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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 41.18%
Average: 5.88%
Pretty Bad: 5.88%
Total Crap: 0%

2 reviews, 5 user ratings

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Blue Angel, The
[] Buy posters from this movie
by Doug Bentin

"Falling in lust again"
5 stars

“The Blue Angel” has long been seen as a metaphor for the plight of intellectuals in Germany between the wars. Defending that reading is easy and I’ll do a little of that myself.

But on the more human level, it’s also the story of self-destructive and obsessive passion leading to the downfall of a once respected man. On one level, the sexy cabaret singer Lola Lola (Marlene Dietrich in the role that made her a star) represents the lowest common denominator siren song that seduces the masses, and on a more visceral level she’s everyman’s slightly kinky wetdream.

“Der Blaue Engel” was directed by Josef von Sternberg and released by the famous German film studio UFA in 1930. In it, Emil Jannings (who had won the first Best Actor Oscar for “The Last Command” two years previously) stars as Prof. Immanuel Rath, teacher of literature and languages at the local high school. When he discovers that some of his boys have been attending the Blue Angel cabaret at night to see the seductive singer Lola Lola, he visits the café to ask Lola to send the young men home.

She flirts with him in the same way she does with all men. During his visit, a drunken sea captain tries for force his attentions on the chanteuse, who is encouraged to be nice to him because he buys champagne. Outraged at what seems to be an obvious attempt to prostitute the woman, Rath causes a scene.

He returns the following night, by now completely under Lola’s spell. Some of his students see him go backstage with her, and they don’t see him go home that night. The next day in class, his authority shattered, they belittle him in front of the principal. Rath is forced to resign.

He asks Lola to marry him. Although she thinks this offer is hilarious, she accepts it.

From there, Rath’s life goes to hell. He discovers that Lola carries on with all men the way she did with him. In one scene dripping with clammy sexual masochism, Rath drops to his knees before his wife and slides her stocking on her leg before going out into the audience to sell sexy postcards with her picture to strangers.

Rath’s final breakdown on stage—he’s by then replaced the sad-eyed clown in the company, in more ways than one—is one of the screen’s great moments of terror and pity, those words used in the sense of high tragedy. Rath is destroyed by his own weakness and you don’t know whether to laugh at him or weep for him.

The film is loaded with visual delights. Von Sternberg learned his craft with silent movies so he knew how to convey information with pictures. Watch the background during Lola’s famous songs. The chorus girls drink and light cigarettes, as if they were bored in the audience and not onstage in backup positions. Notice the number of fat people in the film, representing the fact they are of the flesh rather than of the mind. Even Dietrich is positively chunky, although not nearly as heavy as the other girls in the show.

And the director is already adept at the use of sound. The movie begins with a cacophony of honking geese being thrown into a cage, herded and trapped by creatures larger and more powerful than they, another metaphor for what was about to happen to the German people.

Jannings is brilliant as Prof. Rath. In 1924, he’d played a similar character, the hotel porter so proud of his uniform in “The Last Laugh.” Once again, he was a petty tyrant. In the earlier film, his authority came with his costume; in the later one, it rested in his position in the community. In the silent film, his pride is stripped from him by others; in the sound movie, his fall originates in his own weakness.

When sound arrived in Hollywood, where Jannings had been working for years, his heavy German accent drove the actor back to his fatherland, where he became an enthusiastic Nazi after Hitler came to power in 1933. He appeared in numerous pro-German and anti-Semitic films and was named "Artist of the State" by Josef Goebbels in 1941. Like Prof. Rath, Jannings was a man brought down by his own worst nature. He died in 1950.

Marlene Dietrich went the other way. Despising the Nazis, she fled to America and became one of Hollywood’s chief spokespersons against Hitler. She sang and danced at UFO functions, made several war bond trips, and entertained Allied troops in Europe during the war. For someone who dismissed herself as being a typical German haus frau, she displayed as much moxie as any movie star ever has.

But post-film history aside, “The Blue Angel” is a masterpiece of world cinema, brilliantly acted and directed, and as unsettlingly erotic as any film ever made. When Dietrich pauses in a doorway to adjust her costume, running her fingers up under the bottoms of her shorts to straighten them out, she does more for sex on screen than any dozen gyrating full-frontal starlets. This is the real deal, boys. Line up to buy those postcards now.

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originally posted: 01/25/07 05:08:56
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User Comments

11/19/06 Ionicera unlikeable characters and slow story enlivened by some iconic scenes 3 stars
4/29/06 Carol Baker Pretty Bad. In fact it almost put me to sleep. it should be colorized. 2 stars
2/08/03 mr. Pink Dietrich is phenomenal in her debut! Von Sternberg knew quite rightly that she was a star! 4 stars
2/05/03 Charles Tatum Excellent, repressed character study; incredible acting 5 stars
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  05-Dec-1930 (NR)



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