The One about Josef von Sternberg’s “The Blue Angel”

Today’s cinema blog post goes to “Der Blaue Angel” (The Blue Angel) directed by Josef von Sternberg and starring Emil Jannings and Marlene Dietrich. A film I am currently reviewing.

“The Blue Angel” is a fantastic pre-code film in which filmmaker Josef von Sternberg combines German Expressionism but also utilizing Western sensibility in his film.

And like many German films of the era, there is an air of darkness, moral descent and while it may seem as the film contains the banality of what has been done in German films, rarely do these films showcase a beautiful woman, a woman who is literally not wearing much (which definitely sent conservatives up in a tizzy) and as it was a von Sternberg film, its the unknown actress who has won the hearts of many viewers worldwide.

That actress is Marlene Dietrich who didn’t stick around to find out how the film would do in the box office. She packed up and left to America to embark on a career which she would be signed by Paramount and would headline many more films after “The Blue Angel”.

First, the performance by Emil Jannings is wonderful. As Dr. Immanuel Rath, he is your professor that is always strict and one who will not put up with anyone’s guff. He is an intellectual and he is proud of his role as a professor at the local college. And as someone would think that Jannings is a man who is so strict and possibly sexually repressed, he is a man afterall and that is where is naivety gets the best of him.

For an intelligent man, he has made a bad/desperate decision to go after a woman who probably has been around the block many times and a woman who literally offers nothing to him intellectually but perhaps only sexually. If not sexually, just a woman who appears to accept him for how he is and a man who has dropped his guard for the sake of companionship.

As a viewer, you can sympathize with his decision. Many of the young men can only dream of being with Lola, but now this man is with the beautiful Lola.

And it is Marelene Dietrich who is able to take the role of Lola Lola and give us a sense of intense sexuality and domination. From the moment Dr. Rath proposes to Lola and you hear this devious laugh, it is like the snake who has convinced Eden to take a bite of the apple, but in this case, it is Dr. Rath who chose to go the path of Lola, despite being warned and now she will take him on this journey to moral descent and over the years, we see this distinguished professor go from a strict intellectual to a ridiculous clown. No money, no respect and even lost any sympathy from Lola and those around him.

And this is where Josef von Sternberg is able to capture with efficacy, the destruction of a man, all decency stripped and you can only watch and realized that this man, blinded by his love of wanting to be loved, wanting to find a beautiful companion, has literally thrown everything in his life that is decent, away.

While the collaboration between Sternberg and Dietrich would lead to bigger things and better films, “The Blue Angel” is special for the fact that it introduced Dietrich to the world, it was an early German and English talkie but it is a film that was able to capture German filmmaking but with a filmmaker from America. “The Blue Angel” does have cinematic important and while loosely based on the more darker “Professor Unrat” novel by Heinrich Mann, the film was a big success in the box office and most of all, Paramount knew that having both von Sternberg and Dietrich together will continually bring home box office gold!


 

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Dennis A. Amith