Kino Lorber // 1930 // 107 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // December 18th, 2012
"Men cluster to me
Like moths around a flame
And if their wings burn
I know I'm not to blame."
It's been released in many iterations, in both German and English language editions, and they've mostly been very shoddy. Finally, though The Blue Angel, the film that introduced the world to the sultry Marlene Dietrich (Shanghai Express), has its definitive Blu-ray release, at least in technical terms.
Immanuel Rath (Emil Jannings, The Way of All Flesh) is a stern professor trying to make his students stay in line. They're a bunch of cutups, though, and don't have much respect for him. Plus, they spend their evenings at a local club called The Blue Angel rather than their homework. To catch them in the act, Rath sneaks out to the club and spies them, but also witnesses their sumptuous star performer, Lola Lola (Dietrich). Like everyone else, he's entranced by her sexuality and afraid of being caught, so he runs and hides in what turns out to be her dressing room. When she discovers him after the show, they begin a toxic relationship that will destroy Rath's life.
Loosely based on the novel Professor Unrat by Heinrich Mann, The Blue Angel tells the oft-told tale of the downfall of a once respectable man to the power of sex and obsession. I don't know if Josef von Sternberg's (Blonde Venus) film is the best of the many versions of this story told throughout the years, but it's certainly the first great one.
Sternberg's depiction of Weimar-era Theater, on its way out due to fashion and political climate, is fantastic. It shows the gaudy and bawdy performance style perfectly, and the drunken audience is hilarious. The theater group, known as the Weintraub Syncopators keeps the action light and bouncy for the real star, Marlene Dietrich, whose sultriness knew no bounds, especially for 1930. It's no wonder she became an international star after the film's debut. Her dark and smoky voice matches her eyes that burn through anyone she looks at, not to mention her tiny bloomer outfits, Dietrich is a sight.
Equally fine is Emil Jannings, who is perfect in the role of stern professor and strange as Lola's suitor, but great in that way, as well. There's no question what will happen to him for getting involved with her, but it doesn't matter. Watching her manipulate Rath is a great time, taking him all the way down into her seedy world until he not only loses his job and respectability, but becomes a literal clown. By then, he's gone, Lola wins, she no longer has use for him, and she moves on to another, more suitable man. This time, it's the strongman (though he really doesn't look like one), played by Hans Albers (Carl Peters), who is deliciously mean laughing at Rath while stealing his wife.
Sternberg's direction is tight. He moves through the story quickly and gets all the characterizations essentially perfect. There's no suspense; it's utterly predictable, but it's a ton of fun watching Rath spiral down into oblivion even though it's obvious and there's really no reason to care about him. The decades of age difference between he and Dietrich gives the relationship a very creepy chemistry and they're really great, if totally gross together.
The music by Friedrich Hollaender is great, and "Falling in Love Again" is an absolutely classic song. It and the other songs that Dietrich sings herself tell the whole story. The lyrics are great and the music is the perfect type of cabaret music. The cinematography isn't anything particularly special, but it's very serviceable for what it needs to be. The film was released in both German and in an English version with the same actors doing the voices in thick, thick accents. It's almost unwatchable as a result, outside of the historical curiosity, but not to worry, this version is thankfully the German one. Altogether, The Blue Angel is a very fun slice of early cinema, one that everyone should see at least once, if only to witness the epic sexuality of Marlene Dietrich.
The Blue Angel arrives on Blu-ray from Kino International with a very nice HD restoration created from archival elements. The 1.19:1/1080p transfer makes the film look better than ever, with detail that has never previously been present. There's still some damage to the print that will likely never go away, but the contrast is strong and the level of grain is very natural. Aside from the minor problems with the original materials, there is little to complain about with this image transfer. Likewise, the mono sound is better than ever, with nice, clean mix that is clearer than on any previous release. There are certainly limitations to how crisply it can perform, but given the film's age and the fact that it was one of Germany's very first talkies, the sound is more than acceptable.
Less acceptable, though, is the absolute lack of extra features. All of the features from Kino's previous release of the film -- a Dietrich screen test, interviews, concert footage, and the complete English language release on a separate disc -- have been omitted, which makes no sense unless Kino is planning on a double-dip, which would be really lame.
While predictable and sometimes a little silly, The Blue Angel features great performances and the film debut of one of the great songs of the era. Dietrich and Jannings have a gross, but compelling, chemistry and Dietrich, especially, is fantastic in her role and instantly leaves no doubt as to why she became an international star. It's a true shame that the Blu-ray is a bare-bones affair, but the technical upgrade is worthy enough to warrant an upgrade. If you value those extras from the previous Kino release, I wouldn't get rid of that old disc quite yet.
Review content copyright © 2012 Daryl Loomis; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Kino Lorber
* 1.19:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* PCM 1.0 Mono (German)
Running Time: 107 Minutes
Release Year: 1930
MPAA Rating: Not Rated