The Criterion Collection's mission statement, which is printed on all their releases, is to present "important classic and contemporary films". The company does outstanding work in preserving the history of cinema, and nowhere is that more evident than their release of 3 Silent Classics By Josef von Sternberg, which contains the fourth, fifth, and sixth film, not counting the lost The Dragnet, he directed.
Von Sternberg came onto Underworld (1927) after original director Arthur Rosson was fired by Paramount Pictures. Written by Ben Hecht, whose work here earned the very first Academy Award for Writing, it tells the tale of love triangle set within the crime genre. Gangster Bull Weed (George Bancroft) is seen robbing a bank by a drunk he dubs Rolls Royce (Clive Brook). Bull kidnaps Rolls, who used to be a lawyer, and once he gets to know Rolls, put him to work in his organization. Bull is seeing a gal nicknamed Feathers (Evelyn Brent) because she always wears them. She and a sober Rolls become intrigued with each other. When Bull goes to jail for murder and gets the death penalty, Rolls isn't sure whether to bust him out or leave town with Feathers.
Credited as the first American gangster film, Underworld has a good story that's not predictable. The inclusion of "business" rival Buck Mulligan (Fred Kohler) adds to the conflict in Bull's life. Unintentionally humorous is the scene where the cops try to take Bull in and end up destroying the facade of the apartment building with their gunfire.
The Last Command (1928) is a fascinating story based on the life of General Lodijensky. In 1928 Hollywood, director Lev Andreyev (William Powell) hires Sergius Alexander (Emil Janning), a formerly former a Grand Duke and Commanding General of Russian armies as well as a cousin to the Czar, as an extra in his film. Alexander is cast as a general and this triggers a flashback to Imperial Russia 1917 where a connection between Alexander and Andreyev, then a theater director and revolutionatry, is revealed. Natalie Dabrova (Evelyn Brent) comes between the men.