His fourth film for Universal Studios following his relocation from Germany, The Last Warning of director Paul Leni reunited him with the star of his first, The Cat and the Canary, Laura La Plante, and following the success of The Man Who Laughs the previous year his ongoing collaboration with producer Carl Laemmle was set to rise to even greater heights with their planned production of Dracula starring The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari‘s Conrad Veidt.
Regrettably, it was not to be; uncomfortable with his spoken English, Veidt had returned to his homeland, and in September 1929 at the age of 44 Paul Leni died of sepsis less than a year after the release of The Last Warning which was to be his final film and seal his legacy, an adaptation of the play of the same name based on Wadsworth Camp’s mystery novel House of Fear, itself set in a theatre.
It was on stage during a performance of The Snare that John Woodford collapsed, the curtain brought down and the call made, both clichéd and tragic – “Is there a doctor in the house?” Taken to his dressing room, the actor could not be revived, but before the police could investigate and determine the cause of death the body vanished.
Five years later, a revival is staged featuring the remaining cast of that night, but their rehearsal in the abandoned theatre is interrupted by strange events, personal belongings vanishing from dressing rooms, trapdoors opening and secret passages discovered, and written threats found in the copies of the script signed by the ghost of Woodford who seemingly haunts the new production, threatening death to those who would replace him in the spotlight.
Released on Blu-ray by Eureka as part of their Masters of Cinema range accompanied by a new commentary and a video essay which looks at the background and legacy of the film, Universal’s 4K restoration of The Last Warning has been drawn from two separate sources in order to create the best print, both of them silent, the partial sound version of the film now believed to be lost, and while some scenes are noticeably more degraded such variances are to be expected for a work now over ninety years old.
Reusing the set of from Universal’s 1925 production of The Phantom of the Opera as the cursed Woodford Theatre, The Last Warning is a lively early comedy horror with a surprisingly energetic final scene as the killer is pursued through the backstage area which lays the path for such films as The Old Dark House, the cast which includes Frankenstein‘s John Boles, Son of the Sheik‘s Montagu Love and the wonderfully expressive visage of Carrie Daumery throwing themselves gleefully into their roles.