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by request: the blue angel (josef von sternberg, 1930)

The film that made Marlene Dietrich a star, and the first in her long association with Sternberg. Sternberg claims she got the part because she acted bored during her screen test, thinking she wasn’t going to get the part, an attitude that was right in line with Sternberg’s idea for the character. The screen test exists, and you can see in the first 30 seconds that this woman has something special. She knows how to smoke a cigarette on camera, she is completely unfazed by her surroundings, it’s all acting but she makes it seem real. Dietrich was in her late-20s and had been in movies for a decade. Some of that early period shows up here ... while with Sternberg’s help, Dietrich later became the woman we know today, that transformation had yet to happen. She’s bulky, with thighs that could kill you (and you’d die happy). The plot may be foolish, but you can certainly understand why Emil Jannings’ aging professor would fall for her.

There are at least two versions ... German-language and English-language versions were filmed simultaneously. (It was the first talkie from Germany.) I saw the English version some years ago, and remember little except it seemed stilted next to the other. I’d say the attitude towards sex was matter-of-fact, and indeed, Dietrich as Lola Lola is a part of that. Except Lola/Dietrich has something special, she knows it, she uses it, and despite Jannings being the “star”, the film is Dietrich’s. There are glimpses of a Lola who cares a little bit for the professor, but in the end, he comes off as a momentary play thing. He, of course, thinks theirs is a romance for the ages.

The latter part of the movie goes by too quickly. The lead up to the professor’s downfall is gradual, but once Lola loses interest, it’s barely any time at all before the professor is in his clown makeup, as if he was trying out for Freaks.

The look of the film is straight out of German expressionism, while the use of sound is interesting to a modern audience without seeming quite right (which is just off-putting enough to add to the distortions of the visuals).

Ultimately, we return to The Blue Angel for Dietrich. It has a place in film history, but beyond that, you have a moderately intriguing movie with a Marlene Dietrich who captures the screen in her every scene. #499 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time. 7/10.

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