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Kino on Video presents
The Blue Angel (der blaue Engel) (1930)

"Men cluster to me like moths to a flame/And if their wings burn, I know I'm not to blame."
- Lola Lola (Marlene Dietrich)

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: December 03, 2001

Stars: Emil Jannings, Marlene Dietrich
Other Stars: Kurt Gerron, Rosa Valetti, Hans Albers, Reinhold Bernt
Director: Josef von Sternberg

Manufacturer: Cine Magnetics
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (sensuality)
Run Time: 01h:41m:13s
Release Date: November 27, 2001
UPC: 738329022624
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Few film debuts are quite as memorable or important as that of Marlene Dietrich in The Blue Angel. As cabaret singer Lola Lola, Dietrich steams up the screen (and her co-star's eyeglasses) with a wild and confident performance. Opposite her was the great Emil Jannings, one of the most notable actors of his generation, appearing in his first German sound picture.

Jannings stars as Prof. Immanuel Rath, a fastidious and straitlaced teacher of English and literature to high school boys. When the boys are caught with some naughty postcards of the singer Lola Lola (Dietrich), headlining at the Blue Angel night club, the professor goes to investigate what his charges are up to. After some initial discomfiture, Rath soon falls under the spell of Lola, however, and has shortly fallen in love with her. Love with the wrong woman proves deadly, however, for he quickly loses his position and descends into poverty, degradation, humiliation and despair.

While Jannings turns in an unforgettable performance, even surpassing his great turn in The Last Laugh, Dietrich holds her own with him. Her brassy confidence sparkles against Rath's martinet demeanor, hiding his raw marshmallow character. The supporting cast is exceptional as well, most notably Kurt Gerron (who would later be killed at Auschwitz) as the magician Kiepert, who manages the stage show. To most he is brusque and harsh, but when introduced to a local notable, such as the professor, he immediately become unctuous and ingratiating. Hovering in the background is a silent Reinhold Bernt, as August, the mute clown, acting as an harbinger of Rath's coming descent. Seeing him in these early sequences on a second viewing is truly chilling, even if clowns don't give you the willies ordinarily.

Dietrich's voice has not yet become the smoky and dusky rasp that is most familiar; her rather clear and belllike tones are a surprise to the novice viewer of this film. She imbues the songs (including her signature tune, Falling in Love Again, quoted above) with an earnest eroticism that does indeed resemble a flame. Not particularly sexy physically, Dietrich is surrounded with women ranging from heavy to obese in a needless attempt to artificially heighten her appeal. Her costume changes through the picture are intriguing; initially tawdry and cheaply sluttish, they develop more and more class as Rath loses all of his, as if she were some sort of psychic vampire.

The production notes indicate that the original version of the film approved by the censors ran 108 minutes, which means that seven minutes was cut somewhere along the line. Presumably this footage no longer exists, but it would have been nice to include a synopsis of what was deleted, since the shooting scripts are extant.

Von Sternberg's picture is still an extremely powerful piece of filmmaking, with the lead performances shining brightly as some of the great moments in film. The descent of Rath cannot fail to chill, as the proud rooster crow of his wedding becomes the strangled half-scream of his concluding sequences at The Blue Angel. This picture points up better than any other the dangers of self-delusion and projecting one's own thoughts onto a love object.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The black & white picture is generally attractive. Struck from the original negatives, there are wide ranges of grays visible. Detail is not terribly crisp, and there is a sizable amount of grain visible throughout. Black levels are consistently good, and shadow detail is reasonable. There is a fair amount of flicker present, but only very occasional visible frame damage. The print looks very nice indeed, considering its vintage.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The primitive film sound technology is not assisted by the fact that much of the sound was recorded live on the set. There is a good deal of hiss and noise on both the English and German versions of the film. The noise is somewhat distracting, but not much better can be expected in a picture of this vintage.

Audio Transfer Grade: D+


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 21 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
2 Original Trailer(s)
Production Notes
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Werner Sudendorf
Packaging: Gladiator style 2-pack
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:04m:39s

Extra Extras:
  1. English language version of the film and scene comparison
  2. Musical performances by Dietrich of songs from the film
  3. Dietrich screen test
  4. Stills, productions sketches, posters
  5. Chronology
Extras Review: Kino appropriately provides a packed special edition for this important picture. Curator Werfer Sudendorf provides an informative full-length screen specific commentary. His delivery is monotonous and burdened by a thick German accent, but there is plenty of interesting detail to be derived here. Just when one thinks Sudendorf has resorted to narration, he points up an intriguing detail that might escape a viewer.

Most pleasantly, Kino also provides a second disc with the English-language version of the picture. As was common in the period, the picture was filmed twice, once for domestic and once for export audiences, rather than dubbing a different language. A comparison of the classroom sequence from both pictures is provided to indicate the nuances in the performance. A central thematic difference between the versions for the two markets is prominently displayed in the confrontation between Rath and the headmaster. In the German version, it is Rath's defiance, a clear sin to the order-minded German populace, that brings on his downfall. However, for the more puritanical American market, there is no such defiance; instead, Rath's descent is brought about by the mere fact that he has had an evening of carousing and generally having a good time for once in his life. This presentation is on a single layer disc, but the picture quality is not essentially different than that of the German language version, although much less grain is evident. A couple sequences are overly contrasty, indicating they may have been spliced in from inferior source material.

Two German trailers are provided; one appears to be from the original release, or at least an early release; the second is clearly from a reissue. A brief (01m:25s) interview with Dietrich on Swedish TV in 1971 is included, as well as footage of her performing Falling in Love Again, Lola and You're the Cream in my Coffee onstage, with the rasp that is now so familiar. An extensive set of bios and filmographies for 30 members of cast and crew is included, as are a chronology related to the picture, and about 120 stills and posters. One of the niftiest extras is Dietrich's screen test for the role, which she speaks about in one of the stage performances. Even here, it's clear that the camera loves her, as she sings perched on a piano, occasionally berating the pianist for screwing up the song.

Extras Grade: A


Final Comments

One of the great classics, given a nice presentation here. Early sound limitations prevent much being done with the audio, but the video transfer, albeit a bit soft, is attractive. Loads of extras make this a must for any film lover.


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