TFTMM 2019 & WOIANRA 2018 on… Dietrich & Von Sternberg In Hollywood

In July 2018, Criterion Collection released a set of the six movies that actress Marlene Dietrich and director Josef Von Sternberg made together in Hollywood (their first film together, The Blue Angel, was made in Germany). Of course, I’m linking to my reviews for the individual films, but this one is about the whole set.

Morocco (1930)

  • My Rating: 7/10

Dishonored (1931)

  • My Rating: 8/10

Shanghai Express (1932)

  • My Rating: 9/10

Blonde Venus (1932)

  • My Rating: 9/10

The Scarlet Empress (1934)

  • My Rating: 9/10

The Devil Is A Woman (1935)

  • My Rating: 8/10

Going into this set, I had very little experience with Marlene Dietrich (mainly just her appearance in the 1961 movie Judgment At Nuremberg). And I generally tend not to fuss over who the director is, so I had NO idea who Josef Von Sternberg is. The main appeal of this set was the time frame the movies were made in, and some of her co-stars in these films (Gary Cooper in Morocco, Cary Grant in Blonde Venus and Edward Everett Horton in The Devil Is A Woman). I would say this set turned out to be a wonderful surprise, as I now feel a lot of respect for Marlene Dietrich as an actress, and I am certainly curious about some of her other films (including the English version of The Blue Angel). I did enjoy the visuals that Von Sternberg put together in these movies.

Speaking of the picture, I would easily recommend this set. For a group of movies from the early thirties, these movies look marvelous in high definition! I do think Morocco might have the weakest transfer, but that is likely due either to the surviving film elements or just how it was filmed. But these HD transfers allow us to see the director’s work with the lighting and the sets with such wonderful clarity! I enjoyed this set and would definitely suggest trying these films out (although, as a whole, I would be wary about showing them to children).

TFTMM 2019 & WOIANRA 2018 on… The Devil Is A Woman (1935)

And here we are, for the last movie in the Dietrich And Von Sternberg set, the 1935 movie The Devil Is A Woman.

At a carnival in Spain, young revolutionary Antonio Galvan (Cesar Romero) meets Concha Perez (Marlene Dietrich), who invites him to join her later that evening.  Evading the authorities, he meets an old friend, Captain Don Pasqual (Lionel Atwill).  When Antonio told him about Concha, Pasqual related his own experiences with her.  He told how they met, and how he fell for her while she toyed with him, taking his money and openly flaunting her affairs with other men.  In spite of the captain’s story, Antonio still goes to meet her, which drives a wedge between them.

I will admit, how well this movie works at least partly depends on how any individual views Marlene Dietrich and her beauty, otherwise it can be very frustrating to watch Lionel Atwill’s Captain Pasqual so infatuated with her.  Of course, as they say, “there’s no fool like an old fool.”  And speaking of old fools, we come to my biggest complaint about this movie: not enough Edward Everett Horton (Governor Don Paquito)!  In his usual screen persona as an exasperated bumbler, his governor is more annoyed with the police for arresting a lot of people during the carnival than he is with the people that were thrown in jail!  He provides some much-needed comedy relief, but his brief appearance at the beginning and slightly more substantial appearance at the end are, for me, too little.  I know his screen persona well enough that I wasn’t surprised to find that Dietrich’s character had him wrapped around her finger, too!  In spite of my “complaint,” I did like this movie, and I do recommend it.

This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Criterion Collection.

Film Length: 1 hour, 20 minutes

My Rating: 8/10

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

The Scarlet Empress (1934) – Marlene Dietrich

Ladies Should Listen (1934) – Edward Everett Horton – Top Hat (1935)

The Scarlet Empress (1934)Dietrich & Von Sternberg In Hollywood

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TFTMM 2019 & WOIANRA 2018 on… The Scarlet Empress (1934)

Next up, we have the fifth movie in the Dietrich And Von Sternberg set, The Scarlet Empress.

Marlene Dietrich plays Sophia Frederica, a minor German princess.  Her mother is an ambitious woman and is determined to see her daughter married to a king.  She manages to arrange a marriage for Sophia with the Grand Duke of Russia, and Sophia goes along with it happily.  However, she finds herself disappointed when she meets Peter (Sam Jaffe), who turns out to be a “halfwit,” as the movie describes him.  The Empress (Louise Dresser) pushes the marriage through, renaming Sophia “Catherine,” and demands that Catherine provide Russia with a male heir to the throne.  Catherine has, however, developed feelings for Count Alexei (John Lodge).  When she finds out that he is the Empress’ lover, she ends up sleeping with the guard that finds her just outside the palace.  About nine months later, she gives birth to a son.   The Empress is very happy but also quite ill.  Grand Duke Peter isn’t thrilled with this and plots to have Catherine removed after the Empress dies.  Catherine is a few steps ahead of him, as she uses her allure to her advantage with various higher-ups in the military.

After watching this movie, the only thing that I can think to say is “Wow!”  The story is fun to watch, but, more than anything, this movie is a visual feast!  The sets are just amazing, particularly with all the various sculptures populating the palace.  Something else worth noting is the frequent use of title cards to help advance the story, a practice that had fallen out of use with the advent of sound.  I like it, as I think it keeps things moving, instead of becoming a long, slow movie that one might almost expect, given the type of material.  Of course, as you could guess from my description of the plot, this movie is a Pre-Code, with some scenes of torture (although they are tame compared to what we see now), along with the main character making use of her sexuality to get her way.  I would be wary of showing this movie to children, but I would still recommend it highly!

This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Criterion Collection, and is one hour, forty-five minutes in length.

My Rating: 9/10

Audience Rating:

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Blonde Venus (1932)Dietrich & Von Sternberg In HollywoodThe Devil Is A Woman (1935)

Blonde Venus (1932) – Marlene Dietrich – The Devil Is A Woman (1935)

TFTMM 2019 & WOIANRA 2018 on… Blonde Venus (1932)

Moving on to the next movie in the Dietrich and Von Sternberg set, we have the 1932 movie Blonde Venus, also starring Herbert Marshall and Cary Grant.

In this movie, Marlene Dietrich plays Helen Faraday.  Her husband, chemist Edward Faraday (Herbert Marshall), contracts radium poisoning.  He hears about an experimental cure in Europe , but they can’t afford it.  To help pay for it, Helen goes back on the stage to make some extra money. There, she meets millionaire Nick Townsend (Cary Grant), who takes a liking to her, even after he finds out she has a husband and son. He helps pay for her husband to go to Europe and be cured (but she doesn’t tell her husband the exact source of the money). The experiment works well enough that he returns early, but he doesn’t find his wife or son at home. She tells him about her affair with Nick, and he decides to take their son away from her, believing her to be an unfit mother. She runs away with their son, managing to stay just ahead of the detectives following her, until she realizes this is no life for her son.

I will admit, this is the movie in the set that I was most looking forward to. As this is one of Cary Grant’s early appearances, I was curious to see what he is like. This is before he had his fully developed screen persona, so it is different to see him like this (and the fact that it is one of his early appearances would make it the only reason why Marlene’s character would choose her husband over Grant’s character, I would say). His character is gone for a good section of the movie, but I would say he is still a likeable guy (even if he is fooling around with a married woman).

The rest of the movie is fun. Marlene gets a few songs to sing, but the most memorable is the song “Hot Voodoo.” It finds her coming out in a gorilla costume with a lot of African “natives” behind her, and she gets out of the costume before putting on a blonde wig and singing the song. It’s not exactly politically correct, but it does seem to be impressive, just the same. The movie does seem to jump around sometimes (from what I have read, partly due to the interference from the censors, who really changed the story from what was originally planned). The opening scene is where the movie shows that it is a pre-Code, with a bunch of women swimming in the nude. The water seems to cover everything as far as I can tell, but this is fair warning for parents. Of course, I think it is fun seeing Sterling Holloway, the original voice of Winnie the Pooh making a cameo appearance here. This movie isn’t perfect, but I did enjoy it and would recommend it to anybody interested!

This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Criterion Collection.

Film Length: 1 hour, 34 minutes

My Rating: 9/10

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Shanghai Express (1932) – Marlene Dietrich – The Scarlet Empress (1934)

Cary GrantThe Eagle And The Hawk (1933)

Sterling Holloway – Gold Diggers Of 1933 (1933)

Shanghai Express (1932)Dietrich & Von Sternberg In HollywoodThe Scarlet Empress (1934)

As an Amazon Affiliate, this site gets a small percentage for every purchase made upon using one of the Amazon links, even if it’s not the movie I linked to (and it’s at no extra cost to you). If you like what I’m doing with the blog, please consider using them so that I can continue to do more!

TFTMM 2019 & WOIANRA 2018 on… Shanghai Express (1932)

Next up from the Dietrich And Von Sternberg set is the 1932 film Shanghai Express.

In this movie, Marlene Dietrich plays the prostitute Shanghai Lily.  She gets on the train to Shanghai, along with a number of other passengers, including her old boyfriend, Captain Donald Harvey (Clive Brook).  It is a time of civil war in China, so the Chinese military stops the train to check everybody’s passports.   They find one of the higher-ups in the rebel army and arrest him.  However, they miss his superior, Mr. Chang (Warner Oland),who is also on the train.  He wires ahead to have the rebels stop the train so they can take a hostage.  They end up taking Captain Harvey as the hostage.   The Chinese government agrees to the exchange, but Mr. Chang is reluctant to hand Captain Harvey over after he stops Mr. Chang from trying to rape Shanghai Lily.

This movie is the fourth of the seven movies that Marlene Dietrich and director Josef Von Sternberg made together,and it seems to be considered the peak of their collaboration. I will agree, it is a wonderful movie, and the best one of the bunch that I have seen so far. As far as I can see, it won the Oscar for Best Cinematography, and I can easily understand that. This movie was wonderfully photographed, especially Marlene Dietrich. I know the image of just her hands when her character was praying is certainly one of this movie’s most vivid images. And all of the characters work well for me, too. To look at the trivia, I was reading about how the minister character had to be softened for the movie because of the censors. I admit, in this case, I think it works, as it gives his character a bit of an arc, too, where he improves his opinions. As a whole, I like this movie, and would recommend it to anybody interested!

This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Criterion Collection, and is one hour, twenty-three minutes in length.

My Rating: 9/10

Audience Rating:

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Dishonored (1931)Dietrich & Von Sternberg In HollywoodBlonde Venus (1932)

Dishonored (1931) – Marlene Dietrich – Blonde Venus (1932)

Eugene Pallette – My Man Godfrey (1936)

TFTMM 2019 & WOIANRA 2018 on… Dishonored (1931)

Next on the list from the Dietrich and Von Sternberg set is Dishonored, from 1931.

In Austria, during the first World War, Marie Kolver (Marlene Dietrich), a widow and prostitute, is convinced to help her country, acting as a spy (code-named “X-27”). She is asked to uncover a traitor within the Austrian Secret Service. She succeeds, and when he is caught, he commits suicide. However, he had been working with a Russian agent, Captain Kranau (Victor McLaglen), who proves himself a little harder to catch. When he escapes, she has to go to the Russian headquarters to help find information that could help them fight against the Russians, and ends up falling for Captain Kranau.

Not having read much about this one beforehand (or, if I had read anything, I had long forgotten it), this one ended up being a very pleasant surprise. It is, as you probably guessed from the description, a bit of a spy movie. However, if you’re imagining an action movie, or anything resembling the James Bond movies, then you would be disappointed here. There is pretty much no fighting, and while X-27 is a prostitute-turned-spy, we never actually see her sleeping with anybody (which keeps it a LITTLE more kid-friendly, although I would have a hard time seeing little kids sitting still long enough for this movie). But, as I said, I do like this movie, and would recommend it very much!

The movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Criterion Collection, and is one hour, thirty-one minutes in length.

My Rating: 8/10

Audience Rating:

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Morocco (1930)Dietrich & Von Sternberg In HollywoodShanghai Express (1932)

Morocco (1930) – Marlene Dietrich – Shanghai Express (1932)

TFTMM 2019 & WOIANRA 2018 on… Morocco (1930)

And here we are, ready to dig into the first movie in the “Dietrich & Von Sternberg In Hollywood” set, the 1930 movie Morocco, starring, obviously, Marlene Dietrich, with Gary Cooper joining her, along with Adolphe Menjou.

Marlene Dietrich plays Amy Jolly, a cabaret entertainer who has just come to Morocco. On the boat over, she runs into rich Monsieur La Bessiere (Adolphe Menjou), but turns him away. At her opening at the nightclub, she meets Tom Brown (Gary Cooper), a womanizer in the Foreign Legion. He becomes interested in her, and she reciprocates, offering him a key to her place. He gets into trouble because he has been fooling around with his adjutant’s wife. He considers deserting after being told he has to go off on a mission with the adjutant, but he decides against it when he sees La Bessiere trying to court Amy. While he is gone, she ends up pining for him.

This movie has several points that have made it famous. It was Marlene Dietrich’s first American movie, and her second collaboration with director Josef Von Sternberg, as they had previously made the German movie The Blue Angel (which was to have its English version released in American theatres after Morocco had proven a success). Marlene’s opening performance near the beginning of the movie was one of those infamous moments that got past the censors, with her wearing a male tuxedo (apparently not done much yet at that time), as well as her kissing one of the female audience members, a scene that was held in the movie because she got a flower from her, which she gave to Gary Cooper’s Tom Brown a moment later (which wouldn’t have made sense if the scene was deleted). This is a movie that I hadn’t seen previously, but it was one that I did enjoy watching. It is a little slow at times, but I would still recommend it.

This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Criterion Collection.

Film Length: 1 hour, 32 minutes

My Rating: 7/10

Audience Rating:

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Marlene Dietrich – Dishonored (1931)

Gary Cooper – Design For Living (1933)

Adolphe Menjou – One Hundred Men And A Girl (1937)

Dietrich & Von Sternberg In HollywoodDishonored (1931)