The Blue Angel (1930) – Josef von Sternberg

 

The next section I`m jumping to in the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book, is Romance and Melodrama, and this has provided me with my first introduction to the films of Marlene Dietrich, specifically, The Blue Angel.

A bit of a superior-type professor, Immanuel Rath (Emil Jannings), runs a tight ship in the classroom, and a lot of his students are not fans, but when one of them gets caught out with a photo of Lola Lola (Dietrich), the professor confiscates it, and finds himself tempted to find out where this young woman performs.

In a bit of a sleazy dive, frequented by his students and other members of the town, Rath discovers Lola, and is a little bit smitten by her, and becomes more than a little obsessed with her. So much so, that he places his career in jeopardy as he pursues her, where she simply sees her dalliance with him as a bit of a lark.

But, you get the impression she has done this before, signified by the forlorn looking clown who tries to push Rath away, a position he finds himself in later, when after marrying Lola, and travelling with the show for a number of years, as he lost his job, he ends up as the clown of the show.

You feel sorry for his descent, tumbling from a position of importance, to little more than a sideshow, exploited as such, when they return to his hometown, he is degraded, and made to look a fool, both on and off stage, all for the pursuit of a woman. I mean, it’s fairly easy to believe, however, as Dietrich’s legendary legs are rather hard to resist.

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The story is beautifully told, pacing itself to move along gently as we watch Rath sink deeper and deeper, until he is forced to take on the persona of the clown, so similar in nature to the one that tried to warn him off… you have to wonder how long Lola has been at this… until it is his turn to try to drive an interloper away…

It’s a wonderfully balanced story, with moments of humor and despair, and Jannings is completely believable in the role of Rath, as he falls under the charm of Lola, and ends up losing every thing and anything that was important to him.

This was the first film that von Sternberg and Dietrich made together, and the brazen sexuality that emanates from the screen as she wanders about the club in scanty outfits was probably shocking at the time, and even today, can still titillate. It was a fascinating film, and I’m looking forward to exploring the follow-up titles coupled with this title.

The music, the design, and the despair of Rath all culminate in the final moments of the film as he wanders his hometown, one last time, while Lola sings her song again, which lets the viewers know she’s reeling in another one.

I well-crafted, and enjoyable film!

What’s your favorite Dietrich movie?

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