Often considered one of the greatest early sound movies, The Blue Angel (1930) boasts strong performances from its stars, as well as stepping director Josef von Sternberg into the mature filmmaking of which he had always been capable. It is a very interesting film that shows an authentic look inside the German society classes during the late 1920’s.
Based on the German novel Professor Unrat (1905) by Heinrich Mann, The Blue Angel tells the sad story of Professor Immanuel Roth (Emil Jannings) and his fall from respectable society. He is a professor at the local “University” and is hated by his pupils. He finds some sexually explicit poster cards of cabaret singer, Lola Lola (Marlene Dietrich), mixed in with one student’s belongings. He decides to visit her cabaret, The Blue Angel, and see if he can catch his pupils at the show. While at The Blue Angel he meets Lola Lola and is enamored by her sensuality and her captivating performance on stage. At her request, he comes back to see her again the next night and ends up staying the night with her.
The next morning he awakens late and hurries off to his class, but when he arrives he sees that his students have draw pictures of him on the chalkboard, making fun of him and his infatuation with Lola Lola. The headmaster comes in and tells him that he should end his relationship with Lola Lola, but Roth refuses. He quits his job and immediately marries Lola Lola. Now Roth must learn to survive in the jaded world in which Lola Lola lives her life. Roth is reduced to being only a fraction of his former self, and desperately wishing he could once again be a respectable man in society.
Director Josef von Sternberg and Emil Jannings had struggled working together prior to the filming of The Blue Angel, but they both thought that working together again on one of the first talking German films would work well for each of their careers. What nobody planned on was the enormous inspiration Marlene Dietrich would have on von Sternberg, in both his professional and personal life. Dietrich served as von Sternberg’s muse on the set of The Blue Angel, and it quickly became the best work up to this point in his career. Josef von Sternberg wasn’t the only person impressed and overtaken by Dietrich. She quickly became an extremely popular actress, as well as a popular singer after her performance of her the hit song “Falling In Love Again (Can’t Help It)”.
Unfortunately, von Sternberg’s doting upon Dietrich just infuriated Emil Jannings, and the working environment quickly became unpleasant. Although Dietrich gained tremendously from her performance in The Blue Angel, it is still Jannings’ movie. His character has a remarkable amount of depth and his performance is quite powerful. It is his movie, and he performs marvelously. The reason today that it isn’t remembered for Jannings performance is because it was Marlene Dietrich’s breakthrough, and whenever someone talks about Dietrich’s career they can always go back to The Blue Angel and see it as a revolutionary turning point in her career. In addition, The Blue Angel was simultaneously filmed in both English and German language versions, and Jannings’ accent in the English language version of the film is difficult to understand. It actually makes the film hard to watch. If you have never seen this movie I don’t recommend the English version anyway. It is an inferior film to the German version, which has the distinction of having both Jannings and Dietrich speaking their natural language, which makes the film flow much more smoothly. The German version also includes more footage and feels much more complete.
Oddly, The Blue Angel isn’t Marlene Dietrich best movie, it isn’t Emil Jannings best movie, and it isn’t even the best film of Josef von Sternberg, even though it does boast some amazing visuals while von Sternberg was still in his expressionist phase of filmmaking. It just happens to be a film that shows the crossing paths of its stars, as well as the changing of a country. After the release of The Blue Angel, Marlene Dietrich and Josef von Sternberg moved to America where they ended up making six more films together, including the best work of both of their careers. Emil Jannings, on the other hand, stayed in Germany and made a number of films, including a Nazi propaganda films. He never again gained significant acclaim, and by the end of WWII his career was over.Back to Home for More Reviews