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Appearances can be deceptive. If you were to judge by appearances, this would seem to be one of Emil Jannings' ever-popular exercises in onscreen humiliation (The Blue Angel, The Last Command) - and no one did humiliation like Jannings, the man with the most expressive back and shoulders in cinema. A huge worldwide star in the silent era and the first Best Actor Oscar winner, his career and reputation subsequently marred by the Nazi films he made during the war, the film has survived its star's disgrace to become one of the enduring greats. Its story may be simple, but the execution is absolutely extraordinary, the film still seeming extraordinarily fresh and modern even today - a film with an energy and a beating heart that makes for an invigorating piece of pure cinema.

Adapted from Nikolai Gogol's The Coat and a Broadway adaptation by Charles W. Goddard (the film's title actually translates from German as The Last Man, as in The Bible's `the last shall be first'), it taps into both the Germans' love of uniforms and the universal tendency to judge others by their appearance. Jannings plays the much-respected chief porter of the prestigious Hotel Atlantic. He may live in a neighbourhood not many steps above a slum, but as long as he has his grandiose military-style porter's uniform, he has the respect of everyone in his neighbourhood. It is the uniform, not money, that is the source of his power and authority, but when he is demoted after a humiliatingly pathetic display of physical strength shows his age, he is stripped of the overcoat like a disgraced officer being cashiered before the entire regiment and sent to work as a lavatory attendant instead, the lowliest position in the entire hotel. At first he attempts to hide his dishonour, but once his secret is out his neighbours' attitudes change almost immediately from love and admiration to contempt as he becomes a joke in their eyes. The only compassion he receives is from the night watchman in a moving drunken scene that you suspect everyone but Jannings wanted for the finale.

Yet far from this being a case of just deserts, Jannings' protagonist is a decent man for all his surface pomposity. All he has is the respect his position bestows on him, and once that is gone it is genuinely tragic to see this huge man shrink into himself. It's that human aspect that ultimately is the film's greatest achievement: it's as emotional and moving as it is technically innovative. And the film is incredibly innovative.

An attempt to make a silent film with no captions, the film tells its story with images and body language, with only a shot of a letter and a very reluctant onscreen excuse for the unbelievable epilogue imposed on him by his star breaking the flow of images (Murnau passed on the opportunity to direct The Blue Angel, fearing that Jannings would once again demand a happy ending: Jannings even suggested his Last Laugh co-star Molly Delschart for the Dietrich role!). Boasting the top talent in German cinema of the day (a screenplay by The Cabinet of Dr Caligari's Carl Mayer, produced by Eric Pohmer, magnificent production design by future cult director Edgar G. Ulmer), a huge 1.6m DM budget that allowed magnificent sets of the grand hotel and the beautifully rendered slum, and a lavish 180-day shooting schedule that allowed director F.W. Murnau a level of perfectionism rare even now let alone in 1924, the film is the best and most groundbreaking example of what became known as the `unchained camera' technique. And the camerawork is very much a star of the film. Few directors, sound or silent, understood the language of the camera as well as Murnau: Scorsese's been openly stealing from him for decades. You could even make a case that all modern cinema flows from this source, with many of the techniques we take for granted today being tried out here. The camera is rarely still in many of the major sequences, the hotel lobby filled with crane and dolly shots (the later reputedly invented for the film), Karl Freund's striking camerawork at times even assuming the perspective and failing eyesight of its tragic hero.

Thankfully the film has received some of the attention it deserves, with a fine transfer keeping the excellent 1924 score by Giuseppe Becce, Masters of Cinema's DVD also includes another good booklet and an excellent documentary detailing the differences between the different versions (three were shot, one for Germany, the others for export overseas, with many subsequent re-edits happening to both), how the forced perspective sets were designed via production sketches and blueprints and even breakdowns on individual shots. The DVD even tells you what film stock and cameras were used! Very highly recommended.
22 comments|12 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 3 March 2011
Everything is turning around the symbol of the uniform and its importance. But there 's more...
This is a very nice film about the conflicts between the old and the new generation. The olds give their place to the young and the old doorman must obey the orders of the young manager. At the same time the environment of the hotel represents the arrival of modernism which puts aside the old way of life.
Emil Jannings is perfect in his part as the defeated and humiliated person. Murnau from the other hand had always been a quite dominant type. A great director who actually had little to do with the classical expressionism. Nevertheless, ''Der letzte Mann'' (like most of the german films of that period) is the product of genius and the harmonious collaboration of all the parts: photographers, art designers, actors etc.
The script was written by Carl Mayer, who had a great talent to write not only very good stories but also to think of them in terms of cinematographic image and Karl Freund was a very important cameraman and photographer.
The extras give lot of useful information about the realization of the film and its various versions.
0Comment|5 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
Der letzte Mann has been brilliantly described by other reviewers but it is a film of such striking quality and emotion that you feel the need to shout it out if you've just discovered it - I would say to anyone, don't wait, let it enhance your life from this moment on! Murnau was one of the absolutely greatest directors, his films have such a depth of texture. The images here carry all the meaning of the story, taking it a stage beyond other silent films, but it also has a richness that is totally exceptional - there is hardly a shot that doesn't seem to arise from the deepest expressive need, while forming a seamless whole. It's the film equivalent of the Bayeux tapestry - an early example that seems to set a standard impossible to surpass in the form. Everything in the film is perfect, including a tone poised between pathos and humour. The uniform coat has something inescapably comic about it in its over-the-top brocade and impossibly wide pockets, as with the doorman's bushy sideburns, so attentively groomed. Yet the pathos is equally immense - more so in the end. I love the way the happy ending is actually turned by Murnau so that he actually has it both ways - the sheer impossibility of the denouement is put into a fantasy realm by the film where the rest of it is all too realistic psychologically and socially. Emil Jannings is incredible in the role, both in face and body language, the jewel in this fabulous crown of sets, camera work and music. It is a deeply satisfying experience at all levels, while seeming to confirm that the ideal length for a film is ninety minutes. Modern directors presumably think that longer is better; but for all the technical advances there's no one working today who has quite this level of poetry in the images - another sense in which less is more, it seems. This edition comes with a 41-minute Making Of plus a 36-page booklet including writings by Murnau and illuminating essays by Tony Rayns and R. Dixon Smith.
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on 20 February 2009
F.W. Murnau is truly one of the masters of the silent era. Masters of Cinema has started to release several of his masterpieces on DVD, and the quality of their releases is usually excellent. I also own their other Murnau films, but this one is my favorite.

In the film, Murnau doesn't use any text for dialogue, which means that the film is dependent on the visual look. The film serves us with some truly remarkable imagery, and Murnau's sense of images and conveying meaning through visual language is acute.

The story is fairly simple, but through the exploration of the characters inner life the film creates some vivid emotions and is truly expressive in its meaning. The audience really starts to care deeply with the main character, and he is well personified.

End of the line: if you are interested in German silent cinema, want to watch some films by Murnau, or in general you are a admirer of great cinema and want to explore areas unknown to you, Der letzte Mann is one of the finest gems of film throughout time.
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on 14 November 2010
Richard Masters in his review of the DVD makes two points - it is not as good as Nosferatu - true but a very different type of film, and that the extras are thin. As a result he gives the DVD 3 stars. I don't quibble with his judgement, Both points are probably true - but I have given it 5 stars for the film alone.

This is a magnificent piece of innovative film making - the origin of moving camera shots craeted by the simple notion of strapping the camera to the cameraman's chest. This does indeed give you a sense of being inside the movie.The sets are terrific and Murnau's use of light and shade are truly magnificent - just as they were in Nosferatu but providing a sense not of manace as in that movie but of reality and the contrast between the drabness of the tenements where the protagonist lives and the light and sparkle of the hotel where he works.

The characterisation by all the actors is finely drawn even if every part is a cameo besides but the dominant part is Emil Jannings as the doorman - the protagonist of the movie.

Well worth concentrating on the movie.
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on 3 April 2014
Murnau created a number of masterpieces. This is a bit of a fairy tale with extraordinary use of camera and imagination and an unusual ending. This is an unusual story but it says much about human failing and weaknesses. Perhaps Murnau was exposing so much that is bad about human nature and behaviour. Although this has something of a happy ending, it is laced with fantasy. The notes accompanying the film are well worth reading and help to make sense of this masterpiece. The importance of uniform is something that would become evident from that period of filmmaking up to the 2WW.
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on 8 February 2014
LANG'S AND MURNAU'S WORKS SHOULD BE ALL RELEASED IN HOME VIDEO. I DON'T CARE IF THEY'RE IN BLURAY OR DVD FORMAT, BECAUSE THESE WORKS HAVE ALREADY BEEN TEXTBOOK FOR FILM INDUSTRY FOR A LONG TIME, AND THESE FILMS LED AND INSPIRED OLD AND NEW STANDARDS IN FILM HISTORY. GERMAN FILMS BECOME WORLD-RESPECTED BECAUSE OF THEM MAINLY. THEREFORE, IT WON'T BE TOO FAR TO SOMETHING LIKE THAT.
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on 23 March 2011
watch the one of the first films with moving camera technics. what is common nowadays through lightweight cameras and steadycam, took quite some effort then. and it is amazing to see the moving camera not only for effect sake, but that every movement has its meaning.
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on 20 January 2013
Murnau shows the great talent he had 70 years ago.
Ant this enourmous film is oine of the best of all times.
great film and great edition.
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on 3 August 2014
great purchase,wonderful service.patrick fay
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