April 12, 2009


The Blue Angel

Set in Weimar Germany, “The Blue Angel” is a modern morality tale of lust and betrayal that launched the sultry German chanteuse Marlene Dietrich to international fame. Dietrich plays the saucy Lola Lola, a promiscuous dance-hall singer and dancer with looks and attitude to die for. Men and boys alike obsess over Lola in their every waking hour. However only one man dares to become Lola Lola’s submissive. who destroys the life of Emil Jannings plays Immanuel Rath, an aging high school professor who becomes Lola’s literal clown. Rath is a strict taskmaster with the boys in his class, but the lower-class professor has urges in diametric counterpoint to his professional behavior.

One of the first films to usher in sound in cinema, “The Blue Angel” was painstakingly filmed in two versions — in English and in German, which naturally advanced the film’s popularity as a truly international film. Cinematographer Günther Rittau was hot after filming Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” in 1927 when he shot “The Blue Angel.” Rittau relies predominately on medium shots to contain the characters in intimate compositions that convey the trap that they inhabit.


Long before Betty Page’s iconic BDSM icon came along in 1951, Dietrich’s Lola Lola exemplified a model dominatrix. Here we witness a man destroyed by fetishistic desires. Rath’s very public humiliation at Lola’s feet presents a degradation of body and soul that is cathartic as it is excruciating to witness.

The recently fired professor brings Lola flowers to her room over the theater where she performs. His marriage proposal incites a condescending laugh from Lola before she quickly realizes the opportunity before her, and she changes her tone to accept the offer. The character study on display is striking. Here is one of the first times in Cinema where we see so clearly into the mind of a character. We see Lola’s motivation shift 180 degrees in the blink of an eye. Marlene Dietrich’s ability to hit dramatic beats represents a purely modern style of film acting that would inform generations of actresses. Clearly, Marilyn Monroe took notes. 


The professor’s indoctrination to submissive occurs in the next scene. The newlyweds enjoy a post-wedding dinner with friends and family. A magician extracts a couple of eggs from Rath’s nose before Lola begins clucking like a chicken. He proudly returns the gesture. In the moments before their union is to be consummated the professor discovers nude postcards of herself that Lola sells. Although he categorically states that so long as he has a penny the cards will not be sold, Lola orders him to pick them up because they might get dirty. In the next scene, he’s selling the postcards to Lola’s audience after her performance. Professor Rath’s reward is a prolonged public humiliation and emotional degradation that leads him to perform as cuckolded clown in Lola’s stage act.

“The Blue Angel” remains an outstanding cinematic accomplishment that has influenced untold numbers of artists in all avenues of performance and theatrical exhibition.   


Not Rated. 106 mins. (A+) (Five stars — out of five / no halves)


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