US Release Date: 12-05-1930
Directed by: Josef von Sternberg
- Marlene Dietrich, as
- Lola Lola
- Emil Jannings, as
- Prof. Immanuel Rath
- Kurt Gerron, as
- Rosa Valetti, as
- Hans Albers, as
- Reinhold Bernt, as
- The clown
- Eduard von Winterstein, as
- The director of school
- Hans Roth as
- The caretaker of the secondary school
The role that made Dietrich an instant sensation
Director Josef von Sternberg simultaneously filmed the English and German versions of The Blue Angel. Due to the difficult-to-understand accents of the cast, the German version, with subtitles, became the more internationally popular of the two. But for the difference in language both versions are nearly identical, reeking as they do of smoky decadence, sordid lust and regret.
Quintessential German Expressionist actor Emil Jannings plays a sexually repressed literature professor at a boy's prep school. One day he discovers a postcard of the scantily clad Lola Lola (the inimitable Marlene Dietrich in the role that made her an instant sensation) among his student's papers. Curious, that evening he goes to the sleazy 'Blue Angel' nightclub in a rather unsavory neighborhood to investigate. When he sees the sultry siren dressed in a man's top hat with her long legs exposed, and hears her throaty rendition of 'Falling In Love Again', he is soon caught in the oldest trap known to man.
He squanders his name, reputation, and financial security by marrying the scandalous, fifth-rate chanteuse. After losing his teaching job he follows her on the road and is quickly reduced to peddling the cheap and vulgar postcards of his wife to the noisy bar-filled crowds during intermission. Years go by and he has now replaced Lola's former victim as the traveling fool, a literal clown to keep the unruly drunken patrons entertained. Just when it seems his humiliation is complete, she forces him to return to his hometown to perform in front of former students and colleagues.
Symbolism and foreshadowing are put to good use in the movie, along with a dramatic mix of light and darkness. In one scene the camera tracks slowly away from the professor seated at his desk in front of an empty classroom. This portends the tragic ending where this exact shot is reproduced with one chilling difference. The professor lies dead, slumped over his desk.
Emil Jannings was a great actor. The scene where he applies clown make-up while smoking a cigarette and looking at his reflection in a mirror is remarkable. It speaks volumes about human nature without so much as a word of dialogue.
Marlene Dietrich, originally considered a workingman's Garbo, showed that she was in fact a unique and superlative screen entity in her own right. Defying time, she would continue to headline a successful cabaret act, in which she performed her trademark song 'Falling In Love Again', until both she and the century were well into their seventies.
Provocative in both content and style, The Blue Angel in any language, is a classic for the ages.
Thank God for male sexual liberation.
So much has been written during the last few decades about women's sexual liberation. It's talked about on the gab shows. It has sold many books. However, male sexual liberation has so rarely, if ever, been discussed.
The Blue Angel demonstrates the old cliché that men are like linoleum. You lay us right the first time and you can walk all over us. Patrick wrote that this man was sexually repressed. Was he repressed, or was it that he just never got some? Either way, I think he actually loved Lola. Sure the sex was the attraction. But this guy actually loved her. If it was just sex he could have left her in a heart beat, and he sure as hell would not have killed himself.
This movie shows a man as a victim of his own libido. He is a helpless creature who can't think with his head once his other head has a rising thought. Sure there are men who fall in love with women who only use them for money or whatever. But the extreme in which this movie takes it is obscene. At least in modern times a man would not be so upset and disgraced that he would have to commit suicide. These days a man would have blown the whole thing off to his friends with a line like "Hey if you had pussy that good you would have sold the farm too." Thank god for male sexual liberation.
Emil Jannings becomes Marlene Dietrich's bitch in The Blue Angel.
This movie might have been a big success upon its release. It might have made a star out of Marlene Dietrich. It might even be an important film, but it doesn't hold up very well. Its morality tale is totally outdated. It moves at a snail's pace, which makes its relatively short running time feel twice as long. I wonder Patrick, if you'd never read anything about this movie or heard of its two leads if you'd have raved about it to the extent that you do?
I will say that the cast is good.
Dietrich has charisma and charm. She doesn't look as good here as she would two years later in Shanghai Express, but she does spend most of her time lounging around in outfits that she only gets away with because this is a pre-code film. I can see why the Professor would be attracted to her, but apart from giving him sex (possibly for the first time ever), it's difficult to see why he would want to marry her.
Jannings does do a dramatic job as the Professor, it's just a shame that his character is so pathetic and unlikable. After he marries Lola, he instantly becomes this sad sack loser with no self-respect or anything else. I wanted to smack him and say, "Snap out of it." Either get out of the marriage or stand-up and be a man in it. It's not as if he's trying to improve himself and failing, it's just a slow, pathetic sink into oblivion without any attempt on his own part to save himself. As a consequence, I never cared what happened to him.
The storytelling often seems crude and unsophisticated. It's a talkie, but too many scenes are played out as if it was a silent movie. Whole scenes are done without dialogue and the camera lingers too long on things as if to make sure that the audience understands what it's seeing, when a few lines of dialogue could have easily moved things along.
Apart from seeing the performance that launched Dietrich's career, I found nothing of interest or entertainment at The Blue Angel.
Photos © Copyright Paramount Pictures (1930)