See This: The Blue Angel

Emil Jannings and Marlene Dietrich in The Blue Angel
Falling in lust again – Emil Jannings and Marlene Dietrich in The Blue Angel

 

 

This is the film that made Marlene Dietrich a household scandal back in 1930. It’s the story of how a pompous but respectable schoolteacher is lured on to the rocks by Lola-Lola, the nightclub singer in a Weimar-era club who can’t help “Falling in Love Again” (which Dietrich sings here). Poor Emil Jannings, who played the professor, thought he was the star of the film – as well he might since he’d won the Best Actor Oscar the year before, at the very first Academy Awards. He resisted director Von Sternberg’s choice of Dietrich, then a nobody, as the temptress. Von Sternberg had discovered her acting in a stage play quite by accident. “She was a perfect medium, who with intelligence absorbed my direction, and despite her own misgivings responded to my conception of a female archetype,” Von Sternberg later wrote. “I … took a beautiful woman, instructed her, presented her carefully, edited her charms, disguised her imperfections, and led her to crystallise a pictorial aphrodisiac.” He created an icon, in other words, and Jannings “the perfect actor… opposed me every step of the way.”

None of this opposition is visible on screen, where art is imitating life and the teacher’s human weakness is being swamped by Lola-Lola’s balls-out sensuality. The Blue Angel was one of the first major talkies shot in Germany and was made in both German and English versions – shot twice, not overdubbed or anything so simple. The German version is longer and more satisfying and it’s also better preserved. Indeed the English version was considered lost for decades. Restoration can do wonderful things but the sound is “restricted” as the technical types would describe it (it sounds like a tin-can-and-string telephone in other words). Top tip: watch the German version with English subtitles.

Why see it? It’s an early talkie from Germany’s Weimar period before the Nazis arrived, a classic story of a foolish humbug brought low by his own lust and a chance to see a legend in the process of being created, Dietrich in her breakout role, still slightly hausfrau-ish but already in top hat and black stockings, a performance that Madonna must have watched a thousand times.

© Steve Morrissey 2013

 

The Blue Angel – at Amazon

 

 

 

 

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  • The Blue Angel (1930) Drama, Music | 1h 46min | 5 December 1930 (USA) 7.7
    Director: Josef von SternbergWriters: Heinrich Mann, Carl ZuckmayerStars: Emil Jannings, Marlene Dietrich, Kurt GerronSummary: Germany 1924. Middle aged Dr. Immanuel Rath is a literature professor at a boys college. Most of his students don't much like him, often calling him "unrath" - German for garbage. Dr. Rath learns that many of his boys often frequent a cabaret called Der blaue Engel - the Blue Angel - which he believes is corrupting their impressionable young minds. He heads to the Blue Angel himself to catch the boys in the act and shame them into not going again. Over several visits, Rath is able to catch the boys, but in the process he also understands what attracts the boys, namely the headlining performer Lola Lola. Rath falls under Lola's spell, he who falls in love with her - and she seemingly with him - so much so that he wants to marry her and give up his teaching career to be with her on her travels from cabaret to cabaret. Their relationship ends up not being what either envisioned, the question being how they will both deal with their disintegrating relationship and the reasons behind that ... Written by Huggo

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