Professor Rath, a straitlaced high-school professor, decides to confront Lola, a cabaret singer, about her ‘bewitching’ of his students – only to be captivated in his turn. Joseph von Sternberg’s classic film made Marlene Dietrich a star, a legend, and an international icon of dubious sexuality.
‘At the time I thought the film was awful and vulgar and I was shocked by the whole thing. Remember, I was a well brought up German girl.’ Marlene Dietrich
Germany 1930, 90 Minutes
Normally complacent and eminently respectable Professor Immanuel Rath is concerned; his students are apparently being bewitched by a cabaret singer, Lola. They’re young and impressionable, lacking the judgement
of the mature intellectual. He decides to confront her – and finds himself as helpless as his most callow pupil (and, it has to be said, many men since). He returns to the club again and again to see her, and eventually they marry. But she soon tires , and her contempt withers and humiliates him.
Josef von Sternberg made the film at the request of Emil Jannings, already an established and respected character actor, and cast an unknown young actress, Marlene Dietrich, as Lola, finding in her a sexuality that, if you believe her, she didn’t know she had. Lola is sensual and capricious, sometimes loving, sometimes kind, almost maternal, but often aloof and mocking, not so much of her poor professor as of the whole absurdity of romantic love. Lola created a persona for Dietrich, of the sex symbol who is never a sex object, who attracts both men
and women and many in between. She became an icon of sexuality, and it’s her face that comes into your mind when The Blue Angel is mentioned. She was almost certainly the reason why, thirty years later, my middle-aged music teacher, who despised all popular culture, was caught wistfully playing Falling in Love Again on the badly-tuned school piano.
Dietrich’s undoubted charms should not be allowed to overshadow her professionalism and considerable acting ability, and Dietrich herself should not be allowed to overshadow the rest of the film. Sternberg’s film combines stark imagery, stylised composition, realistic background detail and the smooth integration of music and song into a narrative which is at once erotic and a modern morality play. Emil Jannings cleverly manages to keep our sympathy for the unlikable Professor Rath: we’re allowed to pity, but not to despise him. There but for the
grace of God…
Professor Rath – Emil Jannings
Lola – Marlene Dietrich
Director – Josef von Sternberg
Producer – Erich Pommer
Music – Frederick Hollander
Screenplay – Robert Liebman, Carl Zuckmayer, Karl Vollmöller
Photography – Günther Rittau
Novel by – Heinrich Mann
- For its age, a little gem!
- Absorbing, powerful, moving: excellent.
- Excellent! Gripping throughout, with strong photography & lighting: v. atmospheric.
- As powerful, straight-forward & compelling as ever.
- A sad story of Rath’s decline, even though he’s not a sympathetic character to begin with. He, in particular, was acted well. Plenty of subdued violence.
- Unexpectedly moving – a lesson to all men in late middle age (as to) the power of the male menopause!
- Very disturbing when you reach that age…
- Some parts good but much of it (was) just 100% unconvincing.
- Are we to believe that the man on the door wore the same hat for five years?
- A+: many thanks for the interesting introduction (by Cyril Edwards), too.