Emil Jannings is a forgotten figure now, possibly because of his enthusiasm for Hitler. In the Twenties, he was Germany's most respected actor, who spent three years in Hollywood, where he picked up the first ever Oscar for performances in The Last Command and The Way Of All Flesh. When the talkies arrived, his thick guttural accent put an end to the Californian dream and he returned home. A year later, the Jewish American director Josef Sternberg (Von was added later by a producer who thought it sounded more aristocratic) chose him to play the schoolmaster, Professor Rath, in The Blue Angel, with a relatively unknown Berlin actress called Marlene Dietrich as Lola, the night club chanteuse.

Jannings's performance is superb. He thought as much himself until being told: "The success of this film will be found in the naked thighs of Miss Dietrich." There is undoubted truth in this, as Sternberg escorted her to the States immediately afterwards, leaving her husband and daughter behind. He groomed "the German housefrau" into becoming a star to match Greta Garbo and made six more movies with her. Jannings never returned to America.

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The Blue Angel has all the ingredients of a classic moral tragedy. The professor is a man of strong fixed beliefs, laughed at behind his back, although feared for the rigidity of his views.

When searching out his errant pupils in the seedy side of town one evening, he discovers the night club where Lola performs with a chorus of scantily clad girls. He is shocked and bemused by such an exhibition of sexual innuendo until Lola starts having fun with him. Of course, he is not used to flirtatious flattery of any kind and so becomes infatuated and is doomed.

Lola has been called a vamp and worse, as if the professor's humiliation constitutes cruelty and yet there is an innocence, a playfulness, about Dietrich's performance. She flaunts her body, not like a tart, but like a schoolgirl. It's different on stage where she has to wear absurd outfits to show off her knickers. That's showbiz, an acceptable part of the night club allure.

"I'm an actress," she insists. "Not a champagne cooler."

When she sings Falling In Love Again, she's making believe it's true.

Sternberg shot the picture simultaneously in English and German. Both versions are included on this digitally remastered DVD.

"At the time I thought the film was awful and vulgar and I was shocked by the whole thing," Dietrich said. "I was a well brought up German girl."

Reviewed on: 25 Oct 2001
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The Blue Angel packshot
A middle-aged professor becomes infatuated with a night club dancer.
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Director: Josef Von Sternberg

Writer: Robert Liebmann, Karl Zuckmayer, Karl Volloeller, based on the novel, Professor Unrath, by Heinrich Mann

Starring: Emil Jannings, Marlene Dietrich, Kurt Gerron, Hans Albers, Edward Von Winterstein

Year: 1930

Runtime: 106 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: Germany

Festivals:

Glasgow 2012
BIFF 2012

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