The Blue Angel: Film debut of part-time Berlin boxer Marlene Dietrich
Review: After this, she went to Hollywood, had rhinoplasty and became a cinema icon
Josef von Sternberg, however, was smitten and would go on to make go on to make seven era-defining films with his muse
Film Title: The Blue Angel
Director: Josef von Sternberg
Starring: Emil Jannings, Marlene Dietrich, Kurt Gerron
Running Time: 107 min
An unrivalled snapshot of the Weimar Republic, Josef von Sternberg’s 1930 classic was shot after the Wall Street Crash at a moment when cinema was taking tentative steps into sound.
Not everyone knew what to do with this new-fangled gimmick, but Josef von Sternberg, who had already experimented with sound in Thunderbolt (1929), had an inspired idea: get Marlene Dietrich to sing Falling in Love Again, or Ich bin von Kopf bis Fuß auf Liebe eingestellt (the film was shot in both English and German-language versions).
The director had already hired Käthe Haack to play The Blue Angel’s seductress Lola Lola when an unknown Berlin suburbanite and occasional boxer named Marlene Dietrich turned up with a letter of introduction from a textile mogul. John Kahan, an assistant to the film’s producer Eric Pommer, recalled Dietrich as “a second-rate actress”.
Film historian John Baxter recalled “the awkward shape of her nose (making it necessary to conceal with special lighting) and a stage presence that was “bovine and charmless.” Josef von Sternberg, however, was smitten and would go on to make go on to make seven era-defining films with his muse and sometime lover between 1930 and 1935: The Blue Angel (1930), Morocco (1930), Dishonored (1931), Shanghai Express (1932), Blonde Venus (1932), The Scarlet Empress (1934) and The Devil is a Woman (1935).
The Blue Angel concerns a timid schoolteacher (Emil Jannings) who becomes infatuated with a cabaret singer (Dietrich), an obsession that leads to sexual jealousy, destitution, public ridicule and the most sorrowful rooster impersonation imaginable. The cramped club setting and free-flowing structure provides a dizzying facsimile of the wild contemporaneous scene.
Emil Jannings had won an Oscar for Best Actor at the first Academy Awards ceremony in 1929. The Blue Angel was intended as his sound cinema bow, but it was Dietrich who garnered most of the attention.
The veteran silent actor’s subsequent career in Nazi propaganda films ensured that he never worked after 1945. His co-star, meanwhile, went to Hollywood, had rhinoplasty and her back teeth pulled, and became one of cinema’s greatest icons, eventually eclipsing von Sternberg and most other beings.