This is undoubtedly one of the very best films of the 1920s. I watched Der letzte Mann after viewing Faust, Nosferatu and Tartuffe, looking for modes of Expressionism and trying to grasp what made Murnau tick. Der letzte Mann is very different from Murnau's most famous work. There are nods to Expressionism, but the truly pioneering aspect of Der letzte Mann is Karl Freund's 'unchained camera'. Murnau developed camera tricks here in 1924 that would be repeated nearly fifty years later by Martin Scorsese in Mean Streets: the dizzying, subjective camera that demonstrates Emil Janning's enebriation. For me, this is the most virtuosic passage of the film - but other 'tricks', such as the impression of a building falling upon Emil Jannings and the camera panning in through a window, show a tremendous knowledge of the early 'cinema of attractions' as well as a progressive desire to advance the syntax of the film.
Everything came together in Der letzte Mann. Arguably the greatest director of Weimar Germany, the most successful producer, the most accomplished cameraman and the most famous actor's face. Der letzte Mann marks a summit of an incredibly exciting period in the history of film, and exhibits the fact that Murnau was not restricted in his thinking to shadows and fog (Tartuffe, too, is a very different piece from Nosferatu).
Anyone interested should read more recent studies on German cinema in 1920s such as Thomas Elsasser's. The Weimar Cinema has recently been reappraised for what it was - a broad range of talents converging on many different subjects and forms well ahead of their time. Der letzte Mann, more ably than any other film of the era, demonstrates this in exhilarating fashion.