SONG OF SONGS, THE (director: Rouben Mamoulian; screenwriters: from the novel by Hermann Sudermann/from the play by Edward Sheldon/Leo Birinski/Samuel Hoffenstein; cinematographer: Victor Milner; music: Karl Hajos/Milan Roder; cast: Marlene Dietrich (Lily Czepanek), Brian Aherne (Richard Waldow), Lionel Atwill (Baron von Merzbach), Alison Skipworth (Mrs. Rasmussen, Aunt), Hardie Albright (Von Prell), Helen Freeman (Fräulein Von Schwertfeger); Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Rouben Mamoulian; Universal/Paramount; 1933)
“The first Marlene Dietrich film not directed by Josef von Sternberg still has some of the Sternbergian sophisticated romantic touch.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The first Marlene Dietrich film not directed by Josef von Sternberg still has some of the Sternbergian sophisticated romantic touch. Rouben Mamoulian (“Applause”/”Golden Boy”) keeps the silly romantic story delightfully smart and sexy. It’s taken from the novel by Hermann Sudermann and the play by Edward Sheldon, and is handsomely written by Leo Birinski and Samuel Hoffenstein. It was also made twice during the silent era.
When poor German peasant maiden Lily Czepanek’s (Marlene Dietrich) father dies the young woman departs to live in Berlin with her only family member, the tipsy book shop owner Auntie Rasmussen (Alison Skipworth). The innocent maiden in braids comes with few possessions, but prizes the Bible. She took pleasure in reading to her ill dad from his favorite Old Testiment reading, Solomon’s “Song of Songs.” Soon she hooks up with aspiring sculptor, Richard Waldrow (Brian Aherne), a book shop customer who lives across the street and sweet talks the reluctant blushing maiden to pose nude. Lily falls in love with Richard but his older patron, the lecherous Baron von Merzbach (Lionel Atwill), becomes obsessed with the voluptuous Lily and schemes to make her his baroness after he provides her with an education and social refinements. The baron bribes the aunt to give her the boot from the apartment, and talks Richard into not pursuing her and to instead dedicate himself to his art. Deeply hurt by Richard’s rejection, Lily marries the baron out of spite. But back in his castle, she can’t hide her feelings of disgust for him and finds herself miserable despite her new found status, culture and wealth. When Richard visits, Lily discovers the deal the two men made and pretends to have an affair with the baron’s acquaintance, Edward von Prell (Hardie Albright), to get even with the men who hurt her. The melodramatics pick up when a fire breaks out in Edward’s lodge and Lily is seen fleeing by the housekeeper (Helen Freeman). To avoid the baron’s questions, Lily departs for Berlin and to get by sells her body to get a cabaret singing gig. One night, Richard comes to the nightclub and takes her back into his arms in his studio telling her he always loved her. The no longer innocent Lily, busts the nude statue (a symbol of idealized love put on a pedestal) he made of her and they begin over again trying to make something of the attraction they both share for each other.
REVIEWED ON 9/15/2006 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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