The Woodford Theatre is having a performance of the play “The Snare”. The star of the production is John Woodford (D’Arcy Corrigan). During the performance part of Woodford’s direction is to pick up a candlestick behind him on a mantle. Woodford picks up the candlestick screams and falls to the floor. The director, Richard Quayle (John Boles) orders the curtain taken down and a doctor (Charles K. French) from the audience is asked to assist. The police are called.
Two Police Inspectors (Tom O’Brien, Fred Kelsey) question the cast and crew. On stage were Doris Terry (Laura LaPlante), Harvey Carleton (Roy D’Arcy) and Barbara Morgan (Carrie Daumery). Backstage were the stage director Mike Brody (Bert Roach) and stagehand Tommy Wall (Slim Summerville). Brody mentions that he overheard an argument between Quayle and Woodford. In her dressing room Doris has photos of Woodford, Carleton and Quayle. It appears all three were vying for her affection. Outside of that, no one knows anything.
In the middle of questioning the theater owners Josiah Bunce (Burr McIntosh) and Robert Bunce (Mack Swain) force their way into the theater. While the police gather statements from the witnesses Woodford’s body disappears. The only clue the police have is the smell of chloroform. Without even a body to examine for cause of death, the case goes cold. The theater closes.
Five years later the producer, Arthur McHugh (Montagu Love) takes it upon himself to solve the mystery of who killed John Woodford. He has his suspects but the best way to ferret out the guilty party or parties is to reconstruct the crime. He opens the theater and assembles all the actors and crew that were there the night Woodford was murdered. But there is someone who wants the mystery to stay a mystery. During rehearsal strange things begin to happen. Noises are heard, scenery unexpectedly falls, threatening telegrams are received and the ghost of John Woodford is seen throughout the theater. Someone doesn’t want the mystery to be solved.
“The Last Warning” was released in 1928. It was directed by Paul Leni and was produced by Carl Laemmle. It is a silent film. It was the last film Leni directed before his death. In 2016 Universal Pictures selected the movie for restoration. As part of the restoration process they used two different prints, one owned by the Packard Humanities Institute and one by the Cinematheque Francaise. The movie is based on the 1922 Broadway play. The play was based on the story “House of Fear” by Wadsworth Camp. The filmmakers used the same sets that had been used for “The Phantom of the Opera” 1925. The film was made as both a silent film and a part-talkie. The silent film is the only one known to be in existence. In 1939 a remake of the movie was done and titled “The House of Fear”.
This was a surprising little find. Leni was well known for his work with Universal and Laemmle. He did four pictures for Universal before his death. One of them, the Charlie Chan movie, “The Chinese Parrot” 1927 is a lost film. The other two films, “The Cat and the Canary” 1927 and “The Man Who Laughs” 1928 are better known than “The Last Warning”.
The film is basically a mystery with horror aspects as well as some Old Dark House elements and a Phantom of the Opera flair. It is a lot of fun to watch even though the plot elements are a little confusing at times. The opening credits have a kaleidoscope effect that immediately draws you into the film. I suspect that the audience sound effects in the beginning and the music in general were added but I don’t know for sure. They also add an interesting flavor to the movie. The film deserves a lot more attention that it’s gotten.
If you want to know where the trope “Is there a doctor in the house?” came from, it’s probably here.