The Last Performance (1929)

Director: Paul Fejos

Fejos’ career after Lonesome wound up being… mixed. This was the film he made immediately afterwards, and yet the thing doesn’t appear to have been released until well after his next film. Again it was shot silent with dialogue scenes being added later, though if I’m reading the contemporary review here correctly Universal seem not to have actually released the latter when they did belatedly put the film into circulation. As such, the part-talkie has vanished and the silent version appeared to have done the same for decades until the Danish release print on the Criterion Lonesome disc turned up… it’s mediocre in quality but watchable enough that you can still see Fejos has comparatively toned down the visual flair from Lonesome, reserving the trickery more for big key scenes. The puzzling thing is why he made this particular film after that one, as it’s the sort of mere melodrama he abhorred; later on he claimed to have made it only because it gave him the chance to work with Conrad Veidt (shortly before the rise of talkies sent him packing back to Germany). The latter plays stage hypnotist Erik the Great, who is in a not altogether healthy relationship with his much younger assistant Julie. One night Erik finds an intruder, Mark, in his hotel room but takes pity on him and, at Julie’s suggestion, hires him for the stage act, a decision which eventually winds up having rather violent repercussions. In other words, so far so B-film melodrama, and several worlds away from Lonesome, obviously; still, it’s interesting to see Fejos working with this material, which may not be as technically wild but still features some decent enough production values, and the film definitely benefits from its brevity (just shy of an hour; no idea if the Danish print is lacking scenes or not). On that sort of B-melodrama level it’s not bad. Alas, releasing it as a silent film at the end of 1929 kind of doomed it to box office failure, and arguably bespeaks a lack of confidence in it by the studio (as does the fact that they apparently shelved it for a year after completion), and Fejos’ already souring relations with Hollywood just got worse from there…

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