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Wick's Review

Created Aug 02, 2013 11:27PM PST • Edited Dec 23, 2019 02:20AM PST

  1. Quality
  2. Really Great 4.5

    Seminal movie, thy name is The Blue Angel, Der Blaue Engel in its native German. Josef von Sternberg was 36 when he paired unknown Marlene Dietrich with eminent Emil Jannings. Dietrich and von Sternberg rocketed straight to Hollywood. Jannings was left behind, kind of like in the story itself.

    Von Sternberg drew the first half of his movie from a novel about the hypocrisy of the German middle-class. The second half, he went over-the-top. An eminent man falls for a bewitching cabaret singer named Lola-Lola, loses his mind and ends a clown. Germans loved clowns: made `em feel sophisticated.

    Der Blaue Engel is notable today as a pre-Nazi German movie featuring Dietrich when she was a German movie star. After The Blue Angel, she became a Hollywood Queen for the next half century.

    It opens with a laugh as the Lola-Lola sign gets a bath. Lots of darkly funny moments ensue. The maid puts a dead bird in the oven, there’s a German cuckoo clock, etc.

    Proto-Nazism intrudes when Emil Janning’s Herr Gymnasium Professor gives a Hitler salute while telling a kid “Inside!” Was it a Hitler salute in 1929? In 1930, Hitler received almost six and a half million votes, nearly 20% of the German electorate and good for over 100 seats in the Reichstag. We can assume then that Janning’s salute was at the very least popular in what would soon be Nazi Germany.

    Obedient even for the age, the German sense of hierarchy is personified by Herr Gymnasium Professor. The White Ribbon comes inevitably to mind.

    But this is Lola-Lola’s movie, through which Marlene Dietrich exploded into the stratosphere of stardom. Von Sternberg cleverly introduces her before she appears by having some boys blow on a picture-card to raise her feather skirt, a sexy trick if ever there was one.

    Eighteen minutes in, Lola-Lola appears on stage, a cabaret singer extraordinaire. She’s the life of the cabaret – my friend – four decades before Liza Minnelli lit up Bob Fosse’s Cabaret.

    Who could blame Herr Professor for becoming smitten when he ends up under the table by Marlene’s gams. Later, an undeniably cute scene has Marlene doing the chicken and her Groom doing the rooster.

    A sexy movie about the power of sex in a sexually repressed society, The Blue Angel retains the power to transfix today. Half historical artifact, half blue movie, it’s all you need to grok the new power of cinema.

  3. Great 4.0

    Marlene Dietrich – unknown before The Blue Angel – was an international star afterwards, brought to Hollywood by Paramount and put on a pedestal as an exotic and glamorous moviestar.

    Emil Jannings was a big star in Germany and the big name on the original poster. Apparently he saw how his costar was being rapturously received on the set and started acting-out, going so far as threatening to strangle her. Well, he was right in that she was the future and he would be little more than a footnote.

  4. Male Stars Great 4.0
  5. Female Stars Great 4.0
  6. Female Costars Great 4.0
  7. Male Costars Great 4.0
  8. Very Good 3.5

    Without Josef von Sternberg, there is no Marlene Dietrich. He took an unknown and cast her as the femme fatale of The Blue Angel, going on to make six Hollywood movies with her, cementing her legend & his.

    The Blue Angel is notably one of the first talkies. Poor miking aside, notice how adjacent rooms go from silent to loud to silent when doors open and close. Sound engineering was then a brand new discipline.


    • German absurdism with the clown, and then a new clown, a particularly sad clown.
    • Dropping her pants on his head. Funny
    • Small tragedies get triggered by the Professor’s obtuseness.
    • She performs from a House just this side of ill repute.
    • Doors trigger silence and rambunctious as they open and close
    • The Professor, a tedious guy, paragon of virtue, revered in the community, is brought low by Lola-Lola.
  9. Direction Great 4.0
  10. Play Good 3.0

    It may have come from a novel, but the crude absurdism hasn’t aged well, even if it is allegory for pre-war Germany.

  11. Music Perfect 5.0
  12. Visuals Very Good 3.5
  13. Content
  14. Risqué 1.9

    Those Charming Alarming Blond Women, which opens “Beware of blonde women. They’re special, every one.” is a song Marlene sings that captures the vibe of sexual forthrightness she projected in a deeply repressed society. Today, it’s tame. Then, it was positively unnerving.

  15. Sex Titillating 1.9
  16. Violence Fierce 1.8
  17. Rudeness Salty 1.9
  18. Glib 1.8

    Lots to comment on about the underlying reality in which The Blue Angel was hatched, not to mention what came next. Just not now.

  19. Circumstantial Glib 2.0
  20. Biological Glib 1.6
  21. Physical Glib 1.7


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