Often considered one of the great early takies, The Blue Angel will always have a place in history as the film that brought Marlene Dietrich to international stardom. When the film was being made in 1929, it was seen as a starring vehicle for Emil Jannings, a German actor who had won the first Academy Award for best actor (for both The Last Command and The Way of All Flesh) after a successful career in silent films. However, Dietrich’s overnight success left him in the shadows.
Loosely based on Heinrich Mann’s 1905 novel, Professor Unrat, The Blue Angel follows the respected Professor Immanuel Rath (Jannings), who teaches at a college preparatory school in Weimar Germany. While he is meticulous in his professional and personal lives, he is often the object of ridicule. In the classroom Rath is a mini tyrant; the good students fear him and the poor ones torment him at every turn. Several of the boys frequent The Blue Angel, a portside music hall featuring attractive showgirls. When he catches the boys with racy photos of the sexy Lola Lola (Dietrich), he decides to visit the club himself to teach them a lesson about moral impropriety.
As it turns out, Rath is immediately taken in by Lola’s ample charms. He had intended to go backstage and tell the performer how she was corrupting the town’s youth, but he finds himself completely tongue tied. Rath is spotted there by some of his students, who steal Lola’s panties and slip them into his coat pocket. Rath decides to return Lola’s panties the next night and she has little trouble seducing the buffoonish professor. She toys with Rath unmercifully, but the professor has never felt happier in his life. Rath isn’t bothered by the significant difference in their ages or social status.
Despite laughing hysterically at the notion, Lola agrees to marry Rath. She forces him to go on the road with her. After failing miserably at selling sexy postcards of his lady love, he ends up playing a clown—taking eggs and pies to the face for jeering crowds while his wife locks lips with a younger, more handsome man offstage. Before they were married, Lola locked her smoldering eyes with Rath’s while signing her signature song, Falling in Love Again,” but post-marriage, she’s cruel and distant, rarely even looking at him. The ultimate humiliation comes when Rath must return to his hometown and perform at The Blue Angel.
While we sympathize with Rath, there’s no pity for him—he brought this upon himself. Director Josef von Sternberg seemingly loved witnessing Rath’s downfall—Janning’s movements become increasingly slow as though every gesture hurts. But while Lola may be the reason for his downfall, she isn’t just a black widow preying on her latest victim. Instead, she is portrayed as a woman who possesses important characteristic that Rath lacks: self-awareness and self-acceptance. Not a naïve woman, she harbors no illusions about who she is, or what she does. She does what she has to do to survive. So while Rath may gain our sympathy, Lola manages to earn our respect.
Twenty-eight at the time of filming, it’s no wonder Marlene Dietrich became the breakout star of this film. Her magnetism on screen is almost overpowering at times. Emil Jannings had asked Josef von Sternberg to direct him in The Blue Angel, so we have the actor to thank for the fortuitous pairing of the director and Dietrich that remains magical even today.
Newly restored in high definition by the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau Institute, Kino’s 1080p transfer, sourced from 35mm elements is wonderful. The image has retained its filmic appearance. Nicely restored, there are only a few notable instances of scratches, white specks and brightness fluctuations to be seen. The film’s black and white photography is handled well with nice contrast Thankfully, there are no compression issues to speak of.
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, there are some limitations here. There is a background hiss present throughout much of the running time, but it doesn’t totally invade the track (you really have to be listening for it). Dietrich’s songs come through very nicely.
The disc includes optional English subtitles, which appear in easy to read white lettering with black borders.
We get just the German version of the film here, with no special features.