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BLUE ANGEL, THE (Blaue Engel, Der) (director: Josef von Sternberg; screenwriters: from the novel by Heinrich Mann/Carl Zuckmayer/Karl Vollmöller; cinematographer: Günther Rittau; editor: S.K. Winston; cast: Emil Jannings (Prof. Immanuel Rath), Marlene Dietrich (Lola Lola), Kurt Gerron (Kiepert, the magician), Rosa Valetti (Guste, the magician’s wife), Hans Albers (Mazeppa, the strongman), Reinhold Bernt (The clown), Eduard V. Winterstein (The director of school); Runtime: 107; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Erich Pommer; Kino Video; 1930-Germany-in German with English subtitles)
“A landmark early talkie that’s marvelously outdated.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A landmark early talkie that’s marvelously outdated. It’s a morality play about the humiliation and debunking of the bourgeoisie that’s based on the novel by Heinrich Mann and written for the screen by Carl Zuckmayer and Karl Vollmöller. Josef von Sternberg (“Dishonored”/”Morocco”/”The Scarlet Empress”) was invited to Germany by silent screen star Emil Jannings to direct the screen version of the popular novel. This was the film that catapulted Marlene Dietrich into an international star, as previously the 28-year-old actress made seventeen appearances in B films and on stage; in many of those films she was the leading lady, but had no international recognition as a star. This was her first A- film and her earthy portrayal of the sexy cabaret torch singer Lola Lola, sitting on a chair in a top hat, bare stockings, bare thighs and grabbing onto her knees while she sang in her husky voice “Falling in Love Again,” became a priceless image of that decadent and cynical age of the Weimar Republic. It was shot simultaneously in both German and English, and my review covers the subtitled foreign version.

English literature Professor Immanuel Rath (Emil Jannings) works in all boys’ high school. He’s a middle-aged old fogy bachelor, who is unpopular with his students because of his puritanical attitude and stern demeanor. During one of his classes, he finds photos of a local nightclub singer among them and takes it upon himself to save them from hell by attending the sleazy Blue Angel cabaret to see for himself how sinful a place it is. Wandering into the star singer Lola’s (Marlene Dietrich) dressing room, he becomes taken with her voluptuous figure. He’s spotted by his rowdy students, who steal Lola’s panties and slip it into his coat pocket. This prompts him to return her panties the next night. Lola has little trouble seducing the buffoonish teacher and toying with him as if he were a clown. He spends the night with her, and never felt happier in his life. Infatuated with her despite being jeered at by his students and warned by his principal to drop her or else, he decides to marry her. He loses his respected job and to earn a living must become a cabaret clown traveling the circuit with his unfaithful wife. It becomes unbearable when he must return to his hometown and perform as a clown at the Blue Angel. This first talkie for Jannings is best remembered for when he must assist a magician and crow like a cock in front of his former students and colleagues in the audience, and at the same time he spots his wife kissing the cabaret strongman offstage. This proves too much for the poor guy, who after five years of marriage has completely lost his dignity. It leads to him having a breakdown, as he returns to his old classroom.

This tragi-comedy acts as a parable that symbolizes the downfall of the German intellectuals after losing the First World War and living under a failed government. It signals change (the students no longer respect their elders and teachers), and that even greater change is around the corner from the Nazi party who promise to restore law and order and bring the once proud country back to power. Despite the film feeling old and looking its age, there’s still something captivating about Marlene that’s worth seeing.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”