Der Blaue Engel (The Blue Angel)
Germany 1931; dir: Josef von Sternberg
starring: Emil Jannings, Marlene Dietrich
screened 7/5/08; New Beverly Cinema
Previous Viewing Experience: Never seen it, nor anything else directed by von Sternberg or starring Jannings, though I’ve seen several later Dietrich films.
Knowledge Before Viewing: In a meta sense, I’m aware that von Sternberg and Dietrich are a well-known actress-director team, and that Dietrich made waves for her masculin costuming in this and/or her other films with him. More specifically, I know the basic story has something to do with a straight-laced professor who gets angry at his students for lusting after a sexy showgirl, but then he feels a bit differently once he actually sees said showgirl. I’m not looking forward to this one too terribly much. It sounds like an offputting combination of dirty old man lechery and moralizing. Add in early sound era awkwardness, and yeah. Sorta ambivalent. Hopefully seeing it in a theatre (fortuitous timing on the New Beverly’s part!) will help.
Brief Synopsis: My pre-viewing synopsis is fairly close, actually. The Professor (Jannings) finds his students sneaking off to the local cabaret, but when he goes there to catch them at it, he ends up falling for Lola Lola (Dietrich) himself. She encourages him and eventually they marry. But when the show goes back on the road, he’s reduced to performing clown parts to earn his keep and stay with her.
Response: I wound up liking this a lot more than I initially expected to. One of my favorite films it probably won’t ever be, but it was definitely worthwhile at least seeing once to experience such a young Marlene Dietrich. She’s absolutely delightful from start to finish (outside of, perhaps, a few scenes near the end where she gets to be quite the little bitch). The story is far more focused on the Professor, though, and his fall from esteemed academic and community leader to pathetic joke after he marries Lola. And this being to some degree a Gemran Expressionist film, his decline gets a little on the overwrought side at times. I did particularly like the recurring bird imagery – both the Professor and Lola keep birds, linking them before they’re, um, linked, and an early shot of a dead bird provides a foreshadowing glimpse of how this is all going to work out. In terms of moralizing, the message is apparently “don’t marry flighty showgirls much younger than you because it’ll ruin your life.” Which, actually, is probably good advice.
Overall Rating: Above Average