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Movie Reviews

The Blue Angel



Released: January 3rd 1931 USA)

Director:Josef von Sternberg

Stars:Emil Jannings, Marlene Dietrich

Certificate: U (UK)

Reviewer: Jon Davies

In a small town in 1920s Germany, Professor Emanuel Rath (Emil Jannings) discovers his pupils ogling over a series of semi-nude postcards. When he decides to investigate the mysterious beauty depicted on them, he falls in love with cabaret singer Lola Lola (Marlene Dietrich), and headline act at The Blue Angel nightclub. After a series of ever more intimate meetings, the pair decide to marry at the expense of the professor’s teaching job at a respected local college.

After becoming good friends with Kiepert, Lola’s boss (Kurt Gerron) and his wife Gusta (Rosa Valetti), Prof. Rath is allowed to stay on with the travelling cabaret troupe. Five years pass, with the professor a shadow of the man he once was. Reduced to selling the same semi-nude postcards that attracted him to Lola in the first place, he is a broken, shuffling character losing his mind. Humiliated on stage as a clown and with his wife having a covert affair with suave strongman Mazeppa (Hans Albers), he breaks down and attempts to kill his wife. Escaping from a strait jacket, Professor Rath returns to his former classroom late at night, and, sitting in his chair, peacefully dies.

This film is, to the eyes of a modern audience, something of a mixed bag. It has bags of silly, outdated melodrama juxtaposed with superb acting that seems fresh and vibrant, songs that even Bugs Bunny would be reluctant to dance along to, such is the animated vibe they give off, a stuffy air of near stifling morality in contrast to skimpy costumes and promiscuous cabaret femme fatales. Jannings gives arguably the performance of his career as a man divided by what he has always perceived to be right with his ever growing lust and love. Clad forever in a frock coat and top hat, Jannings’ character seems to bumble around with all the charm of a nineteenth century theatrical eccentric, and indeed, for the most part, he plays a charming and likeable, if naïve character.

There are few flaws in Jannings’ performance, save for a few short scenes of contrived melodrama which are grating to a modern audience but which in the thirties would have been acceptable. The film is very much of its time in terms of culture and morality, but aside from the façade of poorly aged jazz and upstanding moral authority gone bad, it is as camp as a row of tents, bawdy and wholeheartedly enjoyable. Emotions are forever taut- this is a witch’s cauldron of comedy, thrills, spills, domestic abuse, madness, lust, love and tears. It is far from good, it is masterly, a worthy magnum opus for the king and queen of camp melodrama- Josef von Sternberg and Marlene Dietrich. It is of little consequence then that the towering performance of Dietrich as Lola, the cheap suburban vamp with the husky voice singing her siren song (“Falling in Love Again”) made a megastar out of the 29 year old chorus girl overnight.

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