This is the first in a one week series highlighting lesser known great films.
THE LAST PERFORMANCE (1927)
Directed by: Paul Fejos
Starring: Conrad Veidt, Mary Philbin
We’ve previously talked about Paul Fejos’ classic Lonesome on this site. When that film received the Criterion collection, along with it were a couple of other Fejos selections–including The Last Performance. While the former may be a touching, moving love story, The Last Performance conveys a whole different set of emotions: horror, shock and terror.
Conrad Veidt stars as an unsettling magician, one who has entered a relationship with a much younger woman. When she falls in love with the new apprentice, it’s only a matter of time before Veidt finds out and decides to get even.
Although no spoilers will be given here, viewers will likely figure out where this is headed once Veidt springs into action. That does not lessen the impact of what follows. The film’s climactic scenes are not only unsettling and unnerving, but almost scary as well. The inevitable path it heads on only adds to the tension. The viewer knows things will only get worse for the characters in this love triangle. It’s just a matter of when.
Making the film all the more unsettling is the harrowing performance by Conrad Veidt. In a way, Veidt was almost the prototypical silent film actor: an expressive an unforgettable face. The anger and torment in his eyes tells a greater story than most actors ever can.
Much like Lonesome, which also came at the end of silent films, The Last Performance later got a touch of sound as well. It appears the partial talkie version may have been released in 1929, but the film was released on a staggered schedule over the course of a couple years. It wasn’t until 1930 that it was finally released everywhere. Interestingly enough, Bela Lugosi dubbed Veidt’s voice in the Hungarian version.
While The Last Performance is somewhat predictable, it only makes the film all the more harrowing. You’ll be able to see what’s around the corner before it happens–and you’ll be hoping that you’re wrong. The Last Performance further shows that Paul Fejos was a master at whatever emotions he wants to tackle. He makes you smile in Lonesome, and in The Last Performance, he’ll make you squirm in your seat.