the Last Performance (11/1/1929)

Last Performance (1929) Conrad Veidt as a man in formal wear who uses his eyes to mezmerize people. Interesting little melodrama three men all vying for the attention of the pretty girl. Veidt plays a sauve stage magician (watch for Universal’s Phantom of the Opera stage again) who is in love with his female assistant… Philbin plays his assistant who is in like with her boss, there is also one male stage assistant (who has male stage assistants in circus tights?) who is our Iago character who isn’t as much in love with the female stage assistant as he just wants to make everyone unhappy. Then there is another male stage assistant who is introduced as a noble Jean ValJean/beggarmanthief who breaks in to steal a meal..Veidt’s character is actually not a bad guy (nor bad looking) he invites the thief to take his meal sitting down and then takes him on as another assistant which he really doesn’t need. Philbin on the other hand seems to be playing the field, while she is engaged to the famous rich guy, she starts swooning around with the good looking newcomber… this will NOT end well for anyone. Long story short using a magic trick with a trunk and way way too many swords the trouble maker assistant winds up dead and the boyfriend winds up on trial. Not to spoil a 90 year old film but it’s all her fault.

Paul Fejos is a fascinating director I had never heard of, he does some great work in this and his other films Lonesome and Broadway, watch for a terrific camera zoom over a very long table with candelabras, brought to mind Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast especially with the face mask dressing room wall art. This is another one of those films which suffered from being released on the sound cusp. The silent version is happily watchable for the closeups of stage magic, and I really enjoyed the way he put the camera upstage center with the magicians sandwiched between it and the audience.

Though supposedly written for Lon Chaney, it is not horrific in anyway, just a bit of a love triangle murder mystery. If Chaney had done it, no doubt he would have been a much more a Svengali type who was manipulating the girl for his own ends and she was right to play around on him. But Veidts magician seems to be wounded by her bad manners and it’s ALL HER FAULT. I had wanted to find and see this Universal release before I moved into talkies outright, I thought it would have more of a suspenseful supernatural vibe to it. Veidts mesmerism skills never gets addressed properly in the script, if he was that good and apparently he IS, he could have been using it on her this whole time, and he didn’t…like I said. It’s all her fault.

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