The Blue Angel aka Der blaue Engel (Josef von Sternberg, 1930)
The first sound film of the Weimar Republic picture two of the most famous actors of their time Emil Jannings and Marlene Dietrich. This is the film that made Dietrich became the sex symbol she represented for years. It also was the last English spoken film of Jannings who had a too prominent German accent for the American audiences. Behind the camera was one of the most talented filmmaker of his time Josef von Sternberg who actually discovered Dietrich in a cabaret and eventually became her lover for a while. The explicit sexuality of Dietrich transcends the images and time, and I am sure von Sternberg felt this at first sight just like the Professor Immanuel Rath (Emil Jannings) when he saw Lola Lola (Marlene Dietrich) singing Falling in love again.
The Blue Angel is the cabaret where Lola Lola is the main singer and dancer and many students of the Professor Rath frequent this establishment. As they prank one and other the Professor discovers postcards of Lola Lola and discovers the cabaret as well. Being a bachelor and a lonely man, the Professor slowly falls for Lola and afterwards his life goes down.
What strikes at first are the moments of silence and new use of sound explored in the movie. Then the viewer discovers the range of the talent of Jannings how this actor can inhabit completely his character and became the Professor. The final moments of the picture are some of the best acting and life changing performances ever shot on film, the despair, the desolation, the anger that Jannings expresses are so eminent that puts him into a class of his own. For those who don't place the man into their mind he was portrayed in Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds and Joseph Goebbels presents him as the greatest actor who ever lived. Sadly, Jannings was a strong Nazi sympathizer and his memory has been tainted with this unforgivable fault. However, Goebbels wasn't that far from being right because not so many actors can claim to have portrayed such unique characters with the same rightness as he did with Professor Immanuel Rath, the hotel porter in The Last Laugh (F.W. Murnau), Tartuffe (Murnau), Mephisto in Faust (Murnau), The Last Command for which he won the first ever Best Actor Oscar (von Sternberg), and many Ernst Lubitsch pictures.
Then there was Dietrich, the other star of the movie a fervent anti-nazi, even if in 1930 it wasn't really a topic subject it is interesting to think about the duality of the two stars of The Blue Angel. The German actress had a natural screen magnetism and her presence in front the camera seems natural. Knowing that at the time she made this film she was a cabaret singer just makes sense and it takes just a glimpse of her on the screen to understand that the stage is her natural habitat. Her gaze made her unique and particular amongst the rising stars of the time. Nevertheless, the real star that stands out in this picture is its director Josef von Sternberg.
The overloaded mise en scène of von Sternberg and the movements of camera gives life and rhythm to the characters of the film make stand out the gripping story of our two protagonists. The choice of story couldn't be more right for the director because with his unique camera work and framing von Sternberg masters the atmosphere and the vibes of the cabaret as well as he isolates the Prof. Rath with so much precision that cuts like a scalpel on the screen.
However, this dramatic love story of a scholar man and a show-business woman may have been reused thousands of time but it is always the original story that stands out as the true interpretation and the most felt one.