I find Marlene Dietrich to be a fascinating personality. Her American films usually find her cast as a sexual creature verging on vamp, playing men to get what she can off them. Dietrich’s roles in later films have her as more of a sympathetic villianness, where the audience sees her in greater shades of grey. I though it might be interesting to go back and watch the film that really introduced her to US audiences, “The Blue Angel.”
“The Blue Angel” (1930) exists in two versions: the original German language release and an English language version featuring the same cast. The English version was thought to be lost for many years until a print was found mislabeled in a German archive. I’m reviewing the German version because of its availability and i find the performances to be a little better.
Josef von Sternberg‘s film has Dietrich as a restaurant cabaret singer who’s tough personality and sleepy eyes softens the heart of prudish professor Emil Jannings, leading to his self destruction. Sternberg frames shots to include objects, actions, or shadows that offer their own story or character foreshadowing. You can tell where he learned his craft, as hints of silent German Expressionism add to the drama. Jannings was one of the biggest stars of German silent cinema, known around the world for his dramatic leading characters. In “The Blue Angel” you can literally see his character’s hard icy manner melt as he falls in love with Dietrich.
There is so much history surrounding this film that it fills entire books. I’ll just say that the relations between characters and social commentary that can be drawn from it make and endlessly interesting and entertaining movie.