Cinema History: The Blue Angel (1930) Review

Certificate: PG

Director: Josef von Sternberg

Writer: Heinrich Mann Carl Zuckmayer, Karl Vollmöller

Starring: Emil Jannings Marlene Dietrich Kurt Gerron

Genre: Drama, Music

Runtime: 1hr 46 Minutes

Language: German

Rating: 3.5 Stars

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Germany 1924. Middle aged Dr. Immanuel Rath is a stuffy literature professor at a boys’ school. Most of his students don’t much like him, often ridiculing him by sending him unflattering anonymous notes and drawings. Dr. Rath learns that many of his boys often frequent a cabaret called the Blue Angel, which he believes is corrupting their impressionable young minds. He heads to the Blue Angel himself to catch the boys in the act, shame them into not going again, but also to ask the headlining performer, anglophone Lola Lola, to cease and desist performing her show. Over several visits, Rath is able to catch the boys, but he himself starts to fall for Lola, and she seemingly with him. His infatuation with her threatens his teaching career. Their relationship ends up not being what either envisioned, the question being how they will both deal with their disintegrating relationship and the reasons behind that disintegration. – IMDB

This was not at all what I had expected.  Sure it started off simple and predictable enough, but it took a much darker, more dramatic and tragic turn towards the end that stopped it from being just another run of the mill romantic drama with a showgirl story.  God knows this era has enough of those stories to fill a music hall.  Instead I was surprised by the complexity of the characters, and the emotional ramifications of the plot.  Yes the plot is still pretty simple, but a lot better done than a lot of films I have seen from the thirties so far.

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Emil Jannings plays our main character, a professor from the local college who is bullied by his students and looked down on by his peers. He somewhat predictably falls in love with Lola after seeing her perform, after initially going there with a very dim view of the show, and the people who work there, but of course they change his mind.  He isn’t a particularly likeable character, and I do feel like Jannings really over acted the part.  Which made him seem even more bumbling, and more like a fish out of water next to the cool and alluring Marlene Dietrich.

As Lola, Dietrich is captivating.  There is arguably more shots of her singing and dancing then there is of her acting, but the performances really pull you in and you can see why the Professor would have been so instantly smitten with her.  Like I said above, her effortless charm and allure only make the professor seem more out of place, bumbling and almost childish than he already did, but then again maybe that was the point?

I thought I knew where the plot was going to go, but I am so glad I was wrong.  I loved that it gets a little darker and depressing as it does along, and that none of the characters end up exactly where you thought they would.  I was expecting a comedic love story, with a few songs and a happy-ish ending, and instead, I feel like I got my heart stepped on, so bonus points for emotional impact and supplanting expectations.

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