The Blue Angel (Review)

The Blue Angel (1930)
Dir. Joseph von Sternberg
Starring Emil Jannings and Marlene Dietrich, etc.
99 minutes


Should You See This?

Von Sternberg made this in the 20’s, and the beat-up black-and-white print, plus the pacing of the film won’t appeal to a lot of people who mainly watch contemporary movies.

Even for people who like older movies and art films, I don’t know if I would highly recommend this. The biggest drawback being the length and pacing of the film. Still, Jannings and Dietrich give two strong performances, particularly Dietrich.
Here’s what the film is about: Jannings is a college morally upright college professor who tries to apprehend his students who visit burlesque shows (talk about a different time period from Easy Rider). In the process, he falls in love with one of the performers (Dietrich). The story follows the life of both characters.

Personal Comments

There are two thing that stand our for me:

Marlene Dietrich singing, “Falling in Love Again” two times in the film. The first time signifies her newfound love for Janning’s character, and this weakness is seen as something sweet and tender. She also sings the song looking glowingly at Janning’s character in the balcony.
The second time she sings the song the meaning is totally different. “Not being able to help falling in love” (as the lyrics state) suggests that she’s a player and Dietrich sings the song with a mixture of cynicism, sacarcasm and maybe even bitterness. Her pose–sitting on a chair turned backwards–is unladylike and even masculine.
The other part of the movie I liked was Janning’s performance, particularly his transformation from well-respected, self-righteous and stern college professor to a humiliated vaudevilian clown (both literally and figuratively).
There’s one scene that stands out in this transformation, and I’d be surprised if other critics have not mentioned this. Jannings at the end of the film, he goes back to his hometown were he was a well-respected college professor. His act involves him dressed up as a clown and crowing like a rooster when a magician makes eggs appear and cracks them on Janning’s head. During the act, Jannings keeps looking back at his wife, Dietrich. He is lifeless, refusing to crow, and even wandering back towards Dietrich who’s offstage. Finally, the humiliation and pain pours out in the most horrifying and painful rooster crow you’ve ever heard. It was the sound of someone in pain and going out of his mind at the same time. It’s one of the most disturbing shrieks I’ve ever heard in film.
Other than those two aspects, the film felt like a morality tale, specifically the debunking of the “hooker with a heart of gold” myth–which I’m ambivalent about. On one hand, if the film’s purpose is to warn viewers of women like Dietrich or, more significantly, warn people about hasty love affairs, I don’t think too highly of that. On the other hand, the film pretty effective as tragic tale. One other drawback was the time it took to develop characters. I felt like the film could have been shorter, particularly in the beginning. Still, it’s two very good performances by Dietrich and Jannings.

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