The Blue Angel (1930, Josef von Sternberg)

A much weirder movie than I’d expected. Emil Jannings seems drawn to humiliating roles. In The Last Laugh he was fired from his respectable job, laughed at by his neighbors. In The Last Command he has a shocking fall from military/government power, ends up a deflated Hollywood extra. But he’s never fallen further than he does here, from an esteemed professor to a cuckooing cuckold clown, crowing for a crowd.

Little pleasures of early sound films: I love that doors and windows are completely soundproof in this movie – closing one interrupts noise from the adjoining room suddenly and completely. On the other hand, the extreme strictness of employers in Hollywood movies has always bothered me. “I’m sorry friend, but you’ve left me no choice. I must request your resignation,” the principal tells Emil, because the kids made noise and drew on the board, and Emil had a flower in his lapel. And it’s the start of the Depression, so losing your job is a big thing.

Emil discovering Marlene:

Anyway, Emil tries to catch his giggling slacker kids at the local nightclub, as if it’s any of his damn business where they go after class. There he sees dancer Lola (Marlene Dietrich in her star-making role) and falls for her. Emil tries to whisk her away from this sordid life, but instead gets pulled into it himself. A few years later the touring troupe returns to the town where he once lived, and the townspeople flock to see the sad professor, after which he crawls back to his old classroom and apparently dies of shame.

I watched the English version – I think the German is more well-known. Remade a bunch of times, including once by the director of Porno Holocaust.

Sternberg turns in a more assured sound film here than Thunderbolt, though it was supposedly Germany’s first talkie. Acquarello: “Sternberg’s use of stark, hyperbolic imagery to symbolize moral degradation is derived from the German expressionist cinema. The Blue Angel was filmed during the Weimar Republic when the German government, caught in a stranglehold over war reparations, was on the verge of collapse. The film echoes the cynicism and hopelessness of the times.”

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