Title: The Blue Angel
Release Date: April 1, 1930
Director: Josef von Sternberg
Production Company: Universum Film A.G. | Paramount Pictures
Here’s another German film that’s a kind of weird morality tale about how women are the devil or something like that. I found it more enjoyable than Pandora’s Box, though. Marlene Dietrich is completely captivating as the cabaret performer Lola Lola, and not surprisingly this film made her a big star. The Blue Angel was intended to be a vehicle for renowned German theater and film star Emil Jannings, but he gets overshadowed by Dietrich.
This is one of the first German talkies and the direction seems to revel in sound, especially early on when the camera focuses on a clock ticking and the bell ringing the hour, or when Jannings’ Professor Roth opens a window allowing the sound of children singing on the street to enter, and then closes the window again to make silence.
The story starts with Professor Roth teaching at a preparatory school, where he gets little respect and they play pranks on him. He catches the boys circulating postcards of Lola Lola, prompting him to visit the cabaret that night in order to catch the boys going there. Instead he finds himself captivated by Lola Lola. After a few visits, he asks her to marry him, and surprisingly she says yes.
It’s not really clear what Lola Lola sees in Professor Roth. Maybe she wants someone who will protect her, maybe she’s charmed by his old fashioned devotion, or maybe she just takes pity on him. Over the next few years though, it becomes clear that Roth won’t be her only man. Roth becomes envious of her flirtation with other men and that he is financially dependent on her, and he becomes angry and abusive. The culmination of the film sees the troupe return to Roth’s hometown, and the townspeople come out en masse to see Roth – now performing as a clown – humiliated.
This movie is depressing, and tragic in the sense that the demands of toxic masculinity lead to Roth’s downfall. Nevertheless, it is a well-acted and well-made film, and seemingly ahead of its time.