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The Blue Angel (1930)

The Blue Angel ignited the film career of Marlene Dietrich, then aged 28, and her film career going nowhere. Just another struggling Berlin actress. Fortunately for her director Josef von Sternberg cast her in The Blue Angel a cooperation that was to make six films for Paramount and lift her to one of the biggest stars in the world.

The story of The Blue Angel from a novel by Heinrich Mann elder brother of Thomas is that of a crusty schoolteacher Professor Immanuel Rahm (Emile Jannings) whose students surreptitiously visit the Blue Angel night club to see Kabatett star Lola Lola (Marlene Dietrich).

Rahm pays a visit and falls in love with her and marries her – a relationship that leads to his downfall.

It was an early example of how Dietrich uses her sex appeal.

In one shot Rahm is under a table looking up her legs.

She also showcased her gender fluidity by wearing her black tie outfit.

Dietrich only married once but had affairs with the leading lights of Hollywood and both Joe and Jack Kennedy.

Those leading lights including many female stars, not least Claudette Colbert.

She avoided scandal possibly because of her support of humanitarian causes.

Despite being a Berliner with a sister and mother there during the war, she rejected Hitler’s insistence she worked in Germany and supported the Allied Cause energetically.

Billy Wilder observed that she visited more front lines than Eisenhower.

Even in her final years in seclusion in a flat in the Avenue Montaigne she had a dialogue with world leaders  Mikhail Gorbachev and Margaret Thatcher.

You could see her massive talent in The Blue Angel.  She was so striking and had such a wonderful voice with that familiar drawl.

She sung her trademark song (in German) Falling in Love Again.

Josef von Sternberg, a genius at camerawork, used his skills of lighting to her best advantage.

She went to take sexual risks as in Morocco – another von Sternberg Paramount production – when she descended into the well of a night club to kiss a woman fully on her lips, take a flower from her hair and present it to Gary Cooper, playing a French legionnaire.

Ironically Ingrid Bergman, most famous for Casablanca, did make a film for Ufalon – now a Nazi studio controlled by another Josef … Goebbels.

By the 1950s Dietrich really only performed as a marquee solo entertainer and I’m eternally grateful to my parents for taking me to see her on her London tour in 1964.

I always listen to the Radio 4 programme Great Lives and Marlene Dietrich’s one is surely worthy of nomination.

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About Neil Rosen

Neil went to the City of London School and Manchester University graduating with a 1st in economics. After a brief stint in accountancy, Neil emigrated to a kibbutz In Israel. His articles on the burgeoning Israeli film industry earned comparisons to Truffaut and Godard in Cahiers du Cinema. Now one of the world's leading film critics and moderators at film Festivals Neil has written definitively in his book Kosher Nostra on Jewish post war actors. Neil lives with his family in North London. More Posts