A film song entitled “From My Head to My Toes I’m All About Love” sung by a Maria Magdalena von Losch sitting on a barrel in a lowlife German nightclub doesn’t sound like the stuff of legend, until you know that the lady was Marlene Dietrich and the song was “Falling in Love Again” in the English language version of The Blue Angel, lost for many years.
The 1930 black and white talkie film was the first of a handful of memorable films featuring the then 28 year-old Dietrich, under the hard guiding hand of talented director Joseph von Sternberg. This one however actually starred Emil Jannings as the tragically romantic mid-life school professor Immanuel Rath who tracks his young male charges to the seedy Blau Engel club after confiscating, and being pleasantly disturbed by saucy photos of coquettish and teasing cabaret act Lola-Lola, (Dietrich) only to fall madly in lust with her on-stage flauntings in a jaunty white top hat, inadequate skirts, stockings and suspenders.
Sadly for Rath the beguiling love of his life is a heartless dominatrix who ensnares him, marries him and then humiliates and enslaves him when his money runs out and he is forced to take a job as the clown with the nightclub troupe, who have now moved on to a different town. Rath’s tragic end comes when the show moves back to his home town where he is forced to play assistant to sadistic magician Kiepert, who proves that the eggs he produces from under the clown’s nose are real by breaking them on the clown’s head, in front of all Rath’s old students and neighbours, and the mayor. This final humiliation for Rath, which has most of the sophisticated audience falling around laughing, coincides with the cruel Lola-Lola deliberately kissing the troupe’s new strong man in front of him, and Rath goes insane, crawling back to his old schoolroom to die, rigour mortis clenching his hand around his desk top.
The Blue Angel was loosely based on a book, Professor Unrat by Heinrich Mann published 25 years earlier. Both the German and English language versions, on Blu-ray and DVD were released earlier this year in a dual-format presentation by Eureka Entertainment as part of their Masters of Cinema series. As well as a 48-page booklet with a 1968 essay on the films by director Sternberg the comprehensive pack includes a feature-length audio commentary on the German version, Dietrich’s 1929 screen test, an interview with Dietrich, archived performances by Dietrich and a video essay featuring much of the film’s history, and that of its stars. Jannings went on after The Blue Angel to make films with the Nazis, who banned the film in 1933 for being “subversive” and for it involving “so many Jews” including Sternberg who had gone back to America with Dietrich in 1930.
Later, in 1944 the Nazis compelled German-Jew Kert Gerron, the actor playing the magician Kiepert, who was also a director, to direct Goebbel’s lying “documentary” about the Theresienstadt concentration camp – “The Fuhrer Gives The Jews a City” – rigged to show the world what a good time the Jews were having. After the filming Gerron, his wife and most of the prisoners filmed who could attest to Goebbel’s lies were shipped off to Auschwitz by the Nazis and gassed on arrival.