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The Blue Angel(1930)
Professor Immanuel Rath, the sexually-repressed instructor of a boys' prep school, after learning of the pupils' infatuation with French postcards depicting a local nightclub songstress, decides to personally investigate the source of such indecency. But as soon as he enters the shadowy Blue Angel nightclub and steals one glimpse of the smoldering Lola-Lola, commanding the stage in a top hat, stockings and bare thighs, Rath's self-righteous piety is crushed. He finds himself fatefully seduced by the throaty voice of the vulgar siren, singing "Falling in Love Again." Consumed by desire and tormented by his rigid propriety, Professor Rath allows himself to be dragged down a path of personal degradation.
For more about The Blue Angel and the The Blue Angel Blu-ray release, see the The Blue Angel Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on November 27, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Emil Jannings, Marlene Dietrich, Kurt Gerron, Hans Albers, Rosa Valetti, Reinhold Bernt
Director: Josef von Sternberg
» See full cast & crew
The Blue Angel Blu-ray Review
"They call me naughty Lola..."
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, November 27, 2012
Strutting about onstage in stockings and garters, her bare thighs cheekily peeking out from under a short ruffled skirt, Marlene Dietrich became a near- instant international sex symbol because of her cabaret queen role in 1930's Der blaue Engel—a.k.a. The Blue Angel—a comic drama that was one of Germany's first major "talkies." It was also Dietrich's first film with the Austrian-American director Joseph von Sternberg, who would sculpt and re-sculpt her public image in six subsequent Hollywood movies, including Shanghai Express, Blonde Venus, and The Scarlet Empress.
The Ufa Studios-produced project initially materialized out of a collaboration with Swiss-born actor Emil Jannings, who had previous starred in Von Sternberg's 1928 silent film, The Last Command, winning the very first Academy Award for Best Actor. Though the two famously didn't get along, they eventually reconciled, and Jannings temporarily wooed Von Sternberg away from Los Angeles to make The Blue Angel in Berlin, shooting German and English versions simultaneously. The German cut is better known—partially because the actors are better in their native language, but also because the English edition was presumed lost for decades—and Kino-Lorber is presenting it here in high definition for the first time, using a print newly restored by the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau Institute.
Loosely based on Heinrich Mann's 1905 novel, Professor Unrat, The Blue Angel follows the well-worn storyline of an upstanding man falling for a lady of less-than-healthy repute. It's hardly an original premise, but Von Sternberg uses it to tease out powerful themes of humiliation and middle-class hypocrisy. Emil Jannings plays Dr. Prof. Immanuel Rath, a pious old bachelor who teaches English literature at an all-boys college prep school, where he chews out his students for minor linguistic infractions—like pronouncing "the" as "zee" in Hamlet's "that is the question" soliloquy— and generally fulfills the role of the fusty, unlikeable authority figure. Minus one bespectacled teacher's pet, all his pupils treat him as such, routinely disrespecting him behind his back. Rath's moral outrage spurs him to action when he discovers that several of the boys have been sneaking nightly into The Blue Angel, a local cabaret headlined by the leggy Lola Lola (Marlene Dietrich), whose suggestive song-and-dance routine is the stuff of adolescent fantasy.
As it turns out, Rath himself is just as susceptible to Lola's ample—shall we say—charms. The do-gooder enters the club infuriated, intending to storm backstage and give the burlesque artist a firm talk about how she's corrupting the town's youth, but he's such a comic fish out of water that he can barely get a word in. Bumbling around her dressing room as Lola changes outfits between acts, the professor's righteous anger turns to sputtering embarrassment, and from there mellows out into gawking, floating-on-clouds infatuation. It's a tremendous performance from Jannings— who's funny simply by the merit of playing the part as straight as possible—and his Rath is soon deeply, inextricably in love with Lola, despite the sizable difference in their age and social status.
The low-key comedy of the first half peaks with a giddy wedding—Rath wants to legitimatize Lola, while she simply appreciates that he defends her honor—but the film eventually gives way to regret and envy and disillusionment, charting Rath's downward spiral from an esteemed citizen to a depressed, cuckolded magician's assistant on the cabaret circuit, taking eggs and pies to the face for jeering crowds while his wife locks lips with a younger, more handsome man offstage. Lola may have once looked into Rath's eyes while mouthing the words to her signature tune, "Falling in Love Again," but post-marriage, she's cruel and distant, rarely willing to even meet his gaze.
If Dietrich is good as the languid burlesque sexpot—and she is; her memorable performance was worthy of a parody homage by Madeline Khan as Lili von Shtupp in Blazing Saddles—she's even better as the married-for-years-and-emotionally-remote frau who does what she wants and has no respect for her tottering husband. Superficially, the moral here might seem to be the old, borderline-misogynistic quip, "Never make a pretty woman your wife," but the deeper insight is that those who condescendingly hold themselves to higher standards are often the most easily undone by their own desires.
Speaking of downfalls, while Marlene Dietrich's career took off in America, Emil Jannings' own took a shameful turn, as he went on to star in several Nazi propaganda films, was named "Artist of the State" by Joseph Goebbels, and was later promoted to head of Tobis, one of the major movie production companies of the Third Reich. If you watch carefully, you can see a fictionalized version of Jannings—played by Hilmar Eichhorn—die in the cinema inferno at the end of Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds. In real life, the actor/producer was removed from the German film industry during the Allies' post-war denazification period and retired to Austria, where he died of liver cancer in 1950.
The Blue Angel Blu-ray, Video Quality
Newly restored in high definition by the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau Institute—the same folks who oversaw the recent restoration of Fritz Lang's Metropolis—Blue Angel alights on Blu-ray with a satisfying 1080p/AVC-encoded presentation. Sourced from archival 35mm elements, the image fully retains its natural filmic look here, with a visible grain structure and no traces of adverse digital noise reduction or edge enhancement. While the film hasn't quite been given the same level of frame-by-frame restorative polish as Metropolis, the print has been decently cleaned up, with comparatively few white specks and small scratches for a movie from 1930. There is some age-related damage—occasional vertical scratches, slight brightness fluctuations, some brief warping and staining—but nothing out of the ordinary if you're used to watching films from this era. Those who owned Kino's previous Blue Angel DVD will notice an appreciable upgrade in clarity, even if the picture—on the whole—is a bit soft, with a chunky grain pattern that inherently limits the resolution of fine textures. Aside from the mild aforementioned flickering—which is quite hard to correct digitally—the film's black and white photography is handled well, with a good contrast balance that neither crushes shadow detail nor blows out highlights. No overt compression or encode issues either. All around, a very watchable transfer.
The Blue Angel Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The Blue Angel's original German-language audio is capably reproduced on Blu-ray via an uncompressed Linear PCM 2.0 track. Considering this is an 82-year-old film and one of Germany's earliest talkies, there are obviously some unavoidable limitations in sound quality here. You'll notice a low-but- persistent background hiss if you're listening for it, occasional pops and crackles, and some harshness/muffling in the vocals, but nothing grating or distracting in the slightest. The real highlight here is Marlene Dietrich's musical numbers, including "They Call Me Naughty Lola," and the famous "Falling in Love Again," which has subsequently been covered by The Beatles, Christina Aguilera, and Kevin Ayers. The disc includes optional English subtitles, which appear in easy to read white lettering with black borders.
The Blue Angel Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Kino previously packaged the German and English-language versions of The Blue Angel together in a 2-disc DVD set, so I'm not sure why they've opted to not include the English cut here. Also missing are all of the DVD extras—a Dietrich screen test, interview and concert footage, an audio commentary for the German version, and more. Disappointing? Slightly, but having the German edition in high definition makes up for the lack of supplementary material.
The Blue Angel Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
A tragi-comic study in social downfall and humiliation, Joseph von Sternberg's The Blue Angel is one of the highlights of Weimar-era cinema. Though Emil Jennings delivers a fine performance as the nominal star, the film is best remembered for launching the sultry Marlene Dietrich to international fame and iconic sexpot status. Kino's new Blu-ray release of the German-language edition is just as easy on the eyes as the film's leggy female lead, but it might've been easier to fall in love with had it also included the English cut and the special features missing from the earlier 2-disc DVD set. Still, if you don't mind the lack of frills, The Blue Angel on Blu-ray is an attractive proposition. Recommended!
The Blue Angel: Other Editions
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The Blue Angel Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Kino Lorber Blu-ray in December: Sternberg, Bava, Keaton, Auteuil - September 17, 2012
Independent film distributor Kino Lorber has issued its Blu-ray slate for December 2012. Releases are arranged through Kino Classics and Kino Lorber. Kino Lorber will release films by Josef von Sternberg, Mario Bava, Buster Keaton, and Daniel Auteuil.
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