Golden Earrings

Golden Earrings

***1/2

Reviewed by: Andrea Mullaney

You have to admire a film where the entire basis of the plot is the incongruity of a British army general with pierced ears. Everyone wants to know how Ralph Denistoun (Ray Milland) went from a pre-war stuffed shirt to a laidback WWII hero with discreet holes in his lobes. En route to a sudden appointment in Europe, he tells the tale… “there’s a woman in it, of course”.

The woman is Lydia, a nutty gypsy gal, gleefully played by Marlene Dietrich (a little old for the part, but who cares), who throws her arms around his neck within two minutes of meeting him and declares: “You are young, you are strong, you are my beautiful man!” As chat-up lines go, it’s a zinger.

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The terribly correct Denistoun has little choice but to go along with her, since he’s on the run from the Nazis in a secret mission on the eve of war. Dressed up as a most unconvincing Romany, he hides out in her caravan until he can track down the formula for a new kind of poison gas (“an appalling by-product of Nazi frightfulness”). Together they play up to every gypsy stereotype, from telling fortunes to breaking into song and dance, or a fight, at the drop of a shawl.

It’s horribly offensive, of course, especially given the entire avoidance of the Nazi holocaust which killed hundreds of thousands of Romany people (prejudice is shown, to be fair, but Lydia’s prediction that “one day in this accursed land they will kill all of us” is ignored, with the gypsies sitting out the war safely in hiding). And many scenes are hugely embarrassing. The gypsy tribe are clearly all Broadway dancers, capering around in dodgy blackface, Milland’s “disguise” leaves him looking like a panto genie and Dietrich is given some truly awful dialogue to burble in broken English.

But yet… Milland and Dietrich have such charm and comic talents that they save it, more or less. Out of the ridiculous situation they actually convince as two unlikely people in love, finding their ‘other half’ and finding meaning – Denistoun in the freedom of life on the road, Lydia in true love and sacrifice – and you come to believe that they’d end up together. The end of the film develops a depth lacking in the earlier parts, such as when two non-Nazi Germans decide whether to trust the disguised Denistoun as war is announced – a strangely touching scene, as their dignified acceptance foreshadows their obvious fate to come.

Certainly not a classic, not even a camp classic, but with enough genuine moments to make it still worth a watch.

Reviewed on: 29 Nov 2006
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Golden Earrings packshot
Stiff upper-lipped British officer falls for a gypsy while on a mission in Nazi Germany. Out to own now as part of Marlene Dietrich: The Movie Collection 18-disc box set.
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Director: Mitchell Leisen

Writer: Frank Butler, Helen Deutsch

Starring: Marlene Dietrich, Ray Milland, Murvyn Vye, Bruce Lester, Dennis Hoey, Quentin Reynolds, Reinhold Schünzel, Ivan Triesault, Eric Feldary

Year: 1947

Runtime: 95 minutes

BBFC: U - Universal

Country: US

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