent but Criterion has included two stereo orchestral tracks, the first (and default) by Robert Israel, recorded exclusively for this edition, and then another by the Alloy Orchestra, which was recorded for a showing at the 2007 New York Film Festival. Both are good, but similarly to my feelings for Underworld I do prefer the Israel track, which isnít subtle at all but still manages to be suiting and enhances the presentation of the film. The Alloy Orchestra track presents a somewhat different mood in certain sequences, but itís still suiting despite the fact it really is a little more experimental. The sound quality of both is exceptional as well, though since these were recorded in the last few years this isnít a surprise.

8/10

SUPPLEMENTS

Part of a three-disc set, this disc (like the others in the set) only contains one substantial supplement, but it is a very strong one.

Tag Gallagher provides another one of his visual essays, this one entitled Von Sternberg Till Ď29. Similar to the visual essay by Janet Bergstrom on the Underworld disc, Gallagher covers the directorís early life and then quickly moves to his feature film, The Salvation Hunters, and his brief working relationship with Charlie Chaplin. From there Gallagher focuses on the films in this set, offering an analysis and breakdown of many sequences from the three films and his first film, The Salvation Hunters, with clips from all, showing how von Sternberg had an early grasp on film language. He talks about how the director displays emotions, talks about his framing, use of sets (including how the placement of items in the foreground affect the feel of a scene,) light and shadow, and even gets into great detail how cigarettes come into play in each of the films in this set. Mixed in are plenty of photos and archival film footage, and he offers plenty of quotes from von Sternberg. As with all of Gallagherís visual essays itís an exceptional and intriguing one. The lack of much else may seem disappointing but this 35-minute piece more than makes up for the absence of other features on the disc.

(This review only refers to the supplements on the disc for The Last Command. The other discs for the other films in the set contain their own supplements, and the set comes with a thick 95-page booklet, which does contain essays on the film.)

7/10

CLOSING

Making my way through each disc Iím already more than satisfied with this set, even before getting to The Docks of New York, the third film. On its own Criterionís DVD for The Last Command is a wonderful edition, and on its own Iíd give it a hardy recommendation. But the set itself is proving to be one of the best releases so far this year.


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