Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. USA, 1928. Paramount Pictures. Story by Lajos Biro, Josef von Sternberg, titles by Herman J. Mankiewicz,written by John F. Goodrich. Cinematography by Bert Glennon. Produced by Jesse L. Lasky, Adolph Zukor. Music by Robert Israel. Production Design by Hans Dreier. Costume Design by Travis Banton. Film Editing by William Shea. Academy Awards 1927/1928.
An aging movie extra (Emil Jannings) drags his tired body to the set of his latest assignment, another day of earning a dollar fulfilling a silent-era stereotype. He flashes back to ten years earlier when, as a Russian general who was also cousin of the Czar, his Bolshevik enemies make a pauper and prisoner of him during the Revolution and send him into exile. In his old life he also has a love affair with the beautiful Evelyn Brent, whom he takes as mistress against her will before he manages to win her heart. Meanwhile, his rival for her love, a handsome young revolutionary played by William Powell, ends up being present in his daily life on the film set. A sharp and observant film about the people who inhabited the movie business on the eve of its golden age, this beautifully filmed melodrama by Josef von Sternberg earned Jannings a well deserved Academy Award for Best Actor at the first ever awards ceremony. It’s a bold and breathtaking film with a grand scope but is also deeply felt and moving by its conclusion, much of that thanks to Jannings’ ability to be so fiercely large, both physically and emotionally, yet vulnerable at the same time.