THE BLUE ANGEL/DER BLAUE ENGEL. (1930) BASED ON THE NOVEL ‘PROFESSOR UNRAT’ BY HEINRICH MANN (BROTHER OF THOMAS MANN).
DIRECTED BY JOSEF VON STERNBERG. PRODUCTION COMPANY: UFA.
STARRING MARLENE DIETRICH, EMIL JANNINGS, KURT GERRON, ROSA VALETTI, HANS ALBERS AND REINHOLD BERNT.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
There’s something eerily magical about this classic Weimar Germany film, even today, nearly a full ninety years after it was made by Josef Von Sternberg, who returned from America to Germany especially to direct it.
After seeing Marlene Dietrich perform in the Berliner Theater in Georg Kaiser’s cabaret ZWEI KRAWATTEN (TWO NECKTIES), Von Sternberg knew that he had found his leading lady.
Though still recognisable, she hadn’t yet grown into her famous face, if you get me, the same way you can look at a young Brigitte Bardot in MANINA or a young Joan Crawford in GRAND HOTEL and think, is that really them, they look so different when they’re young…?
Although Von Sternberg would modestly shrug off suggestions that he ‘discovered’ Dietrich, I think it really must be said that he did. She went on to have a long and varied career after THE BLUE ANGEL, which led to a contract with Paramount Studios, served as a more than efficient springboard or launching-pad to international stardom.
Josef Von Sternberg, a dark-haired, rather sad-faced man who looked small next to some of his taller contemporaries, made a few minor changes to the story on which the film was based, PROFESSOR UNRAT (PROFESSOR GARBAGE) by Heinrich Mann, but the basic plot remains the same.
A college professor who teaches English Literature, among other things I’m sure, to the boys and young men who attend the Gymnasium, a German word for college or place of learning, meets and falls head-over-heels with a beautiful cabaret singer in a nightclub. This reckless act of impulsivity leads directly to his downfall only a short few years later.
Professor Immanuel Rath makes his way to the nightclub, THE BLUE ANGEL, after a spate of saucy-postcard-hoarding by his students. He sees Lola Lola for the first time as a scantily-dressed image on a kinky postcard (these passed for porn back then…!) and is straightaway taken and intrigued by her. How much more taken will he be, then, with the flesh-and-blood, three-dimensional Lola Lola when he encounters her for real…?
He goes to the nightclub ostensibly to complain about its performers corrupting his young pupils. All thoughts of his moral responsibilities vanish from his mind when he meets the enchanting Lola Lola backstage in her dressing-room.
To the unmarried Professor in his forties, whom we can imagine as having led a very sheltered, bookish life up to now, Lola Lola is sexiness- and sex- incarnate. The magnificent Dietrich is very young here, but she has already learned how to use her eyes and lips to devastating effect. The poor Professor doesn’t stand a chance against such an onslaught of raw sexuality. He’s smitten from the off.
Of course, Marlene Dietrich was always about the legs. The legs, the legs, the legs. This film could also have been called ‘FRILLY KNICKERS AND STOCKING-TOPS’ because that’s what she’s dressed in for most of the movie. She elevates the taking off and putting on of stockings into an art form as she teases and tantalises Rath with a private little striptease in her cramped backstage dressing-room.
She (or maybe I should say they, both Dietrich AND Lola Lola) holds the- mostly male- audiences to the cabaret spellbound as she belts out songs like ‘FALLING IN LOVE AGAIN’ and ‘YOU’RE THE CREAM IN MY COFFEE, YOU’RE THE SALT IN MY STEW.’ They are utterly in thrall to her sexuality and mystique, as is Rath.
When Rath proposes to Lola Lola, I’m always gobsmacked that she says yes. Rath is a portly, not very attractive school-teacher who’s probably not rolling in money. He’s a figure of fun to his students. They don’t respect him. They have nothing but contempt for him.
What on earth does Lola Lola see in him? A kind of father figure, someone who represents security and stability to her, maybe? Or maybe she just says ‘yes’ in the spirit of yeah sure baby, why not, I don’t care either way, it’s all bullshit anyway and, who knows, it might be a blast to try it for a bit…?
Either way, they get hitched, much to Rath’s delight and, four short years later, we come full circle right back to Rath’s origins and it’s not a pretty picture. The marriage has destroyed him, although I can’t give you the details.
His self-respect is non-existent, he’s a figure of fun for all now and not just for his pupils, and his reputation, such as it ever was, is in shreds. Was it worth it, Rath, Von Sternberg seems to be asking his male protagonist, was she worth it…? Would he do it again?
The dark, cramped, narrow little slanted streets surrounding the Blue Angel nightclub look like they’ve come straight out of THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI or any other masterpiece of German Expressionist cinema. There’s a fabulous town clock in the film that’s worth looking out for too, the creation of set designer Otto Hunte, and a sad and rather chillingly portentous scene involving a late parrot.
Who is Lola Lola? We know nothing of her background or origins. Is she hard and cold because she’s had to be or because she enjoys it? Is she immoral? Is she promiscuous? Does she have a heart at all?
Does she take pleasure in Rath’s downfall or, as is probably more likely, does she simply regard him as being big enough and old enough to look after himself? She’s his wife, after all, not his mother or his nursemaid, and he’s a grown man.
I don’t think she’s particularly malicious, although she’s certainly mischievous. I think she just doesn’t care, but not because she’s uncaring or heartless. She has enough to be doing looking out for herself. Whatever her motivations anyway, in Lola Lola we’ve been given a timeless creation of sheer sexiness and sensuality whose appeal doesn’t dim with the years.
Marlene Dietrich was a truly beautiful woman and an acting legend on two of the finest legs to ever grace a stage. In THE BLUE ANGEL, Josef Von Sternberg has bottled this legend and encapsulated it for us for all time. Kudos to you, Joe dear. Kudos to you.
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
You can contact Sandra at: