Saturday, February 4, 2012

#414: The Blue Angel

1930, TSPDT Rank #268

The second film in my Josef von Sternberg marathon.

By this point in Josef von Sternberg's career, his films could no longer be ignored by the wider general public - at least not as long as they featured overnight sex symbol sensation (and the object of Sternberg's obsession) Marlene Dietrich. And while The Blue Angel is by no means a masterpiece, it does have the distinction of being Germany's first sound picture, and Germany should be very proud to have a film as great as this as its first talkie. It's much better in almost all ways than any of the very early American talkies, but the whole production is still quite rough, in particular the sound editing (clearly evident when all existing sound disappears instantaneously with any door closing), and Sternberg seems quite obviously uncomfortable having to operate with this new format. He may have also just been too concerned with shooting Dietrich (which he could always be trusted to do a good job with) to worry about other, less significant details. Either way, despite its flaws, which are to be expected given the circumstances it was made under, it is still a great film, and Emil Jannings is amazing as the professor who unwisely falls under the spell of a blonde (easily besting his work in his earlier silent film with Sternberg, The Last Command, which he won a statue for at the very first Academy Awards ceremony, and which I mentioned in the Docks of New York post), which may very well be one of the most tragic character portrayals I've seen in my years of witnessing cinematic history so far. The climactic scene is absolutely horrifying and heartbreaking at the same time, and the entire tone of the film is very bleak, but you could never have expected things to turn out all right for the old professor in any case. Whichever way you look at it, though, this is a milestone in cinematic history, and all things considered, it is a pretty great film. Plus, the musical numbers give both the talkie format its standard demo platform, and also allow the spotlight to shine on the young, stunningly sexy Marlene. There was nothing like the good old pre-Code days of the early '30s.....

More on Sternberg and Dietrich coming soon of course, as the marathon carries on (hopefully as quickly as possible).

(Rating: 8/10)

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